By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
I have a strange affection for Mike Pence. He is beyond false, but his falseness is so apparent that I immediately discount it and move on.
His personality functions as a meta-personality: each day he dons a costume in public. It is not meant to be taken as real, which makes it strangely communicative in and of itself. Not only is it pure theater, it’s kabuki theater. It is deeply midwestern, deeply American, and deeply disturbing. I would rely on this man’s falseness the same way I would rely on another man’s decency. He is a professional liar and that is not always a bad thing.
I feel like I could tell him that to his face; he would say he is sorry that I feel that way; he would gaze into my eyes when he told me that; and I would want to hug him. I would give him the keys to my house, he would despise me and everything I stand for, and he would still water my plants and profess pleasure if one of them blooms.
Kamala Harris’s falseness, on the other hand, is actually meant to take us in. She is no more real than he is, but she is still trying to put one over on us. She is a bad liar, and that is not always a good thing; it’s the Hillary Clinton model of politician, the limits of which were pointed out by some guy named Trump in 2016.
She is also like every other self-righteous and lazy prosecutor I’ve ever argued against in court, making faces at people because she can’t be bothered to put her thoughts into actual words. Also, she and I agree on most things, but she would let my plants die without a second thought.
This won’t affect my vote, of course. Nor do I expect it will affect anyone else’s. But it’s interesting that their liars are better than our liars. And it isn’t because they have more practice.
It has been said that hypocrisy is the honor that vice pays to virtue. People who are nasty cover up their nastiness and pretend to be decent. People who are racists, for instance, claim that they are not. Take Mike Pence as one example: though every last one of his policies hurts minorities, he will argue that this is not racist at all, but rather the unfortunate effect of cold economic facts.
It has become fashionable to reject that sort of hypocrisy, and to lay it bare. But doing so ignores several things.
Most obviously, it ignores that there actually can be cold facts in our world, that need to be dealt with rather than ignored. It is one thing to want all people to enjoy fresh water. It’s another to believe that water can be made to roll uphill.
It also ignores that people often try to be good, and fail. They should be rewarded for the efforts rather than castigated for falling short.
It ignores the performative value of speech. When people claim they are not racist, they are agreeing that racism is bad. This reinforces the very concept of racism being bad. And the more people believe that concept, the more force it has in the world.
And it also finally ignores the problem that our world can only continue to function when people allow each other some small measure of falseness. Honesty at all times would be crippling. There is a great deal to be said for the brave face in the midst of fear; for the kind word, in the midst of anger; for the helping hand, in the midst of exhaustion. Those are often our best acts as human beings.
Eugene O’Neill had that in mind when he wrote his great play, The Iceman Cometh. It’s the story of Hickey, a friendly and popular guy, who visits the concept of unmitigated truth on his group of drinking buddies and thereby destroys their lives.
The iceman has arrived, in America today. Donald Trump’s venality has come close to breaking our country in half. We glare at each other with unfeigned hatred. We have lost our ability to simply get along; to not express how much we really don’t like that other guy; to water their plants anyway, because we all live on the same street.
For all those reasons, I give Mike Pence credit for keeping up his act, all throughout that sad debate with my chosen candidate for Vice President, Kamala Harris. If our country survives, it will be as much because of people like him, as her.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project. His most recent one is The Book of Order. They are available on Amazon.
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