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Last night’s Vice Presidential debate was at times reminiscent of two old men arguing near closing time in a bar. Both candidates failed to yield to the moderator time and time again, talking over each other and Elaine Quijano in a fury of detours. Elaine, however, was very stern; if the candidates wouldn’t yield, she’d just talk right through them.
Weaknesses were spread somewhat evenly at first. Tim Kaine, Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s Vice President, often took the scenic route in his responses so he could make a connection with each topic to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns. Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice President, carried on his running mate’s long tradition of attempting to gaslight the nation by denying words Trump has said publicly rather than defending them.
But if this debate were a movie, the two final questions would qualify as tying together the sporadic threads sewn throughout the production. Unfortunately for Trump, his VP ended up as the villain.
Elaine asked the candidates to discuss how faith affects their legislative decisions. For Kaine, his religious beliefs and values are kept separate from performing the will of the electorate. The death penalty was legal when he took over the governorship of Virginia. As a catholic, Kaine does not support the death penalty regardless of the crime. He upheld the practice at the mandate of the voters and oversaw a total of 11 executions while commuting one prisoner he felt was mentally incapacitated enough that the prisoner could not understand the atrocity he’d committed, nor the punishment he was receiving.
Kaine refused to place his faith and personal beliefs above the beliefs of his constituents.
Make no mistake: the death penalty is state-sponsored execution which fails as a deterrent but succeeds at reinforcing the violent natures of society. Reasonable people willing to expend the effort to study the issue open-mindedly understand this as much as Tim Kaine. Where Kaine differs from a significant portion of American society—and his opponent in the debate—is his belief our nation cannot require its citizens adhere to religious doctrine against their will.
Catholicism places the value of life in the highest order; this informs both Kaine’s stance on the death penalty and his stance on abortion. Again adhering to the separation of law and religious belief, Kaine supports Roe v. Wade—“the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own support of partner, their own minister, but make their own decision about pregnancy.” HIs holding of life as most precious remains an expressed belief only in word, as should be expected of any politician.
He’s been consistent here with abortion, receiving a top grade from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in July, 2016. Their decision was based on his Senate voting record that fought against abortion bans, defunding Planned Parenthood, and sponsoring legislation to ensure women maintain access to abortion care. A brief moment came up where he expressed favor in maintaining the Hyde Amendment—barring federal funds from being used for abortion—but he stood firm in stating he supports Clinton’s call for the amendment to be repealed.
The will of the country before the doctrine of religion; Kaine’s strength and Pence’s weakness.
Pence never addressed the death penalty. We can’t say if this was by choice or an oversight, but in 2014 he expressed support for the practice on CNN and would later sign a bill as governor that allowed beheading as a method of execution.
He did, however, address abortion. Like his opponent, Pence believes the in the sanctity of life as it pertains to pregnancies; unlike his opponent, Pence does not believe women deserve a choice in how their pregnancies are handled. His faith takes precedence before the beliefs of the public.
Starting with his time in congress in 2007, Pence has actively sought to defund Planned Parenthood. He assisted in cutting off their funding in his state of Indiana, which led to an outbreak of HIV in 2014 that still hasn’t come under control. Other legislation he introduced involved: pulling funds for abortion in cases of rape unless it fell under a new definition of “forcible rape”; requirements for ultrasounds and detailed descriptions of embryos before an abortion could be carried out; and providing legal protection to hospitals should they refuse an abortion even when the mother would die without it.
These extremist laws are the rule—not the exception—for Pence's legislative career and social beliefs.
There are many other terrible acts Pence wishes to carry out on his fellow Americans, such as forced electroshock therapy on LGBTQ children to make them ‘normal' or his refusal to pardon a man proven innocent. And Pence's debate rhetoric exemplifies utter disregard for the freedom he and his running mate claim they'll provide. The Trump America was laid out plainly in the proceeding question proposed by Elaine regarding how either candidate will unify the country should they take office.
What Pence believes will bring people together is building a stronger military. A stronger military defines America as a leader on the world stage and will make America great again. He states without question that this is the will of the American people. No other issues are addressed; military might makes America mend our many divisions, bringing everyone together in harmony.
Given the paranoid animosity emblematic of Trump’s campaign—from demanding supporters monitor the polling booths, to a weak admittance that President Obama is actually a legal citizen—we can suppose that rejecting a larger military with greater involvement in foreign conflicts will see the dissident promptly losing status as a True American Patriot™. Pence and Trump see not an America of the people but an America of the duo’s personal beliefs. Stepping in line will give one protection, but all opposition is traitorous. Public opinion holds no weight in Pence’s legislative decisions, while Trump will fabricate support to convince detractors they are outnumbered.
In Kaine’s answer, unity requires outreach and compromise. Clinton’s signature accomplishment of healthcare for impoverished children was only possible through unity; taking care of our first responders after 9/11 was only possible through unity; providing benefits for the National Guard was only possible through unity. Americans are brought closer by working towards common goals, which may not always work as promised but provides more successes than failures and the drive to fix our mistakes.
The vision for America is made by Americans; it is not written by religious doctrine, it does not require imaginary praise.
Let’s revisit the abortion discussion. Pence was very clear that adoption is his solution to unwanted pregnancies of any kind. He cites Mother Teresa, “Let’s welcome the children into the world.” The families he is most concerned with are those who cannot have children, and shouldn’t they be given the chance to adopt?
But Kaine never opposed adoption, as implied by Pence’s reiteration over and over that adoption is important. When presented with this deflection for the third time in a row, Kaine made the strongest, most rational plea of the night:
Why don't you trust women to make this choice for themselves?
The Vice President for Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump—a candidacy consistently promising more freedom and less regulation—couldn’t answer; he didn’t answer. Mike Pence responded to the question of freedom for women by stating he’s proud to be pro-life with Trump. A non-answer. A weak answer. Low-energy.
A retreat from being upfront about why Mike Pence and Donald J. Trump do not believe women are intelligent, rational beings capable of managing their own bodies.
The threads came together in that moment, informing Pence’s answer to the final question on unity: women in Trump’s America are better served by sacrificing freedom over their body because unity in Trump’s America comes only from what makes Pence and Trump most comfortable. Abortion unsettles Pence; it might unsettle Trump depending on which audience he’s in front of and what he’s hoping to sell. Being seen as weak unsettles Trump—and clearly that’s been passed onto Pence since he could see only power as the solution to a divided nation.
What Pence told America in so many words is a Trump America will provide freedom only insofar as that freedom does not unsettle the men in charge. This disclosure explains most of the Trump campaign:
We must build a wall because walls are strong and the possibility of someone entering our country without us knowing feels weak.
We must deny those most in need from escaping Syria into our borders lest one become a criminal and makes us feel weak.
We must demand the poor pay for our army to be larger and greater than threats inconceivable, as the rich departing with such money makes them look poor and weak, while people without the army to conquer the world are weak by definition.
We must ensure women never have the option to choose what is allowed to live inside their bodies, as it may present a situation where men do not have absolute power and weak men cannot run a country.
How America has not already unanimously decided to bar Pence and Trump from holding any public office is beyond me. These men demand our freedom be laid upon the altar of paranoia, piousness, and paternalism, sacrificed not for the needs of the many but the comfort of the two in facing any tough decisions or confronting their own morals. There was no compromise from Pence’s mouth that night, only arrogance that his personal America is the best America for all.
Pence and Trump are the weakest elements of everything wrong with our society, yet also the easiest to rid from holding any influence. We deserve leaders like Kaine and Clinton, willing to find comfort in compromise, confronting their moral reservations openly. A strong leader does not deny their own words or refuse to defend the words of their comrade. Effective leaders weigh the will of the many with the needs of the few, evaluating with reason and rationality the consequences then firmly making a choice. And great leaders admit to their mistakes, encouraging change and responsibility.
None of these qualities are found in Mike Pence or Donald Trump. Deny their claim to our highest office, for it is based in mistaking freedom for control. We can be a whole nation through compromise, through choice, through understanding. There is no strength in control, only fear of possibility.
We’ll never be whole if weakness, fear incarnate reside in our White House.