The Briefing 11-10-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, November 10, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In gracious statements, Hillary Clinton and Pres. Obama champion the peaceful transference of power
Yesterday, the pageant of American democracy was on full display for all who had eyes to see. There were two major statements made yesterday, the day after the United States presidential election, and significantly and historically neither one of those major statements was made by the winner in the presidential contest, Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. Instead, the two statements were made by the losing candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the incumbent President of the United States. The pageant of democracy requires certain habits, certain habits of government and habits of democracy, that allow us to understand how the peaceful transfer of power can take place.
This is something that should not go without our observation and our appreciation. We’re looking at the fact that ever since the ratification of the United States Constitution, there has been a peaceful transfer of power from president to president, including when there is a transfer of power between presidents of two opposing parties. This is something that has not been the case successfully in many other nations where democracy has been far more fragile. In the United States we have a certain tradition of democratic succession, and it’s a very important thing to recognize. The formalities yesterday were indeed formalities, but they were far more than that. The former Secretary of State, speaking to her supporters and also then speaking to the American people, said,
“Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I’m sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.”
Later, she said,
“We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”
Then speaking of the historical moment, Secretary Clinton said,
“Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.”
It had to be the most difficult speech that Secretary Clinton has ever given in her life. A concession speech like that would have to be an extremely difficult moment for anyone, and we can sympathize that it must’ve been a very difficult moments for the former Secretary of State.
But we also have to note that the President of the United States spoke, and as we look to the election on Tuesday, not only did Hillary Clinton lose the election, but the incumbent President Barack Obama also effectively lost. He made this clear in the days leading up to the election when he told the American people that his legacy depended upon the election of Hillary Clinton, and that did not happen. President Obama is fully aware that Donald Trump ran on a platform of reversing and rejecting many of the policies that President Obama had put into place, and thus when we’re talking about the transfer of power, we’re looking at the fact that President Trump is likely to reverse many of the cherished actions of President Barack Obama.
But President Obama, speaking on the day after the election, told the American people that he had spoken to President-elect Trump at about 3:30 in the morning after the election. He said that he congratulated him,
“On winning the election, and I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.”
The President, echoing what had been said by the Secretary of State, said,
“Now, it is no secret that the President-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush's team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running. And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency and the vice presidency is bigger than any of us. So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush's team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect.”
It’s important that we all recognize that those statements desperately needed to be made, and they needed to be made in public, not only before the American people, but also before the watching world. This is a demonstration to all, nationally and internationally, of the strength of American democracy. This is not just a matter of democratic habit. It is a matter of constitutional necessity, and yesterday Secretary Clinton and President Obama made the statements that they needed to make on the day after a national election.
President Obama also made reference to something very interesting, and that took place almost 8 years ago when President George W. Bush did indeed instruct his administration to do everything possible to assist the new President, that was then President-elect Barack Obama, to have a successful transition. At that time, President Obama himself did not appear to be greatly appreciative of President Bush in that role. It tells us something that almost 8 years later President Obama seems to understand just what a gift he had been given by the outgoing Republican President. To his credit, he stated publicly that he intends to do the same in terms of President-elect Donald Trump.
Christians also understand that in observing what’s taking place on election day, the day after election day, and then well ongoing from there is a human drama. It is a moral drama. It is a personal drama. It is a relational drama. That drama was made clear in the concession speech given by Hillary Clinton yesterday.
Writing before the election and thus, of course, before we knew who would be the next President of the United States, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reminds us that there is always in these elections a winning candidate and a losing candidate, and the losing candidate experiences one of the most bitter results in terms of what can be handed down by the American voter and by the verdict of history. Haberman reminds us of something that took place shortly after the 1976 election. She writes that,
“Hubert H. Humphrey,” United States Senator “took his dejected friend Bob Dole, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, out for ice cream to try to improve his mood. Mr. Humphrey, who had lost a presidential race eight years earlier, told him it would get worse before it got better.”
One of the other historical notes here is the simple observation that losing election as President of the United States, usually, not always but usually, means effective retirement from electoral politics. It’s very hard to come back from losing the American presidency.
We should also note that President Obama invited President-elect Donald Trump to come to the White House as early as today. Why so fast? The reason for that is quite simple. The American presidency is, as the President said himself a vast office with almost unspeakable responsibilities, and the federal government is itself an enormous and gargantuan organization. To state the obvious, President-elect Trump has very little time to put together an effective administration before he is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th of 2017. He is going to need every single day and every single moment of those days in order to pull together his administration. It had been the case that the inauguration was far later in the year until that was changed early in the 20th century, and it was changed because there was simply too much time between the election and the inauguration of the president. It is probably still good that there is not more time between Election Day and Inauguration Day, but it still underlines how much has to be done in a very short amount of time, because we do expect a president to begin work on day one.
The eyes of the world on America: What kind of President will Donald Trump be?
Speaking of the President-elect, it’s interesting to see the response not only here in the United States but around the world to the election of Donald Trump. It was such a surprising, if not shocking, political development that it’s clear that most of America’s newspapers and news media and most of the governments around the world have been effectively preparing for the election of a President-elect Clinton, not a President-elect Trump. But there was an effective shockwave sent through the American system and also through the global system in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
There was one great question being asked by virtually every informed observer. What kind of president will Donald Trump be? This raises another issue that intelligent Christians should be thinking about. It is not always the case that we actually come to know a candidate in terms of how he will operate as President of the United States in the course of a campaign.
There are two different sets of political skills that are at work here. There is the set that is involved in getting elected, that includes the process of gaining a party’s nomination and then running an effective campaign that produces an electoral victory. That’s one set of skills. There is yet another set of skills, and that is the skills of governing.
Since Donald Trump has never held elective office before, there is no track record in terms of understanding how he will govern. There are some who would see this as a liability, but a sufficient number of voters saw it otherwise to elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. At this point, we need to observe that means that the President-elect has an incredible opportunity. He also has an unspeakable stewardship. We should understand that this means that we will look to the President-elect when he is President of the United States and even as he is putting his administration together in order to understand just what kind of president will Donald Trump be.
As Christians are praying for the President-elect and for this new administration, I would suggest that one very specific prayer that would be helpful and faithful would be the prayer that Donald Trump will be a president who will be established as one who governs with justice and righteousness. There is every reason for us to pray that President Trump will surprise not only this nation, but the entire world by the righteousness by which he governs and by the credibility with which he leads.
Over the last 50 years, Americans have understood that there were presidents who were very good at running for election but who had serious liabilities in terms of their governing. Americans voted decisively on Tuesday to elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. The stewardship he now inherits is absolutely massive, and at this point we have to hope and pray that something will happen in the heart and in the mind of Donald Trump that will produce something that might actually surprise the world. And that is a true statesman on the world scene. Seen in this light, Donald Trump, the President-elect of the United States, now confronts an incredible opportunity. That opportunity is to become a president that will change history and will change history in ways that subsequent generations understand with great gratitude. There can be no question that this nation faces any number of truly daunting challenges. Every American and especially those who are Christians must pray that the skills that Donald Trump has learned in other arenas of life can be transferred in a very helpful way to the responsibilities of the President of the United States. Put another way, the campaign for the presidency going all the way up to the election itself was yesterday. Now we’re looking at today and tomorrow. Now Donald Trump is going to reveal to all of us the kind of president he wants to be, intends to be, and once in office will demonstrate himself to be.
Next, we have to understand that when President Trump takes office in January 20 of next year he will have some immediate decisions that will be revealed in all likelihood on that day. He had indicated while he was campaigning for office that on day one of his administration he would intend to reverse many of the executive orders that had been put into place by President Barack Obama. We can certainly hope that that will be the case. Included within those executive orders and within the regulatory reach of the administration would be issues, including for example the contraception mandate that has created such conflicts with religious liberty and also the now-infamous bathroom order sent down by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education in what was packaged as a Dear Colleague letter. President Trump could reverse all of those policies in a matter of days, if not hours, as the new President of the United States. But it’s also abundantly clear that one of the first responsibilities of President Trump will be to nominate a successor to Antonin Scalia in that seat on the United States Supreme Court. And thus as underlined, the importance of the Supreme Court and that nomination process for the future of the United States and also immediately affirmed is the fact that that decision will come very, very quickly in a Trump Administration.
Now we understand once again why it was so important that Republicans would maintain the majority and the leadership in the United States Senate as well is in the House of Representatives. The election of Donald Trump also effectively underlines the wisdom of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other senators in refusing to move forward with the nomination of Merrick Garland. It is vitally important that the new justice who will follow Antonin Scalia would be able to follow in his same judicial philosophy. Undoubtedly, this is one of the major reasons why so many supported Donald Trump in his candidacy for President of the United States. In this case, however, we’re not going to have to wait to see just how long it will take within an administration for an opening on the Court to present itself. In this case, President-elect Trump knows that that vacancy is already staring them in the face, and it is an incredible opportunity.
Colorado legalizes physician-assisted suicide under the euphamism "End of Life Options" Act
Next, while understanding that the election of the President deservedly has gained most of the attention, there were over 150 statewide initiatives that were faced by voters in the respective states. The most important of these had to do with marijuana, assisted suicide, the death penalty, and charter schools. Sadly, the most important of these is what was known as Proposition 106 in the State of Colorado. There, the question of legalizing physician-assisted suicide was faced by Colorado voters. And even more tragically than the fact that the question was faced by the voters is how the voters responded to the question. Physician-assisted suicide won by a virtual two to one vote. This represents an incredible step forward for the culture of death at the expense of the sanctity and dignity of human life. It was noteworthy that even the editorial board of the Denver Post came out opposed to the legislation because in the views of the editors of even that liberal paper, there were insufficient protections involved in the proposition that was adopted by Colorado voters.
Reporting in the Post Jennifer Brown wrote,
“Colorado passed a medical aid in dying measure Tuesday that will allow adults suffering from terminal illness to take life-ending, doctor-prescribed sleeping medication. The ballot initiative passed overwhelmingly, by a two-thirds, one-third split, according to unofficial returns. Supporters claimed victory an hour after polls closed in Colorado.”
One of the most interesting and telling aspects of Proposition 106 is how it was presented to voters in Colorado. It wasn’t presented in terms of even using the phrase physician-assisted suicide. Instead, it was packaged as,
“the End of Life Options measure.”
This tells us something about how the culture of death is presented in a way that is far more benign in language than it is in fact. Noting this Brown said,
“Even the language used on campaign signs and in television ads this fall has been controversial. People in favor of the initiative use the terms ‘dying with dignity’ and ‘right to die,’ but named their Colorado ballot measure the more neutral ‘end-of-life options.’ Opponents of the proposed law call it ‘physician-assisted suicide.’”
Now the opponents of the law call it what it actually is, physician-assisted suicide, but you will note that voters were asked whether or not they wanted to legalize options at the end of life. This is a very dangerous precedent, and the fact that it was adopted by a two-to-one measure in Colorado tells us that the culture of death is not only spreading its reach, but it is increasing its velocity.
Eight states legalized marijuana on Tuesday, setting up inevitable showdown with federal
Next, the question of marijuana was on the ballot in no less than nine states. Five states considered legalizing so-called recreational marijuana—that’s marijuana without any kind of medical authorization a rationale—four states considered so-called medical marijuana. In terms of medical marijuana, the states of Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Montana adopted legislation that would make it possible with the authorization of a physician to obtain marijuana. Perhaps particularly telling in that group of four was the State of Florida, where the measure was adopted overwhelmingly and where those on both sides of the issue acknowledged that the legislation was written so loosely as to allow virtually anyone given enough time and shopping after doctors to find a prescription for marijuana. In terms of the even more liberal measures authorizing so-called recreational marijuana, the states of California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Maine, and Arizona considered such options. Only the state of Arizona turned it back.
There are a couple of very important numbers revealed here. The first of them has to do with Florida, and that’s the number 26. The state of Florida effectively becomes the 26th state out of the 50 states in the United States to authorize the use of marijuana in either recreation or medical context. That means that now a majority of states have authorized to one degree or another the legal use of marijuana—26 out of 50. The other number is something like 70%. The exact percent is not yet known, but by the time you add California, the nation’s most populous state, and then other highly populated states including Massachusetts, it is now clear that a majority of Americans live in a jurisdiction where some form of legal marijuana is available. Reflecting on this, Christopher Ingraham tells us that Americans woke up on Wednesday morning to find a drug policy landscape radically altered from just the day before.
One of the other things we need to note here is that the federal government continues to list marijuana in terms of a Schedule I drug, which is illegal in terms of its use under any circumstances. That raises another huge question, and that question will be directed to President-elect Donald Trump. What will the federal government do now that a majority of the states have found some way to defy the federal government in terms of allowing some legal use of marijuana? The Washington Post notes that those who are close to President Trump in terms of advisers have not been advocates of legalizing marijuana, and thus those who are celebrating the decisions made by several states on Tuesday are still waiting to see what would be the disposition of the federal government.
Death penalty upheld by voters in three states, including the very liberal California
When it comes to the death penalty, the interesting thing to note is that the question came before voters in three states. Those states were Nebraska, California, and Oklahoma. Let’s just consider what that tells us about the United States. Take California, sociologically and politically speaking, and understand that’s in contrast to the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma. Both of those states on the Great Plains are understood to be far more conservative than California, which is, after all, one of the most liberal states in union. But what makes this so important is that voters in all three of the states in their own way affirmed the continuation of the death penalty for capital murder. Voters in California, one of the most secular and liberal states in the union, turned back a measure that would’ve ended the death penalty in that state and instead, by at least a narrow measure, actually adopted a measure that would speed up the process. One out of four individuals on death row in America sits in a California prison. What’s most revealing there is that even in California when the question is presented to voters, the voters still support the use of the death penalty. Many who have opposed the death penalty point out that America is something of an outlier in Western democracies, but this actually underlines the point. In virtually every European country where the death penalty has been ended, it has been ended in an undemocratic manner. It was done by the courts or by legislatures denying to the people any access to answering the question for themselves.
Christians understand that the death penalty is not merely about retribution, but is an affirmation of the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. That’s why the crime of murder is taken as a matter of such monumental consequence. It tells us something that in even one of most secular states in the union, there is still an instinct to know that murder matters. And even in the face of pressure from the cultural elites, the voters of California, even California, said they intend to continue with the death penalty.
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 about Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.