The Briefing 02-22-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, February 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
As presidential race continues, the field narrows and worldview divides become clearer
So far as the media were concerned, the big story over the weekend was the presidential primary season. In Nevada, in the Democratic caucuses, Hillary Clinton pushed back an insurgent Bernie Sanders and won a convincing victory—especially impressive amongst minority voters. But when it comes to South Carolina, the big news was of course the Republican primary, and in that primary Donald Trump won by double-digits, followed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and then Texas Senator Ted Cruz, second and third place very closely separated. There’s big news there with Donald Trump winning the primary in South Carolina. South Carolina has a very high proportion of Christian conservatives in the Republican electorate, that’s what makes that victory all the more significant.
The big question in the beginning of the Trump campaign was whether or not conservative Christians would support a rather secular candidate given the profile of Donald Trump, someone who not only has had no political experience, but someone who on a range of issues—including pressing moral issues such as abortion—has, to say the very least, not been consistent in terms of holding to a conservative, pro-life position. But Donald Trump won convincingly in South Carolina. The other thing to look at is that you add up the other candidates—that is, even the more traditional candidate such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz—you end up with a much larger vote than Donald Trump received, which goes to show that in a political equation, it’s not only how many votes you get, but how many opponents in a primary season you have to oppose.
But the big news, of course, the biggest news of all on Saturday night was actually the exit of a major candidate from the race, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who left the race announcing he was suspending his campaign after coming in in fourth place in South Carolina.
On the Republican side, the big stories are the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of Jeb Bush. But on closer analysis those really aren’t two stories, they’re one political story, and in that story is a massive tale about the political restructuring of the United States. One of the things we have to note is that Donald Trump wasn’t even on the political radar just a matter of a year ago, and now he is the dominant figure in Republican politics at the primary level, at least at this point in history. On the other hand, if we were to rewind history to a year ago, it seemed to be virtually inevitable that there would be a face-off in November between the Republican nominee presumed to be Jeb Bush and the Democratic nominee presumed to be Hillary Clinton. People were raising very public questions a year ago as to how healthy American democracy might be considered if indeed you’re looking at candidacies that seemed to be inevitable given family profiles and last names—the last names in this case, of course, Clinton and Bush. But the story of the 2016 elections turned out to be very different. There are very real concerns, but it turns out that political dynasties are not the main concern.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is at least not skating to a Democratic victory, and on the Republican side many people will note this means the end of the Bush dynasty, at least in this generation. But there’s an even bigger story here, because it’s really not just the Bush dynasty, it is a model of Republican politics that has been dominant in that party going back at least to the 1960s. It was during that decade that George H.W. Bush, later the 41st president of the United States, rose to influence in the Republican Party. And George H.W. Bush represented a particular kind of patrician profile in terms of American politics, in particular Republican politics. The son of a former United States Senator, George Bush rose to prominence through several successive Republican administrations after having first been elected to Congress. He would later serve as United States envoy to China as Chairman of the Republican National Committee and as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and then, of course, he became Ronald Reagan’s vice-presidential nominee in 1980. But George H.W. Bush had been considered for the Republican vice-presidential slot as far back as 1968. Very seriously, he was considered in 1976 as the running mate for Gerald Ford, but he was of course the vice-presidential candidate in 1980. That raises a very interesting question, when was the last time that Republicans had a winning ticket at the top without a Bush on the ticket? That year would be 1972. To put it another way, a majority of Americans voting in the 2016 presidential election will never have known a winning Republican ticket that did not have the Bush name on it.
George Bush would be elected Vice President in 1980, again in 1984, elected the 41st President of the United States in 1988. George W. Bush would be elected president in 2000 and in 2004. The expectation was that the 2016 Republican race would come down eventually to Jeb Bush with a proven record in two terms as Florida Governor, a profoundly decent man who reminded many Americans of his own father, that is the 41st president, even more so than his brother, the 43rd. Fundamental to understanding the meaning of the exit of Jeb Bush from the 2016 race is understanding that on the Republican side, there is so much political unrest that Jeb Bush turned out not to have political traction. In a time of this level of political unrest amongst conservatives and Republicans, it turns out that being a Bush was more of a liability than an asset and that the Bush trajectory going back to 41, a very competent, conservative, effective governance is not what Republican voters are looking for.
That tells us something about the Republican electorate, just as the incredible and unexpected popularity of Bernie Sanders says something very profound about the Democratic electorate. But what it says about Republicans right now is that Republicans are wanting more radical change and more energy in a presidential candidate than Jeb Bush was understood to represent. The key thing to watch, politically speaking, on the Republican side is whether the exit of Jeb Bush from the race gives energy to someone else who can emerge as a genuine alternative to Donald Trump at this very strategic point in the Republican campaign. On both sides of the political equation, in both parties, the next several weeks in the primary cycle are going to be absolutely decisive and no doubt fascinating.
Christians will understand that even as we’re watching a political contest at work, we’re also watching worldviews in collision. And on that aspect, again, it’s only going to get more interesting and more urgent.
Death of Antonin Scalia accentuates the importance of elections for American public and private life
And next, speaking of the urgency of the 2016 presidential election, that was made all the more apparent by the public funeral on Saturday of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And in light of that urgency, columnist Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post reminds us that in 2012 Antonin Scalia said that,
“He would not retire until there was a more ideologically congenial president in the White House.”
That’s Krauthammer’s terms. But Scalia said, and I quote,
“I would not like to be replaced by someone who immediately sets about undoing everything that I’ve tried to do for 25 years.”
Krauthammer then says,
“Scalia never got to choose the timing of his leaving office. Those who value the legacy of those now-30 years will determine whether his last wish will be vindicated.”
Krauthammer was speaking directly of the responsibility now of the United States Senate in light of an expected nomination to the court by President Barack Obama. But Krauthammer was also pointing once again to the fact that the 2016 presidential election is not and has never been merely about the presidency, as if you could just speak of the presidency as one branch of our national government. It is also about the president’s responsibility to nominate vacancies to the federal courts and in particular to nominate those who will sit on the United States Supreme Court. And that is an issue that is far more urgent than we expected it to be just a matter of a few days ago. That was made clear in an article that appeared on February 19 in the New York Times, the headline,
“Supreme Court Appointment Could Reshape American Life.”
As Adam Liptak explains, Scalia’s death represents,
“…a rare break for Obama to remake majority.”
It is important for us to recognize that the reporter in this story, Adam Liptak, is not exaggerating the case. As he opens the article,
“There is a reason Republican senators are so adamant in their refusal to let President Obama appoint a successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, a towering figure in conservative jurisprudence. An Obama appointment would be the most consequential ideological shift on the court since 1991, creating a liberal majority that would almost certainly reshape American law and American life.”
Now let me state again, the really concerning part of that opening is not that it’s an exaggeration, but the very fact that it is not exaggerating at all. We are looking at a fundamental revolution on the United States Supreme Court that will mean a fundamental revolution in American life if indeed a conservative majority, albeit a very thin majority, on the Supreme Court—it was a 5-4 majority before Justice Scalia’s death—if that changes to a 5-4 majority for a liberal court, then America is going to be headed in a fundamentally different direction. This front-page article in Friday’s edition of the New York Times makes that very clear. Liptak cites Washington University law professor Lee Epstein who said,
“At-risk precedents run from campaign finance to commerce, from race to religion, and they include some signature Scalia projects, such as the Second Amendment.”
And then the law professor offered these ominous words,
“Some would go quickly, like Citizens United, and some would go slower, but they’ll go.”
So here you have a law professor speaking of the change that would come to the United States Supreme Court with just the transition of one justice. And, as he says, speaking of all that Scalia sought to accomplish over 30 years on the Supreme Court, let me just repeat the law professors words,
“Some would go quickly, like Citizens United, and some would go slower, but they’ll go.”
Now keep in mind that statement made back in 2012 by none other than Justice Scalia who said,
“I would not like to be replaced by someone who immediately sets about undoing everything that I’ve tried to do for 25 years.”
As it turns out, it was nearly for 30 years, and as Krauthammer points out, Scalia never had the opportunity to choose the time of his leaving the Court by retirement; instead, a week ago this past Saturday, he was found dead on a hunting trip in Texas. Even as the nation on Saturday marked and mourned the death of a sitting Supreme Court Justice, a rather rare event in American life, at the very same time politicians were arguing over what is now to be one of the most hotly-contested political fights in recent American history, and observers of the Court were trying to figure out exactly what the shift of even just this one justice would mean for the future of the Court and for the future of American public life.
On the one hand, there are so many cases that just in the years of the Chief Justiceship of John Roberts, there have been so many 5-4 decisions in which Justice Scalia was one of the five. As a matter of fact, one legal scholar has counted 85 decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in the Roberts Court in which there was a 5-4 majority with Scalia as one of the five. Just do the math; you shift that vote to the other side and 85 major decisions handed down just in the last several years would’ve ended up the opposite of how they were decided. But secondly, keep in mind that Justice Antonin Scalia was not just one of five, in so many ways, he was the conservative intellect of the Court who drove the entire conservative majority in those cases. If you take away Antonin Scalia—not just one vote but that decisive conservative legal mind—then the Court itself changes.
In his article in Friday’s edition of the New York Times Adam Liptak points out that not all of Scalia’s decisions, or that is the decisions in which he was in the majority, would likely be immediately reversed. As Professor Epstein put it, some will go immediately, some will go slower, but you’ll remember he said all will go.
But Liptak writes about how it might happen. For example, just on the issue of gun control and with Justice Scalia as the decisive intellect and one of the five votes in the so-called Heller decision. As Liptak writes,
“Instead of overruling precedents outright, he said, a liberal majority might hollow some of them out, notably in the area of gun rights.”
A law professor at Georgia State University, Eric Segall is quoted in the article as saying,
“The five would narrow Heller to the point of irrelevancy.”
And as Liptak notes, he was speaking about the decision that said that Americans had a constitutional right to keep handguns at home. You’ll note that the point being made here is that a decision can be more or less invalidated and made null and void, not just by reversing it, but by, to use the words in this report, hollowing a decision out. Liptak cites another law professor who said,
“If we got a fifth liberal on the court, the pendulum would swing pretty quickly on gun control,” he said. “I expect that we’d see a major shift in the kind of gun control laws that get approved by the court.”
The professor concluded,
“Look for enhanced registration requirements as the first step.”
The most important issue to note here is that those who have been hoping for a fundamental redirection of the Court now see their opportunity in the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia. And on both sides of the American cultural divide, there is an understanding of what is at stake: the very future of the United States Supreme Court and, by extension, so much of American public and increasingly American private life. Writing in the same newspaper, the New York Times, just one day earlier, longtime Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse actually was very open in writing an opinion piece for the paper in which she made very clear her hopes for what she calls a “resetting of the post-Scalia Supreme Court.”
Argument at Georgetown law school highlights just how liberal American higher ed is
But next, revealing the state of the legal academy—that is, the law schools and law professors as well as the Supreme Court—also just one day earlier, Susan Svrluga wrote a story for the Washington Post, the headline is this,
“Georgetown law professors argue over how, and whether, to mourn Scalia.”
Before we go any further, just ponder the fact that here you have a headline story in the Washington Post, the major newspaper in the nation’s capital, raising the question as to whether a sitting Supreme Court of United States should be mourned upon his death. The reporter writes,
“U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was polarizing in life, with his conservative views both lionized and reviled. And the response to a memorial announcement following his death this weekend was striking: It touched off a sweeping debate within Georgetown University Law School that has been both scathing and eloquent, intimate and dismissive — one that questioned not only Scalia’s legacy but whether academia had tilted so far to the left politically that norms of civil discourse had been upended.”
Now keep in mind that Antonin Scalia was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Georgetown University. The reporter then writes,
“One professor argued against the very idea of the campus community mourning the death of Scalia, one of the university’s most prominent alumni.”
The professor in this case is Professor Gary Peller, who is a professor at Georgetown and a graduate of the Harvard Law School. He wrote to the entire Georgetown campus community,
“I imagine many other faculty, students and staff, particularly people of color, women and sexual minorities, cringed at headline and at the unmitigated praise with which the press release described a jurist that many of us believe was a defender of privilege, oppression and bigotry, one whose intellectual positions were not brilliant but simplistic and formalistic.”
Two other professors in moral shock at their colleagues email then wrote back saying that it basically had said,
“In effect, your hero was a stupid bigot and we are not sad that he is dead.”
The two professors at Georgetown, Randy Barnett and Nick Rosenkranz, responded by writing,
“The problem is that the center of gravity of legal academia is so far to the left edge of the political spectrum that some have lost the ability to tell the difference. Only on a faculty with just two identifiably right-of-center professors out of 125, could a professor harbor such vitriol for a conservative Justice that even Justice Ginsburg adored. Only on a faculty this unbalanced could a professor willfully or knowingly choose to ‘hurt … those with affection for J. Scalia,’ including countless students, just days after the Justice’s death.”
As you might expect, a great deal of this news article in the Washington Post is about whether or not it was civil discourse for there to been this kind of communication coming from a liberal law professor, even as the nation and many of his own colleagues and students were mourning the death of Antonin Scalia. But the bigger thing from a worldview perspective is not just the fact that here you have two professors telling us that there are only two conservative professors out of 125 on the Georgetown University School of Law faculty, but they’re also telling us that much of the academic culture, indeed, a majority of the academic culture, and in particular, what they write about as legal academia, it is, they write,
“…so far to the left edge of the political spectrum that some have lost the ability [even to be civil, or to recognize a conservative argument].”
The Georgetown University Law Center is one the most prestigious law schools in the United States. It’s not atypical; it’s not outside the norm. It represents the intellectual elites in the United States and in particular this law school represents the legal elites. Here you see something of the disproportionate liberal-conservative divide on the American college campus. Remember, out of 125 law professors, there are only two conservatives, according to these two colleagues.
That same newspaper, the Washington Post on Wednesday of last week ran a column by Courtland Milloy about how law students see the death of Antonin Scalia. Perhaps not surprisingly, at least some of the students cited in the article as hoping for a far more liberal justice to replace them, at least some were at the Georgetown University Law Center, but they were hardly alone. They were representative of what appears to be a majority of law students, at least as cited in this article, who are hoping that this represents an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the Court in a more liberal direction. And that raises an interesting question, why wouldn’t they feel that way? If indeed the law profession at the professor level is now so overwhelmingly liberal, if it leans so far to the left that it’s right at the edge of political liberalism—as these two Georgetown professors said—then why would we expect at least the majority of the students who been trained by those professors to share their basically liberal outlook?
But that’s where Christians operating out of a biblical worldview and seeking to understand the world around us through the lens of that Christian worldview have to understand that education is never value-neutral. It is never merely about the mind, it is also about the heart. It is not just about ideas, it is also about character. It’s never just about the law, as if you can say just about the law, it is about the law, for example, as one representation of how we will order society, how we will understand the difference between right and wrong, how we will understand the notion of justice. All of that is laden with worldview, and the one thing we should note here is overwhelming evidence of just how extreme the tilt is now in academia towards the left, towards a more liberal position, and not only that, towards a liberal extreme. And that tells us not only a great deal about where the American academic culture is now, it tells us, and this is even more significant, it tells us a very great deal about where American society is headed.
Creationists draw ire of media, labeled "evangelical extremists"
Finally, an article of great significance for the Christian worldview, but its significance is only really in one word that is found in the headline of the article. The article is by Lindsay Tucker, it appears in Newsweek magazine and it has to do with the Ark Encounter, the replica of Noah’s Ark being built by the ministry Answers in Genesis in Kentucky. The article itself is an attack on the ministry and an attack on the project, but what’s really, really interesting is the subhead in the article, because it speaks of evangelical Christians who deny the theory of evolution and believe in divine creation as,
As I said, the article itself is really not all that important, but the headline is. It tells us that, according to the liberal secular elites in this country, if you believe in the biblical account of creation, you are an evangelical extremist. The dominant secular academy so committed to the worldview of Darwinism and evolution finds it inconceivable that a large sector of Americans still refuse to accept evolution and still believe in the biblical account of creation. So what exactly do they think of us? As being eccentric, or odd, or confessional, convictional? No, as this headline makes very clear, they consider us “evangelical extremists.” Who knew that merely believing in the total truthfulness and the historicity of the book of Genesis would earn us the label “evangelical extremists” in Newsweek magazine, but there it is in plain print.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.