“Talk less, smile more.”
This is the advice Aaron Burr gives to Alexander Hamilton in the first act of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s remarkable musical. According to Burr, speaking up provides fodder for your enemies. Better to keep your opinions to yourself until you know which way the political winds are blowing. This seems to be the Vice President’s current political strategy.
We know Mike Pence saw “Hamiton,” because Brandon Victor Dixon famously took to the stage to make an impassioned plea for equality and inclusivity while the then VP-elect was in the audience. There’s no evidence that Dixon’s words made any difference to Pence, but it does seem like he might have absorbed one lesson from his Broadway outing. I have to wonder if Pence believes Aaron Burr was the real hero of “Hamilton”?
I can’t remember the last time I heard Pence’s voice. Earlier this week, he sat in a contentious meeting with the President and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. While the three bickered and interrupted one another, Pence sat like a houseplant in the background and seemed to try to disappear. He kept his mouth shut. He may have smiled. I can’t really tell the difference between a smile or a smirk or a frown when it comes to Mike Pence.
We do know that Pence harbors presidential ambitions. At this point, he may be hoping to get the job by default when the current president leaves office under a rapidly darkening cloud of scandal. But what does Pence stand for? Where does he stand on the contentious border wall? Where does he stand on taking children from their asylum-seeking parents? Where does he stand on Americans working with Russians to influence the outcome of an election? Where does he stand on serving beside a man who seems increasingly immoral, corrupt, and unhinged? He’s not saying.
We know more about what Pence stands against than what he stands for. He stands against the LGBTQ community. He supports psychologically damaging conversion therapy for gay teens. He claims gay marriage will lead to societal collapse. He supports allowing businesses to deny service to anyone based on sexual orientation.
He stands against women. He does not believe women should work outside the home while raising children. He does not believe insurance companies should be required to cover birth control. He does not believe women should serve in the military. He supported anti-abortion measures in Indiana that were so invasive and dangerous that even Republican women came out in droves to oppose the legislation.
He stands against the poor and the elderly. He works tirelessly to strip funding from social programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Basically, if you ever find yourself unexpectedly unemployed or underemployed, or if you live past the age of 65, Mike Pence stands against you.
Whenever I see Pence sitting in the shadows of a meeting like the one earlier this week, I hear the strains of Aaron Burr’s refrain in “Hamilton.”
Talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.
But it wasn’t a winning strategy for Burr and it won’t be a winning strategy for Pence. We may not know what Pence stands for, but we know what he stands against. And we know he is all too willing to toss aside his own morality and convictions in the pursuit of power. How else to explain his alliance with Trump? After all, Pence believes it’s morally wrong to have dinner with a woman who isn’t his wife, but he stands beside a man who pays hush money to his mistresses in order to win an election and deceive his own wife. That’s confusing, but I suspect that’s what Pence is banking on. By saying nothing, he hopes to deny culpability.
With his silence, Pence tells us plenty. He tells us he is for himself and anyone who looks, acts, and believes as he does. He is with anyone who can offer him a rise to power, however corrupt that person might be.
Mike Pence is for Mike Pence. He stands firmly against the rest of us.