Donald Trump isn't the most dangerous man on the ticket - Mike Pence is
OPINION: Donald Trump is not the most dangerous thing on the Republican ticket.
If you suffered through the past month's three US presidential debates, you could be forgiven for thinking that poverty did not exist on this side of the Pacific. And that US schools were well-funded dream factories. And that "solve climate change" had been checked off the to-do list. And that Israel and Palestine were chummy BFFs.
Such was the issue-vanquishing crater opened up by the ongoing explosion that is Donald J Trump in debate mode: In a flurry of "bad hombres", "nasty" women, "Jai–nah!" and "locker-room" talk, who had time to discuss the diminishing future of the country's eastern seaboard?
FOX News anchor Chris Wallace did get his wonk on while moderating the third debate, but unsurprisingly chose conservative obsessions like entitlements and gun-rights as his focuses.
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The most strikingly absent element was any discussion of LGBTQI rights. Which is a troubling black hole because, while we can get married, the question of our being equal in the US has by no means been settled. Not when hate crimes against LGBTQI people, particularly those of colour, have surged in the past decade. Not when gays, lesbians and trans people can be fired in 28 states for just being who we are.
And not as we face the most dangerously anti-LGBTQI candidate in modern times.
And sorry, Donald, I'm not talking about you.
Trump's running-mate, Mike Pence is an "aw shucks"-ing nightmare from an age of black-and-white TV and regular raids on gay bars. He is arguably America's greatest threat to progress, and, in this cycle, has gotten away with it unchallenged.
On LGBTQI issues, he makes the iodine-dipped man-toddler at the top of his ticket look borderline liberal.
Pence has, of course, been stridently anti-marriage equality: "Society collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family", he said while supporting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex weddings in 2006. But that's a given for a Republican.
What's not a given is how extreme his opposition has been. In 2013, he signed a bill as governor that would jail same-sex couples applying for a marriage license in Indiana.
As a leading opponent of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 – named for Shepard, who had been beaten and tortured to death in Wyoming because he was gay, and for Byrd Jr, the victim of a race-hate crime – Pence said the president was trying to "advance a radical social agenda". The bill expanded hate-crime legislation to include violence directed at the LGBTQI community.
And in 2000, as a candidate for Congress, he proposed freezing federal funds to "organisations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus" and instead giving that money to "institutions that provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour".
So yes, he's into conversion therapy.
Pence's claim to fame, though – and one of the only reasons non-Indianans knew his name before he was announced as Trump's running mate – was Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a charming little bill that allowed, until a recent amendment, business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people based on their religious beliefs. Which is exactly what happened when an Indiana restaurant owner declared he would not cater to any gay couples that chose to have their wedding catered by his one-and-a-half-star Yelp-rated suburban pizza joint.
How has Pence's track record gone largely unchallenged during this endless campaign? Because the world has been absorbed in the Trump show. Even in the one vice-presidential debate, Democratic candidate Tim Kaine spent so much time talking about Pence's running-mate he forgot to look into the camera in the final moments and say: "Hey America – this guy's even worse."
And he is. When Trump is waxing maniacal about ripping babies from wombs, he's doing it in a cynical attempt to convince the stadium church set that voting for a thrice-married crotch-grabbing tax-cheating tangerine man is what Jesus would have done. When Pence says it – and when he systematically works to erode the rights of LGBTQI people – he means it.
If elected, he will also be a Vice-President of unique power. Donald Trump Jr, who vetted his father's potential running-mates, has reportedly said a Trump administration VP would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy while Dad is busy "making America great again".
So that "vice" thing will be mostly for show. And if he isn't elected, he's already being talked about as a major contender for the 2020 nomination.
For gays, lesbians and trans people down under, this is almost as terrifying as it is for our American friends. We look to the US and the social progress made there in the past few years as a kind of beacon. That country, with which we so often advance in social tandem, has lapped us on same-sex marriage; it has been a point of particular shame as an Aussie living in the US to see us lagging so far behind.
With Mike Pence in the White House – next year, four years later, or ever – we would have to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Joel Meares is an Australian journalist in New York.
- Sydney Morning Herald