Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian university that famously refuses any government assistance, including individual student financial aid, to maintain its independence from government regulation. Pence and his wife Karen were both presented with honorary degrees by Hillsdale President Larry Arnn.
Pence called Arnn a mentor and praised Hillsdale as a “beacon of liberty and American ideals.” He marveled at Hillsdale’s “long and often lonely stand for freedom in America.”
Pence, who brought greetings from President Trump, also said that the graduating students had learned at Hillsdale that “character is destiny and that it’s essential to self-government, and that right conduct is its own reward.” He praised the “extraordinary” men and women of the graduating class, telling them, “I just know from the bottom of my heart, right after we get done making this nation great again, your generation will make America greater than ever before.”
Pence declared that America is entering “a new era of opportunity and optimism,” arguing that “faith in America is rising once again” and that faith itself is rising again in America. He said that America is being “built again anew” by the Trump administration’s tax cuts, attacks on the regulatory state, and its “upholding the Constitution of the United States and defending all the God-given liberties enshrined there, including the unalienable right to life.”
Pence, repeating his trademark self-description as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order,” said religious faith is growing stronger. Nothing, he said, is more important than faith to the future of the country:
I also believe that faith in America is rising again for one more reason. For despite the fact that we live in a time when traditional values and even religious convictions are increasingly marginalized by a secular popular culture, a time when it’s become acceptable, even fashionable to malign religious belief, in this time I believe with all my heart, that faith, in America, is rising as well. …
And while in some places deeply held religious belief is becoming more rare, leading some to claim that America’s rich faith tradition will soon be a relic of our nation’s past, it just isn’t so. Facts are facts. Faith is rising across America. I see it every day, in communities large and small, in the way Americans respond in good times and in great hardship, the faith of the American people shines forth. …
Even as many continue to forecast the decline of religion in American life, the truth is, as President Trump recently said, this is a nation of faith. And faith continues to exert an extraordinary hold on the hearts and minds of a growing number of Americans. …
Religion in America isn’t receding. It’s just the opposite. Faith is gaining new life across America every day.
Pence cited one statistic to support this claim, saying that relative to the population, four times as many Americans go to church on a regular basis now than at the time of the country’s founding.
But the Public Religion Research Institute reported last year that, while white evangelicals are still the dominant religious group in the Republican Party, nearly a quarter of the American public is religiously unaffiliated, a group that has tripled in size over the last 25 years. PRRI also reported that trust in religious institutions has “fallen to historic lows.” And according to an ABC News story from last week:
On average last year, 36 percent of Americans in ABC News/Washington Post polls identified themselves as members of a Protestant faith, extending a gradual trend down from 50 percent in 2003. That includes an 8-point drop in the number of evangelical white Protestants, an important political group.
Reflecting the change among Protestants, the share of Christians overall has declined from 83 percent of the adult population in 2003 to 72 percent on average last year. In the same time, the number of Americans who say they have no religion has nearly doubled, to 21 percent.
Catholic self-identification (22 percent) has held steady during this time. The share of adults who identify with another form of Christianity – including Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and Greek or Russian Orthodox, for example – has risen modestly, from 11 to 14 percent.
Hillsdale raises money from conservative donors and by selling things like its 790-page “The U.S. Constitution: A Reader,” which explains what Hillsdale’s Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship describes as “the Progressive rejection of the Constitution, and the building of the administrative state based on Progressive principles.”
Hillsdale’s Arnn hosts a weekly podcast dialogue with right-wing broadcaster Hugh Hewitt. In a recent edition, Arnn said it would be “insane” for senators not to quickly confirm Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Arnn said in another that one of the main reasons the country is in “constitutional danger” is that Congress has delegated its lawmaking power to administrative agencies.
In their April 27 podcast Arnn said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should “make an argument, as we approach these elections, that the Senate– that voters of goodwill, even Democrats, must vote for Republican senators, because we cannot have the government grind to a halt because of an antipathy towards Donald Trump. Postpone your antipathy toward Donald Trump until we get to the public election of him or re-election.”
In the meantime, give us a government that works, and that means a Republican majority. Or we will get nothing done. There will not be appointees. And by the way, Justice Kennedy, if you’re listening, you’ve got to retire now.
You just have to, because if the Senate, because of politics malicious and enduring, flips, they will not confirm for two years. They will pervert the Merrick Garland precedent, which was right and proper, into a total blockade, which is not.