As candidate for vice president, Mike Pence became for many the great religious excuse for voting for Donald Trump. Conservative Christians had trouble stomaching Trump's coarse and scornful ways, perhaps, but Pence was the good guy who further justified putting their faith in the Republican cause of disruption.
For some Trump backers, the Pence enthusiasm seemed more like a cover, a strained effort to do what they would have done anyway. If Chris Christie had bulldozed his way into that VP pick, would the backing for Trump been weaker? Probably not, but Pence's credentials as a Catholic-turned-evangelical ally of the Christian right provided some assurance that he would play Marge to Trump's Homer.
That doesn't work so well, however, as Pence follows the party line, in typical VP fashion, losing any semblance of an actual voice of his own and continues to be little more than Trump's lap dog. His own voice, opposed to accepting Syrian refugees in his state, denying Darwinian evolution, moving to cut Planned Parenthood funding, restricting LGBT rights, has spoken loudly in the past. There's overlap in his rubber stamping of Trump but nothing new.
There have been a couple of moments when he appeared to speak up to the boss. Both involved opposing wholesale barring of Muslims from America. Otherwise, so far as I can detect, he has been the loyal surrogate, lending silent support to the cascade of Trump's insults, lies and bully tactics against women who accuse him and judges who block him, to mention just some of the damage. Pence has retained his steady composure, applauded his leader, acted to make further assaults on human dignity that strike at the heart of Catholic social teaching.
Related: Notre Dame avoids Trump controversy as Pence to receive honorary degree (March 2, 2017)
So would you give this man an honorary degree in place of the boss who is deemed too embarrassing to stand in that place? Does he warrant the kind of distancing from the chief executive that makes him eligible instead? A "benefit of the doubt" exemption from being only a mouthpiece? Not unless you dismiss his salute to the entire Trump incursion beyond narrow religious goals of jiggering the Supreme Court to outlaw abortion and concocting a case that religious freedom is being jeopardized to the benefit of birth control and gay rights. So much to ignore for the sake of that special agenda.
Hypocrisy is nothing new in the honorary degree business. The basic idea has merit. Celebrating the unsung, the extraordinary and the heroic has its place. But mostly it's another strategy in the unrelenting drive of most universities to gain money and attention. Plenty has been written about the self-serving purposes to which those rituals are devoted. Giving to the rich and famous as a means of gaining publicity and donations from recipients. Balancing the interests of the vaunted "strategic plan" by honoring those who are linked to university ambitions. Celebrities whose presence reaps television coverage.
Presidents (and soon the first VP) have unequaled cache, of course, and inevitably get those precious moments in the spotlight. It might take some contriving to rationalize the pick, but the sacred name of "tradition" will usually do, vacuous as that may be.
If you choose Mike Pence, you might sell it on the basis that he's different from that crude, frustrated gang leader who chose him, but keep in mind that, unless he were to summon the courage to separate himself from the attitudes and behavior that have denigrated many, Pence is a carbon copy.
For at least a portion of the Pence enthusiasts, there is an imagined scenario that vindicates their faith. Trump's term ends early and the vice president ascends.