Many people are demanding Trump’s impeachment, if not for probable Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, then for mental incompetence. I certainly agree with that. In fact, I just ordered the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a compilation of essays from 27 mental health professionals, including those who specialize in Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorder (there’s a consensus he has both — when they appear together we call it malignant narcissism), that explain why Trump’s impulsivity, general abusiveness, lack of conscience, and lack of empathy is all wrong for the presidency and is in fact extremely dangerous to the planet and all life on it. I’m happy that so many psychologists and psychiatrists are abandoning the Goldwater Rule, which for decades meant that unless a leader was officially assessed in a clinical setting, a mental health professional could not offer a diagnosis. The book, a project of Yale University’s “Duty to Warn” project, is gaining momentum in the mental health community and is a New York Times bestseller. The conclusion of all the authors is that Trump must be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.
I wholeheartedly agree with these professionals, but there is one glaring problem I have with Trump’s removal: Mike Pence.
On the surface, Pence appears to be a less dangerous choice to have in the White House. He’s even-tempered, cool under pressure, doesn’t lash out at his real and imagined enemies on Twitter, and seems willing and able to work with others. He’s probably a lot less likely to start nuclear war.
He’d also be able to get a lot more accomplished. Hardline Republicans who dream of dismantling our institutions, removing healthcare from millions, and giving tax breaks to the most wealthy would be able to actually get their agenda through under a Pence presidency.
Pence would be dream come true for the religious right. Pence has made no secret of his contempt for homosexuals and his desire to remove their civil rights and make them undergo conversion therapy, a brainwashing process that has been deemed by mental health professionals as both ineffective and traumatic. Pence would also be able to pass legislation that would make womens’ healthcare, including birth control, harder to obtain (if not outright illegal).
Pence is a far right evangelical, and also a dominionist. Christian dominionism/reconstructionism is an extreme form of Calvinism/neo-Puritanism: it’s a religio-political cult whose ultimate goal is the replacement of our Constitution with Old Testament biblical law, including the return of slavery, the stoning of homosexuals and adulterers, capital punishment for dissenters, the abolishment of public education, and the dismantling of the civil rights women have gained, including the right to vote. Dominionists believe that the wealthy are wealthy because God is rewarding them and has given them “dominion.” They believe if you’re poor, it’s because of your “moral failures” and therefore it’s wrong to interfere with God’s will by providing governmental safety nets. They believe environmentalism is a form of earth-worship or paganism and that’s why they think it’s okay to keep raping and pillaging the planet. After all, God will clean it up. Their attitude reminds me of entitled teenagers who trash the house while their parents are away and don’t think they should have to clean up their mess because “my parents will do that.”
There is a lot of rhetoric among far right evangelicals and dominionists about religious freedom, but this has been redefined from the freedom to worship as you choose, to the “freedom” to impose your beliefs on others. They think their inability to enforce or legislate their religious beliefs means they are being persecuted. They trot out phony non-issues like the “war on Christmas” or the teaching of evolution in schools as proof of how persecuted they are. This is a dangerously Orwellian mindset and unsuspecting evangelicals have bought it hook, line and sinker.
Christian dominionism/reconstructionism is basically a Christian version of the Taliban, with its own terrifying form of Sharia Law. Their “Christianity” isn’t based on the Gospels or the New Covenant; instead it borrows heavily from the harsh Judaic legalism of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Dominionists talk a lot about the need for Jesus, but rarely quote from the Gospels and certainly don’t follow anything Christ taught during his ministry. In fact, what they propose is the opposite of anything remotely Christian, and their toxic legalism and religious fascism is turning a lot of good people away from Christianity (isn’t that the way Satan would operate?).
While overall this fringe group of Christians (really a cult) is a tiny minority of the population (even among conservative evangelicals), there are many dominionists and reconstructionists very high up in government right now, including Mike Pence, and they wield a scary amount of power. Donald Trump, in spite of his own beliefs (or lack thereof) is enabling these religious extremists (and vice versa) and he welcomes their support. They actually believe Trump is “opening the door to Christ’s kingdom” and has been “anointed by God” to destroy our democracy, which they see as satanic. This, of course, gives Trump massive narcissistic supply and the effect is to embolden him even further. Trump, having no real ideals or positions of his own, embraces whatever group gives him the adulation he craves, no matter how damaging their agenda. That being said, these extremist evangelicals haven’t been able to get much or any of their agenda through due to Trump’s combativeness, talent for creating chaos and discord even within his own party, and general incompetence.
There’s another group of hard right Republicans that are also a tiny minority and have an overwhelming amount of power: hardline fiscal conservatives, or “federalists,” who aren’t so much religiously motivated, but are instead motivated by the gospel of Ayn Rand. Instead of an angry, punishing old Testament God, they find their spiritual mentor in the Koch Brothers and other billionaire oligarchs. Their goal is the same as the religious extremists: replacing our democracy with a “federalist” regime that would favor property owners and the wealthy — and punish and oppress the most vulnerable. Nancy MacLean’s exhaustively well-researched book Democracy in Chains (you can read my review here), outlines their entire terrifying agenda. The federalist oligarchs wielding all this power aren’t necessarily religious (in fact some are atheists, like their mentor Ayn Rand was). They don’t concern themselves much with social issues or hard right “family values,” which has come to mean being anti-gay and anti-abortion and that’s about it. They are willing though, to ignore this as a mere inconvenience and work with the dominionists if it means they can get their cruel agenda through and gain even more power and wealth than they already have. To them, the end always justifies the means. If that means they have to hold their noses and put up with religious oppression (which wouldn’t effect them anyway, because their wealth would give them immunity from oppression), then so be it. The alliance between the federalists and the dominionists is evil to the core, and their agenda is frighteningly close to being fulfilled. Religious demagogues and white supremacists like Alabama’s Roy Moore are becoming more common in high government positions and their outrageous claims and hatred of those not like themselves are becoming normalized. This is extremely concerning to those of us who value our freedom and democracy.
Pence is fully on board with both groups of far-right conservatives. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and slimy as they come. There’s something sinister about a man who addresses his wife as “Mother” and refuses to be in a room alone with another woman for any reason. I believe if Trump were removed from office — whether through impeachment or the 25th Amendment — a Pence presidency could be even more dangerous to democracy, because the man is more politically savvy and less likely to sabotage his own goals. I think he’s just as sociopathic as Trump, but more purely psychopathic than narcissistic, and thus will be able to get Congress and Senate Republicans to work with him. Trump’s narcissism and fragile ego stands in the way of his being able to pass any agenda. Pence might be less likely to start nuclear war, and might be less appealing to Trump’s racist base, but he’d have a lot more clout with those who can pass legislation that would destroy our democracy. So be careful what you wish for.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if living in a real-life Handmaid’s Tale would be preferable to the threat of nuclear holocaust. We can and should demand Trump’s removal, but Pence must go with him. Better yet, the entire cabal must be taken down and a new election must be held.
If nothing else, we must wait this travesty out, but we cannot afford to be apathetic about the next election, or even the midterm (2018) elections. The stranglehold the hard right has on both Congress and Senate must be loosened, and ALL of us voting is the only way to do that.