Mike Pence=Elmer Gantry + Uriah Heep

Frederick Barnard, “Uriah Heep and David Copperfield”


While I almost never agree with George Will, I couldn’t help but notice his recent characterization of Mike Pence. In addition to calling vice president “oleaginous,” which promptly soared to the top of Google’s word searches (it means oily), Will also (on MSNBC) described him as a cross between Elmer Gantry and Uriah Heep.

For English professors, that’s as hard hitting as insults ever get.

Elmer Gantry is Sinclair Lewis’s huckster preacher while Uriah Heep is the oleaginous money lender in David Copperfield, who goes on and on about how “’umble” he is. Combining the two gets at both Pence’s very public avowals of faith (Gantry) and the earnest way he looks at television interviewers and says anything his self-interest dictates he say (Heep).

Will is bothered by how Pence parades his piety and believes that, as a darling of the religious right, Pence should not be such a shameless shill for the huckster Trump. In fact, Pence is worse than Trump because, as Will sees it, although he is capable of making moral choices (unlike the president), he has chosen badly—which makes him “the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party.” Will, who has spent most of his life castigating liberals and Democrats, writes that Pence “clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.”

When it comes to groveling, other literary comparisons also come to mind. In the past I’ve compared people like Pence to Allessio Interminei of Lucca, whom Dante confines to the eighth level of hell for his incessant flattery. As Dante sees it, forcing sycophants to wallow in excrement for eternity is the proper punishment since it’s a version of what such men did while alive.

After reading a recent New York Times article about Pence, however, I’m seeing another comparison: the vice president as Cassius.

Apparently Pence is using Trump’s non-interest in state and local politics to elevate his stature amongst GOP party leaders. He must be careful, however, since if Trump, like Julius Caesar with Cassius, detects “a lean and hungry look,” there will be trouble in the White House.

The Times reporters suggest that Pence’s sycophancy may be a way of cloaking his ambitions:

Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the president’s instincts lean in another direction. Even as he laces his public remarks with praise for the president, Mr. Pence and his influential chief of staff, Nick Ayers, are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump’s fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base.


Mr. Pence’s team is aware of the unease within the White House, and Mr. Ayers recently told one Republican ally that one reason Mr. Pence is so effusive in his public remarks about Mr. Trump — he has recently hailed Mr. Trump as a “champion” for conservatives and branded the recent tax cuts a “Trump bonus” for America — is to tamp down questions about his loyalty.

So take your choice—Gantry, Heep, Allessio, or Cassius. I’m struck that none of these resembles like Trump, who is neither pious nor falsely humble nor sycophantic nor coldly backstabbing. If Trump has a reputation for honesty despite lying all the time, it may be because, unlike Pence, what you see is what you get. Or as Will puts it,

Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

This entry was posted in Dante, Dickens (Charles), Lewis (Sinclair), Shakespeare (William) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


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