Opinion | Pence represents the hate of the past – let’s build a better future

Chance Phillips contributed to the writing of this article. Phillips currently serves as membership director for UA College Democrats.


Former Vice President Mike Pence will be giving a talk on Tuesday entitled “Saving America From the Woke Left,” the latest in a long line of hateful speakers who have been invited to The University of Alabama.

“Woke” is the political right’s shorthand for anyone seeking to address the problems in America that they deny exist. In reality, accusations of wokeness are thrown at anything that contradicts conservatism: from climate change science to diversity in television commercials to people just living their lives in non-traditional ways.

Arguing for America to accept the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and welcome immigrants is called woke. Believing LGBTQ Americans deserve to live free and happy lives is called woke. Attempting to address systemic discrimination in America, or even recognizing that it exists, is called woke.

Pence, throughout his career, has used every platform and public office he has held to actively undermine the basic rights of those he considers aberrant. 

In the ’90s, Pence argued against extending basic constitutional protections to the gay community. As governor of Indiana, he passed a law trying to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people in 2015 and actively sabotaged HIV prevention programs, leading to more than two hundred additional cases during his tenure.

After decades spent calling himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” in 2016, Pence became the running mate of a man who was only dubiously the first, definitely not the second, and at best conditionally the third.

Pence, just seven months after calling Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States “unconstitutional and offensive,” accepted the vice presidential nomination.

A possibly apocryphal quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, famously declares the vice presidency isn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Vice presidents recede into the middle distance, important enough to merit the occasional article but only as a contrast to the president around whom they orbit.

Mike Pence was not the exception that proves the rule. His four years as vice president were largely uneventful until the very end.

Like essentially every Republican politician, Pence simply stood idly by and watched as Trump tried to ban Muslims from entering the United States, promoted and normalized political violence, separated thousands of children from their families and used the presidency as a clearinghouse for his personal corruption.

The one thing Pence refused to do during his vice presidency was overturn the results of the 2020 election as Trump demanded. It’s this refusal that led to chants of “Hang Mike Pence” on Jan. 6, 2021 and caused UA YAF’s announcement he would speak at the University to be met with jeers like “beta male sellout” and “traitor” in the post’s comments.

It’s a mistake to assume that this single refusal shows Pence possesses any semblance of consistent moral principles. 

If it did, he would have refused to lend his name to the campaign of a vile race-baiting con man back in 2016 or again in 2020. If it did, he would have criticized Trump’s assaults on American democracy from the Vice Presidency instead of waiting to make half-hearted, milquetoast jabs until after Trump almost had him killed.

Pence is not the first person to be invited to our university in order to argue that our fellow students do not deserve basic rights and human decency. He will not be the last guest who has spent a career fighting against equality, against our basic unalienable rights and against everyone being able to find happiness.

What is it about this wonderful university that attracts neo-Nazi propagandists, that draws vicious antisemites from other states and that causes every right-wing grifter to make it a stop on their tour?

University of Alabama students by and large stand against racism, homophobia and all forms of bigotry. Is it the faded specter of George Wallace standing in front of Foster Auditorium that still makes the hateful feel like the University will welcome them?

Whatever it is, students here in Tuscaloosa need to make it clear that they will not accept and do not believe the hatred of prior generations. 

It is the young adults of today who can, will and must build a future free from bigotry of all types, a future where everyone is able to succeed and prosper and a future where basic human rights are not subject to debate.