Mike Pence is just as full of bullshit as every other person who runs interference with the press while Donald Trump skulks around the White House in his bathrobe. Yesterday he continued his campaign of national gaslighting by visiting with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos where he literally said these words out loud with a straight face: “I think the generosity of [Donald Trump’s] spirit, recognizing that in the patriot’s heart, there’s no room for prejudice, is part of who this president is.” (No, I’m serious; he really said that.) This particular praise was gushed in response to Stephanopoulos’ expressed surprise that Trump hasn’t gutted President Obama’s 2014 executive order that prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors.
When Trump’s probably forthcoming “religious freedom” executive order leaked last week, LGBTQ people were rightfully appalled, if not necessarily surprised. During his campaign, Trump seemed mostly disinterested in wading into the LGBTQ rights conversation, but during his presidency he’s seemed disinterested in actually reading the executive orders placed in front of his face, all of which are being written by one of the most anti-LGBTQ administrations in modern history.
Make no mistake: Trump’s decision to keep Obama’s executive order in place and his decision to not push through his own sweeping religious freedom order last week have nothing to do with his “generosity of spirit” or “patriot’s heart.” Nearly every time Trump has mentioned LGBT people, he has done so in an attempt to paint himself as a benevolent leader while driving a wedge between gay people and the people of color he’s persecuting.
Remember this tweet? It’s one of the few times he mentioned us during his campaign.
Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
It’s a classic propaganda technique: You’re in danger from people who aren’t like you. I’m the only one who can protect you. Fear them. Worship me.
Mike Pence is just mimicking that strategy. “I think throughout the campaign, President Trump made it clear that discrimination would have no place in our administration,” Pence told Stephanopoulos. “He was the very first Republican nominee to mention the LGBTQ community at our Republican National Convention and was applauded for it. And I was there applauding with him.”
It’s much more likely that Trump and the Republican Party have been gobsmacked by the activism that has sprung up in the last two weeks. The marches, the protests, the phone calls, the federal judges already blocking his executive orders. As Vox pointed out this morning, Trump and the GOP have retreated in major ways since his inauguration. They had to walk back their midnight scheme to gut the Congressional Ethics Office; put a pin in their plan to sell huge swaths of public land; perpetually justify their support of Trump’s cabinet picks; and watch Trump’s approval ratings tank faster than any president in history.
Liberal and progressive activism of varying tactics and angles has disoriented and devastated them, and on behalf of people groups the GOP has been scapegoating with ease for decades. In the face of so many setbacks, there’s no way Donald Trump was going to go up against LGBTQ people, at least not right now; we boast one of the most organized, well-funded, successful, and popular activist movements in modern history.
Pence’s lies about Trump’s compassionate, patriot’s heart don’t matter at this point. The truth is that even if Trump never signs a pointedly anti-LGBT executive order into law, LGBTQ people are already being harmed by his xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist administration, because LGBTQ people belong to all of those groups targeted by them. And even if Trump doesn’t personally want to target LGBTQ people, it’s clear that he’s not competent enough to stand in the way of the GOP members who have been working to do so for years in the form of bathroom bills, RFRAs, and more. That’s why this weekend over 2,000 protesters showed up at the Stonewall Inn to decry Trump’s executive orders, despite the fact that they haven’t (yet) singled us out explicitly.