It was a masterpiece of political cynicism, Richard Nixon’s choice of Gerald Ford to succeed the disgraced Spiro Agnew as his Vice President.
Nixon had neither much love nor much respect for Ford, one of the kindest, most considerate people ever to be President. Kindness and consideration could hardly have been more alien to the brainy and brutally self-absorbed Nixon. What recommended Ford to Nixon was Ford’s allegedly barely-above-average intelligence, the quality frequently expressed as, “He played football too long without a helmet.”
In short, Nixon hired Ford as impeachment insurance; “No one will force me from the White House,” he thought, “if the next President up is going to be that guy.”
Ha ha ha, you sure got that right, Tricky Dick.
Ironically, it was Ford’s kindness to the man who had elevated him to national office, and consideration for the country (as he saw it) that led him to pardon Nixon for his Watergate crimes, banishing the single most divisive person in America to exile and eradication from political life.
What I saw at the time as an outrage, letting a Presidential crook off the hook, in retrospect, seems to me a decision as insightful as it was courageous. The best thing America could do about Richard Nixon was to move on without him.
Of course, the Nixon pardon probably cost Gerald Ford Presidential election in his own right.
But let us turn from the sad politics of 40-plus years ago to the even more lamentable present tense, and that far more egregiously underqualified back-up to President Donald Trump, Mike Pence.
Trump named Pence his Veep after the pasty-faced pol had compiled an undistinguished career as an anonymous right-wing back-bencher in Congress and aggressively divisive Governor of Indiana. Pence’s hallmark was translating his ostentatious fundamentalist Christian piety into politics and laws that denied rights to lesbian, gay, bi- or trans-sexual people ad help to poor or vulnerable people who needed government assistance.
His sense of “Christian duty” was expressed in unkindness and inconsideration towards anyone whose views or life-style differed from his.
His concept of “the free market” is that sellers are free to deny publically-offered services to buyers, based on some privately-held “religious belief.” He even has the gall to claim this as an expression of First Amendment rights. In Pence’s personal Constitution there is no separation of church and state, no concept that one of the key functions of law is to prevent so-called religious beliefs from becoming discriminatory secular actions.
Pence’s understanding of the First Amendment was on public display Sunday. The Vice President and the indispensable Mrs P (who seems to serve the Mister the way a burka is meant to serve Afghan women, as protection from temptations to sin) had gone to the National Football League game between the San Francisco 49ers and their hometown Indianapolis Colts.
Pence was present to play his familiar role of limpet, the small sucking creature that attaches itself to something greater. In this case, it was the Colts’ iconic former quarterback Peyton Manning who was being honored by the unveiling of a statue in front of the stadium. After effectively photobombing the occasion, The Pences went to see the game.
But even before the opening kickoff, the Second Family’s, apparently Presidentially-installed impiety-detector went off and they fled.
What triggered the alarm?
It was the sight of 20 of the 49ers kneeling during the National Anthem, and the support for their action signaled by members of the Colts, who were wearing tee-shirts that read: “We Will” on the front and “Stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity” on the back.
“Yikes!” Pence seems to have said to himself, “It’s just what The Boss had feared. We’d better get out of here before someone connects this expression of First Amendment protected freedom of speech to God- and Trump-fearing me.”
Or as he retroactively explained in Tweeting Trump-speech: “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
Anyone who has witnessed the demeanor and conduct of the “kneelers,” whether they be professional athletes or college or high school students, can testify that they have been careful to show no disrespect — to the anthem or the flag, much less to the soldiers being sent into harm’s way in Afghanistan, Iraq or Niger.
Their uniformly serious and completely dignified appropriation of religion’s choreography of humility expresses nothing less than secular faith. These athletes have a patriotic faith in America, to reject institutional racism, gender bigotry, inequality, and incivility.
No wonder Pence fled, like the Devil shown a mirror. The protestors’ values are the obverse of those that Pence and his President seem to think are religious and Constitutional.
A recent national poll suggests most American understand what Pence does not. By 5 to 3 margins, most Americans say they disagree with the kneel-down protests, but by the same 5 to 3 margin they support the right of the kneelers to have their say.
Hopefully, Americans will recall Pence’s enabling obeisance to Trump, as well as his own consistently hateful politics of division and exclusion in 2020, when he, the man meant never to be President, runs to succeed the disgraced monster who preceded him, but failed to fulfill his term of office.
My political calendar: Resist Trump in 2018, Insist Trump resign in 2019, Persist in progressive reform in 2020 and thereafter.
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