Pence v. Harris

Christian Lorentzen

It’s easy to forget about Mike Pence. Trump seems to have hired him in part because he wouldn’t have to think about him, and has kept him busy ‘reaching out’ to potentially disaffected evangelicals with repeated assurances that they are the ones who constitute ‘the American people’. His persona – that of a reanimated fossil from a 1950s that never actually happened – is innocuous enough that a fly could sit unperturbed on his skull for two minutes while he insisted the government has done well by African Americans. Much of last night’s vice presidential debate amounted to counterfactual historical fiction or speculative fiction. How would a Biden administration have handled the pandemic? Had the debaters discussed with their elderly running mates the possibility that they might turn into corpses while on the job? In Pence’s narrative, the president is a dignified philosopher-king, the righteous guardian of the American way. (As he spoke his boss was tweeting with paranoid gusto: ‘Obama, Biden, Crooked Hillary and many others got caught in a Treasonous Act of Spying and Government Overthrow, a Criminal Act. How is Biden now allowed to run for President?’) Once the proceedings settled into realism, Kamala Harris had the advantage: calling a catastrophe a catastrophe supports the logic of voting out the incumbent.

‘Almost half of American renters are worried about whether they’re going to be able to pay rent by the end of the month,’ she said. ‘This is where the economy is in America right now. And it is because of the catastrophe and the failure of leadership of this administration.’ If Trump, Pence and the Republican Party were serious about winning on 3 November, they would have passed another pandemic relief package last week. Instead, they left a Democratic offer of $2.2 trillion on the table because it’s too generous. The pandemic, mass unemployment, and one in five American businesses tanking? It’s China’s fault, according to Pence, and an opportunity for the American people to make heroic sacrifices.

The Republicans offer right-wing recklessness and the Democrats moderate amelioration: tax hikes for incomes above $400,000; regulations on natural gas extraction; no more chokeholds; continued coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. Ho hum. Polls indicate that these less than inspiring policies will give the Democrats a path to victory smoother than Pence’s forehead. Meanwhile, the spectacle of an infected commander-in-chief has turned the national farce into an orgy of shaming and casual sadism, on the one hand, as fantasies of the president and his courtiers gasping for breath go viral, and an occasion for defiant propaganda, on the other: helicopters, steroids, Don’t let it dominate you.’ A good slogan for a nation in lockdown, on fire and coughing itself to death.


  • 9 October 2020 at 5:25am
    RSeeg says:
    This doesn't reflect what I'm seeing in the US. I'm starting to think Trump will win again. The Democrats need to learn to stay out of their own way and let him hang himself. There was a lot of odd, off-putting analysis last night. People tried to say the fly was a symbol. Gayle King went so far as to call the bug a "fly of color." It was bizarre. They're trying to help Biden & Harris but I suspect it's going to backfire.

    • 9 October 2020 at 11:24am
      Tony Barrett says: @ RSeeg
      Could you elaborate on what you’re “seeing” or was that rhetorical flourish? The polling looks remarkably poor for Trump, across the board. And anecdotally, the Republicans and Trump himself seem to be acting like they’ve already lost.

    • 9 October 2020 at 11:25am
      Jim Driscoll says: @ RSeeg
      What are you seeing in the US that is making you think Trump may win again? (genuine query)

    • 10 October 2020 at 12:49am
      Stephen Mcdonald says: @ Jim Driscoll
      I live in East Tennessee. It is hard for me to imagine trump losing. But I also understand that I live in a non-coastal, non-metropolitan area.

    • 10 October 2020 at 12:51am
      Stephen Mcdonald says: @ Jim Driscoll
      But, it speaks to a larger trend. The people I know who voted for him once are so dyed in the wool, they literally think he is a god-sent savior.

      For example, I live close enough to her district to get her advertising, but Marjorie Taylor Greene is a good example of where contemporary conservatives are right now.

    • 10 October 2020 at 12:52am
      Stephen Mcdonald says: @ Jim Driscoll
      Basically, if he won once, are Biden/Harris going to be able to pull enough new voters to win? Because I can’t imagine any people who voted for Trump once, either turning party or staying home.

    • 10 October 2020 at 2:40am
      RSeeg says: @ Tony Barrett
      The Dems are making all the same mistakes as last time, except that they're going even farther down the road in the wrong direction. They are still talking down to working people, or past their concerns. No one would admit in a poll that they were going to vote for Trump. It can affect your job, your ability to rent a place to live, etc.

      The one exception to this seems to be working-class Black men. They aren't afraid to openly be Trump fans and will talk about why they like him in public. I see this on the bus some mornings.

      Other than that, a lot of people have quietly voiced concerns to me about how frail Biden looks. (I work in healthcare. People quietly broach the subject by saying something like, "You know frail. Doesn't he look frail to you?") Or some people are, again quietly, concerned about the changes Democrats want to make to the Constitution. For example: DC statehood. DC was created from parts of three states. The idea was to keep one state from having too much centralized power. A lot of people will be unwilling to vote for Biden-Harris because they see the Democrats as the party that wants to tear up the Constitution as a long-term solution to a short-term problem.

    • 10 October 2020 at 1:12pm
      Delaide says: @ RSeeg
      Short term problem? Notwithstanding what the ‘working class’ think of the Democrats, if they can’t see that Trump is totally unfit to feed their cats, never mind be their President, and this willful blindness results inTrumps re-election, then what the US faces, and indeed the western world, is a lot more than a sort term problem.

    • 11 October 2020 at 3:49am
      RSeeg says: @ Delaide
      It's funny that you're putting 'working class' in quotes when I work with a lot of CNAs & orderlies and I kept my security guard license from my old job current. You should listen so you're not as surprised as last time when he wins. The Dem campaign tone is as schoolmarmy as when Hillary ran. They're as out of touch with why people are upset and what would make them happy as ever. And Dem activists are alienating their natural allies with really off-putting behavior.

      Lockdowns have cost people businesses they built with love & care. Dem-controlled states like NY and CA did not take care of small business owners and no one at the national level advocated for that either. They forced them to shut down, even though they provide the tax base for their communities. Instead corporations like Target were able to remain open with social distancing and head counts etc. What would prevent a local shop that sells clothes or shoes from limiting occupancy and putting tape on the ground at 6' intervals where people line up? Why did they go exclusively for the corporations who famously won't move to an area without a steep tax break, instead of their actual constituents?

      Dem policies at the national level, since at least the Clinton era, have favored middle to upper middle class families. Things like the healthcare thing, people being on their parents' insurance until they're 26? That already prioritizes people who are from stable families with parents who have stable, successful careers. The working-class expectation in the US has traditionally been you move out at 18 & shift for yourself, or you join the military, or you stay home and pay rent to your parents. Recent Dem administrations have completely left people like me, who grew up in a chaotic family & were abused, completely behind & in the dust. When I finished school I considered doing Teach from America. They don't provide you with anything. They will help you - get this - apply for a loan so you can get housing and buy your own supplies for your classroom. So there went that dream of an education career, because who the fuck can take out another loan on top of what I borrowed for college? We will never catch up & they don't care. Their policies of extending the "youth" ages for middle class perks are basically an admission that we will never be able to have fulfilling lives with free time or own anything. The Dems used to be the party of Al Smith, a Fulton Fish Market man, who read all the bills to teach himself gov't, helped end child labor, became the first Catholic to run for President and mentored FDR. Now we have AOC, who shoots her mouth off all the time about her hoop earrings and brunch, doesn't have any relevant experience at the state or local level, is clearly in way over her head, and knows less about how US military funding works than I did in high school. THAT's supposed to be our future? Am I supposed to be grateful for THAT mess? Or we've also got the Michelle Obamas of the world, her Ivy League experience wasn't perfect and someone cut in front of her at a posh ice cream shop. That's too bad, but those are actually pretty nice problems to have compared to my three bouts of homelessness thus far after college. Literally no one with half a brain is taking up for us.

      I don't think you understand what Dem politicians have done to their constituents at the state level, either. It's very alienating. In California, they passed AB5, which makes it nearly impossible to freelance. Writers from Cali now have the opportunity to 'volunteer' for some platforms that used to pay them. Also affected: comedians, small local theater companies, some medical professionals like nurses & dietitians, interpreters who contracted with hospitals, single moms who do medical billing at home, etc. The party in its wisdom now also want to take this national with the Pro Act. It represents a bizarre, outdated, Soviet-style view of labor, where you must have a union card to jot something down and submit it somewhere for publication, Or Else. I know the LRB is not exactly the audience for media people like Joe Rogan or Ben Shapiro who've left for greener pastures. But many, many, MANY people in media & creative fields are doing the same. The ones who are staying in Cali are struggling with the idea of voting R for the first time ever.

      Finally, Dem activists really are losing their minds. I don't know how else to put it. I moved during the lockdown for work. My plan was sublet or rent a room for a month, learn the lay of the land in the new city & find a place of my own. People I met with about apartments wanted to interrogate me to find out how I felt about Bernie. Like you, they 'knew' they were smarter than I am and felt very empowered to talk down to me. They knew way more about COVID than me and pffted at me wearing a mask to meet with them, even though I'd flown recently and work in healthcare which has a high risk of exposure. They are just sooooo much cooler and smarter than me, yo. I don't even smoke weed anymore! Ha! Ha! And then, they were surprised that I actually didn't want to give them $1,000 and have to put up with them for a whole fucking month.

      I just, like: you don't get it. None of you get it. There's all this guff about "less educated" and we're not stupid. How long are we expected to hold our noses and vote for people who just use us? Because at least the Republicans follow through on what they promise working-class people, which is mostly stuff like the Pro Life legislation. That's why they have the Catholics & the evangelicals. They're giving them SOMETHING. Something you and I find distasteful, like I'm a woman and I want control of my own reproductive system. But they are at least giving them SOMETHING. Dems pretend to like us, but actually talk down to & disdain us. They gladly take our money, but they get more money from Wall Street, so they feel empowered to go ahead and fuck us over anyway. It's so idiotic that you think the sweetheart deals Beau Biden got are somehow different from the sweetheart deals the Trump kids get. They're the same exact shitty fucking nepotism asshole people. At least the Trumps aren't hypocrites about it. At least they own how fucking tacky they are and advertise it by gilding shit. At least we have fair warning.

      Like how much time do you have? How many examples do you want? Can we talk about healthcare maybe? Why don't the Dems try drafting churches for support for publicly-funded healthcare? Why haven't they realized that their charts & graphs & efficiency argument, true as it may be, does not work & has not worked with American voters for ~30 years? Do they not know that Tommy Douglas, originator of the provincial healthcare in Canada they envy, trained as a preacher? Why do they keep banging their head against the wall, doing the same things that don't work over and over again? And why do they do it so smarmily, as if it's for our own good? We're being NICE to them. We're holding our fucking noses and voting for these dirtbags every time. And it's always the same. 80 year old Pelosi in that stupid hair salon with no mask on, but no one can visit their parents in an assisted living facility. "What if we open the door and there's fresh air coming in and I- " "No." "I just want to know she's okay." "Our activities director can help you set up a Zoom call."

      And do you know how hard it was to get a PPP loan? For people like hairdressers, dogwalkers etc? Do you know how many times they got turned down because the program was full up, or they didn't have the exact right documentation? They played by the rules and got fucked while she & Newsom & their friends were fine and didn't have to play by any rules. It's sick that you can't even imagine a reason why working people might be fed up at this point.

    • 11 October 2020 at 3:24pm
      Delaide says: @ RSeeg
      You haven’t addressed my sole point, the total unfitness of Trump for office. As for everything else, I can see you have some issues. To pick two that you appear to favour, universal health care and reproductive rights, you can’t really believe voting Republican would be in your interests. But you’ll do it anyway, largely, I think I can reasonably conclude, because you feel the schoolmarmy Democrats talk down to you. I don’t want to defend the Democrats but your tribal loyalties are blinding you to the shockingly obvious point, the unfitness of Trump. I just hope there aren’t enough of you on November 8.

    • 23 October 2020 at 2:28pm
      Louisa Catsiapis says: @ RSeeg
      You are clearly very angry, but what you seem to bypass is that you had faith in the Dems once upon a time, they seem to have disappointed you, so you hold the other side to lower standards.
      This is the only rational explanation for generalisations along the lines of "at least they give then something". If one follows this logic, the dems can also be found to give something. Especially considering what the Trump administration promised vs. what it achieved. I mean, this is beyond obvious.
      However, I agree that the Dem party talks down on the working class, and basically anyone who is not middle-class with the aspiration of becoming upper-middle class. I get what you are trying to point out. But then you mention AOC and Michelle Obama as your problem? One is not even a politician, in the strict sense of the word. She was the First Lady. The other is a fresh Congresswoman. And they are your problem? Sounds more like sexism to me, that there is finally a young woman at the forefront of the new generation of politicians, that openly addresses corruption, but she is not perfect (who is?) and therefore she's the scapegoat.

  • 9 October 2020 at 3:30pm
    Quebec Scot says:
    Might Trump 'win'? Not the popular vote, but given the clinical attention Republicans are giving to Electoral College/swing-state voting with voter suppression (see e.g. Texas) , poll harassment (hundreds of lawyers hired and Trump's invocation to the Proud Boys to 'stand by'), an already invoked rejection of mail-in ballots, plus the possibility of Trump Republicans calling for a halt in the count early enough to stop the 'blue shift' (with the help of the courts - ref: the recount in Bush vs. Gore), can he 'win'?
    As per Jim Driscoll's comment, this is a genuine query. I have no idea, maybe (given current poll projections) I'm simply being paranoid.
    You can bet Trump will be tweeting his victory, regardless of what might be actually happening.

    • 9 October 2020 at 8:19pm
      Tony Barrett says: @ Quebec Scot
      Of course he might win. That’s a given

  • 10 October 2020 at 3:06pm
    Gary Palmero says:
    Small samples do not equal large samples. Polling in America is informal but expensive so most samples are small. In many cases, the response rate is under 10% which makes the poll essentially worthless (source for the 10%: Pew). Also, the demographics of the Trump voter are less likely to be reached since most do not read the liberal media and live in areas where polling is less frequent or approached with more suspicion.

    The election is apt to be much closer than the l media is currently forecasting.

  • 10 October 2020 at 7:15pm
    Alices Restaurant says:
    How is that an advantage for Harris: “calling a catastrophe a catastrophe supports the logic of voting out the incumbent”?

    History has no alternative. Where are her data points and control groups. She offers only a fantasy: Classic Cultural Marxist Big Rock Candy Mountain Grand Collective thinking. More ersatz sugar for the peasants is always the solution.

    But her problem remains: Few in Iowa liked her and even with our Sovietized mass media pulling for her ad nauseam, things remain the same.

    And her constant bobble-heading with a pause when she thinks she's making an irrefutable point is quite off-putting, too.

    • 10 October 2020 at 10:00pm
      Graucho says: @ Alices Restaurant
      "Sovietized mass media". ? Fox fake news for example ? That great communist newspaper owner Jeff Bezos ? That well know red conspiracy the Disney organisation ? Maybe for once it's a Brit failing to spot American irony.

    • 10 October 2020 at 11:09pm
      Alices Restaurant says: @ Graucho
      That hit a nerve. No, "Brit" illustrating Stalinist-hive group-think conditioning--cliché CNN et al. Need to read more Milosz and Djilas, it seems, than Marcuse and Gramsci.

    • 10 October 2020 at 11:42pm
      Graucho says: @ Alices Restaurant
      Doesn't take group think to spot that a man who inherited an absolute fortune and then proceeded to drive 6 companies into the ground one after the other doesn't have the competence to be a U.S. president. As this virus is immune to bullshit it has found the old fraud out. Now if you want an example of group think, start with Q-Anon.

    • 11 October 2020 at 12:34am
      Graucho says: @ Alices Restaurant
      P.S. I didn't think Harris performed that well. If brains were dynamite Mr. Pence couldn't blow his nose, she should have done much better. I guess the Democrats are in do no harm mood given their poll ratings and are pulling their punches.

    • 11 October 2020 at 12:49am
      Alices Restaurant says: @ Graucho
      My point: CNN et al. cliché thinking. Too much Marcuse and Gramsci. Stalinist-hive protection uber alles?

    • 11 October 2020 at 12:52am
      Alices Restaurant says: @ Graucho
      Lenin's Bay Area Harris is a Willie Brown favorite as she should be. Still Ms Bobble-Head with a pause--so off-putting.

  • 11 October 2020 at 1:09am
    prwhalley says:
    A number of trolls on this thread, I think. Someone’s getting worried.

    • 11 October 2020 at 4:46pm
      Delaide says: @ prwhalley

    • 11 October 2020 at 7:04pm
      Kevin Egan says: @ prwhalley
      Indeed. By their vast and windy generalizations shall ye know them.

      Seeg says she's a woman, but the concern-trolling style perfectly channels the conservative rants of the 30-something testosterone bloggers like Shapiro and Rogan, who themselves down-style the points of slightly older and more mainstream conservative whiz kids like Rich Lowry and even Tucker Carlson. that you? Are you taking a break over here at the LRB? Wouldn't put it past him...

  • 16 October 2020 at 2:57pm
    Richard Dargan says:
    It would be great for the American Nation if there was any feeling that the present incumbent of the White House was competent and consistent. Instead he seems to say one thing one day and then a day or so later something completely different. He also releases a Niagara of tweets, seemingly doing so rather than putting in the hard slog of government. There is a saying that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than speak up and be proved a fool.

    Government by zig-zags of changes in policies and casually inaccurate statements is no way to run a country of more than 320 million people. The fact that both leading candidates are in their seventies also makes one wonder why there are not better younger candidates for the Presidency in the rest of the population and why they have not appeared .

  • 19 October 2020 at 2:11pm
    Simon Wood says:
    There is an interesting sort-of interview in today's "Guardian" with Cornel West. I do not like his antiquated Marxist lingo, like "fascist" and "imperialist". It's like when Trump talks of "socialism", just insults.

    However, the over-arching theme I do like, of systemic liberalism, so to speak, of a say-one-thing, do-another opposition.

    For this is what we have here in the UK. Keir Starmer our Labour leader is doing a very good job by being strongly neutral till the noise of signalling goes away and Labour can get to grips with popularity again.

    • 21 October 2020 at 1:09pm
      Delaide says: @ Simon Wood
      I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

Read more