We are often shocked when a Republican does the right thing. For example, when Mitch McConnell stood up in Congress and denounced Donald Trump for inciting the January 6th insurrection my ears could hardly believe themselves. I was similarly stunned that Mike Pence refused to try to overturn the election of Joe Biden, proclaiming later that “The truth is there is almost no idea more un-American than the idea that one person could choose the president.” It is incongruous these days when the words of patriots issue from the mouths of Republicans. It’s like stuffing a gorilla into an expensive Italian suit.
It reminds me that there is still some kind of bottom some Republicans won’t exceed — yet. But who knows, give them another ten years at their current rate of decay and there will be nothing they won’t do. In the meantime at least we can count on some kind of minimal decorum, however symbolic.
The argument that Pence’s hands were tied and he had no choice but to confirm Joe Biden as President has never quite satisfied me, no matter how many times lawyers and pundits say so. It always seemed to me that he could have opened his mouth and proclaimed Trump president anyway. I believe the experts when they tell me it wouldn’t have changed a thing, but that’s beside the point. He could have been a complete toady for Trump and spoken the words. That he didn’t I give him a little (and only a little) begrudging credit.
Which brings me to the topic of Mike Pence’s last lunch. It was scheduled for January 5th as part of a standing tradition. Pence had lunch with Trump once a week. The lunches inevitably followed a set routine according to a new book by journalist Michael Wolff, “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency.” “He usually got ten minutes to do this,” Wolff explains, “before Trump snapped on the television and launched into his current list of grievances.”
The lunch on January 5th was different. In fact it wasn’t a lunch that time at all, it was changed to a meeting. The topic was too solemn to be symbolically lightened by the bonhomie of a meal shared. Trump regaled Pence about the “stolen election,” and Pence didn’t disagree with him. Trump promised Pence he had a “heroic place in history” if he did what Trump considered was right, Wolff wrote.
“Trump pressed further, in a line he would leak straight away and that he would be repeating for months to come: ‘Do you want to be a patriot or pussy?'” Wolff said. “Pence, not rising to the bait, repeated that, in the overwhelming opinion of those constitutional experts he had consulted, the Constitution did not give him the authority to do what the president thought he could do.” As I say, while true, Pence could have gone ahead and pretended it was possible anyway, said all the words and been overruled by the law. I, for one, am glad he didn’t.
Needless to say the Constitution and the rule of law weren’t good enough for Donald Trump. We shouldn’t be surprised because they never have been. Trump has since allowed Pence to swing in effigy from the metaphorical gallows he constructed, namely, that if Pence had acted he (Trump) would still be president. While laughable on its face it is a narrative that is wholly believed by the knuckle-dragging cretins who still constitute Trump’s idiotic base.
The appetite for political exposés like Michael Wolff’s is almost unlimited these days. The Trump White House was so full of scandal, malfeasance and political blasphemy as to spawn a potential literary flood for the next ten years or so. I have little doubt that Mr. Wolff’s book will join the burgeoning list of post-Trump best sellers that prove that the American people also have an unlimited appetite for the truth. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.