After Hurricane Katrina, Mike Pence, then an Indiana Congressman, said on the House floor that “as we begin to rebuild…let’s figure out how we’re going to pay for it. Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.” That was then. Today Pence said in Rockport, Texas, that Houston is going to be rebuilt “bigger and better.” Pious hypocrisy at the expense of poor people and non-Republican people comes naturally to the Vice President. But Pence leaped beyond hypocrisy today into heathenism.
If Pence actually cared about not creating a catastrophe of future debt, rebuilding Houston even bigger is wrong and stupid. Paving over what’s left of the prairies that used to soak up rainwater, and loosening lax building codes even further, is not going to reduce future government debt unless the federal government treats Texans as if they had truly seceded and excludes them from disaster relief. President Trump signed an executive order just ten days before Hurricane Harvey hit that revoked prudent regulations set in 2015 but not yet put into force. The Obama-era rules, according to Business Insider, “would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters.” That kind of basic stewardship of resources and that kind of cautiousness are apparently foreign to the Trump-Pence administration. In fact, Pence’s “bigger and better” promise today goes beyond hypocrisy and amounts to false piety. How so? What Pence’s embrace of Osteen-style prosperity gospel doesn’t get about Christian faith is something John Calvin grasped quite clearly: the doctrine of God’s providence does not authorize or empower us to stop paying prudential attention to the “secondary causes” we find in the visible world. Believing in God’s providence does not allow, much less require, us to rebuild “bigger” in a subtropical coastal plain that has become a toxic swamp of hazardous and explosive chemicals. Faithful Christian stewardship (and Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan stewardship, for that matter) of our only planet is a far cry from the heathenish YOLO attitude we hear from Trump and Pence whenever it suits their political purposes.
Paul Ryan, by the way, has attacked Obamacare because it crushes “freedom” and forces healthy people to pay for sick people. How does Speaker Ryan feel about forcing dry people to pay for flooded people? That is how risk pools work, Paul. I do feel that if the federal government makes sensible regulatory restrictions on rebuilding after disasters difficult or impossible, we are in for an even faster race to the bottom, and an ugly future in which an universal American risk pool for health care or disaster relief recedes onto an even more distant horizon.