The day after the Republican Party’s red “wave” barely managed to lap the shores of American democracy, former Vice President Mike Pence took the opportunity to step into the spotlight, publishing something in the Wall Street Journal that I am honestly still trying to categorize.
Technically, it’s an essay—or more precisely, an adapted excerpt from Pence’s forthcoming memoir, My Last Days With Donald Trump. It may sound as if it’s going to be a Tuesdays With Morrie–type thing, but it’s actually about how Pence and Trump interacted regarding “stolen election” stuff.
In the piece, Pence recounts meeting with Donald Trump five days after the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol, in which many Trump-supporting rioters clearly expressed their desire to “hang” Pence, whom they blamed for failing to overturn the 2020 election. Not cool, particularly if you are Pence!
In Pence’s telling, the Trump he visited on Jan. 11, 2021, was a sobered, sensitive, repentant man. “He looked tired,” Pence writes, “and his voice seemed fainter than usual.” (O … K?) He continues:
“How are you?” [Trump] began. “How are Karen and Charlotte?” I replied tersely that we were fine and told him that they had been at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He responded with a hint of regret, “I just learned that.” He then asked, “Were you scared?”
“No,” I replied, “I was angry. You and I had our differences that day, Mr. President, and seeing those people tearing up the Capitol infuriated me.”
He started to bring up the election, saying that people were angry, but his voice trailed off. I told him he had to set that aside, and he responded quietly, “Yeah.”
I said, “Those people who broke into the Capitol might’ve been supporters, but they are not our movement.” For five years, we had both spoken to crowds of the most patriotic, law-abiding, God-fearing people in the country.
With genuine sadness in his voice, the president mused: “What if we hadn’t had the rally? What if they hadn’t gone to the Capitol?” Then he said, “It’s too terrible to end like this.”
The only question I can ask after reading this is: Does anyone believe that any of this actually happened? I can’t imagine Pence does, even though he’s the one who allegedly lived it. Certainly not the publisher of his memoir, or the editors of the Wall Street Journal. No one who has witnessed any public moment of Trump’s presidency or life could believe this actually happened. Not even Trump! In fact, if I were him, I’d sue for defamation! This excerpt makes him look like a wuss!
One of Trump’s primary qualities, the thing that would have him a very happy autocrat if he had managed to get his shit together, is his complete incapacity for the following things: self-reflection, remorse, “musing,” second thoughts, admitting wrongdoing, saying “yeah” when someone suggests he set a grievance aside, and feeling “a hint of regret” that people tried to hang the guy who allegedly cost him a second term as president.
We all know this. We all lived it for four years! So, it’s a bit too cute that Pence is trying to make Emo Donald Trump happen. There’s a reason why every anonymous anecdote leaked about Trump’s private conversations has made him out to be exactly the kind of walking anger management problem he appears to be in public: Even anonymous leakers know that the idea of Trump “responding quietly” or speaking with “genuine sadness in his voice” is too farfetched to pass muster!
Do not sleep on this Pulitzer-worthy world-building exercise. And while you’re reading, take a moment to marvel at the way Pence summarizes Trump’s video to Jan. 6 rioters with the quote “I know your pain, I know your hurt … but you have to go home now, we have to have peace.” This heroic ellipsis—which elides the part of the video in which Trump reiterates his lies about the stolen election and tells the rioters, “We love you, you’re very special”—is doing more work than any punctuation mark has ever previously attempted. It’s too beautiful to be factual. It’s art!