The Briefing 11-14-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, November 14, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In the 2016 presidential election, an astonishing 42 states shifted to the right
The United States and the watching world are still trying to take stock of what happened last week in the 2016 American presidential election. The question at this point isn’t by any means who won the election, that was Donald J. Trump. The question is, what does it mean? And furthermore, what exactly happened? That requires a look underneath the surface of the earth so to speak. Politically, it means looking at the tectonic plates in the culture and seeing what exactly shifted. But the New York Times on Friday released some statistics that indicate just how massive the shift turned out to be, for example, the headline,
“42 States Shifted to the Right in 2016.”
That’s 42 out of 50 states in terms of the electoral results shifted at least to some degree to the right. There were three different patterns, the New York Times makes clear. First, a majority of the so-called battleground states went for Donald Trump. That’s the most significant part of this shift, certainly in terms of the numbers of votes. But then the second trend was that many Republican leaning states became even more so. These included some states in the South, such as Alabama and Mississippi, but also Tennessee and Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, you add to that Nebraska and then several states in the West. Those are historically Republican states, but in the 2016 election they became more so.
The third trend is that some Democratic states shifted towards the center. Even if they ended up in the column for the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, they did not do so with the intensity of previous election cycles. This would include states like Minnesota, New York, and Maine.
"Not my president": Anti-democratic spirit in some protests of the election of Donald Trump
One of the most interesting developments in the wake of the election was an unprecedented set of protests. As we look at those protest still continuing over the weekend, it is clear that for the most part they are located on the two coasts, that is especially in the west coast in cities such as Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and also, of course, on the east coast in cities such as New York. There were other protests, albeit smaller, in cities such as Chicago and in some cities associated with major universities that dot the land. But for the most part, these were bicoastal events.
Doug Stanglin and Melanie Eversley of USA Today reported that,
“About 2,000 demonstrators marched down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Saturday in a fourth day of anti-Donald Trump protests nationwide. Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., also saw continued demonstrations that have swept the country since Tuesday's election.”
They summarize that,
“While most protests have been peaceful, there have been some spurts of violence and at least one shooting. [That apparently took place in Portland.]”
USA Today went on to report that,
“The latest round of protests on Saturday developed in New York, where demonstrators rallied first at Union Square then pushed into the street in a march toward Trump Tower, where the president-elect lives.”
Two different reporters for USA Today, Aamer Madhani and Rick Jervis, also reported that the leaders of the demonstration in New York City are not yet even old enough to vote. Elijah Newman, 16, of Brooklyn said,
“We've got to protest. It's not just Donald Trump -- it's the system of education. New York City is like a megaphone to the entire world. It's important that we're protesting here because it will inspire and influence other people to start protesting.”
As I said, this is an unusual, if not unprecedented, round of protests after a presidential election, pointing to the volatility unique to the 2016 race. But it also points to the fact that as you look at this pattern, not only are the protests largely isolated in terms of the two coasts, they are also rather specifically targeted according to a certain demographic, very young and very liberal citizens who may not yet have even been old enough to vote.
In these protests from the beginning, there has been an anti-democratic spirit reflected in some of the chants that have become popular, including “Dump Trump” and “Not My President.” It’s interesting to note that there were no press reports of any similar protests in the year 2008 or in 2012 when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. At that time conservatives were also gravely disappointed, but perhaps one difference in terms of the demographics in this country and one of the differences between the left and right wings in this country is that it is the left wing, and predominantly, where you find it amongst the cultural creatives and amongst college and high school students that these protests tend to take place.
But we should not dismiss that anti-democratic spirit. It’s not just the “Dump Trump” coming in days and hours after the election. It is also the statement “Not My President.” Back during the third presidential debate and in the lead up to the election itself, there was a great deal of questioning about Donald Trump and whether or not he would concede the election if he were to lose. The presumption overwhelmingly, certainly in the political class and in the media, was that Donald Trump would lose. Chris Wallace later reflected on the fact that when he asked that question of Donald Trump, he made a mistake in not asking the same question of Hillary Clinton, who after all was the one who did have to make a concession speech, and of course she did just that.
The “Not My President” language is particularly concerning precisely because it reflects that anti-democratic spirit, the very kind of criticism that was leveled at Donald Trump leading up to the campaign, should now be directed towards those who are protesting using that kind of language in the aftermath. After the election, Trump has to take responsibility for the kind of language he used during the campaign, but the protesters also have to take some responsibility for the kind of language that they are employing now. The big question of course is consistency in a Democratic worldview, that is, a commitment to understand that the electorate has the final say, and eventually to respect that decision even if one responds to it with disagreement. That’s been a part of the American experiment going all the way back to the beginnings of our constitutional order.
As we’ve discussed on The Briefing, there is a set of democratic habits that are necessary in order to protect democracy as a fragile structure. But underlying that is an even more essential understanding that eventually the electorate has it’s say, must have it’s say, and that say must be respected.
The answer for those who have lost an election is to come back at the next election with a better candidate and a better argument. Furthermore, even at just the level of pragmatic analysis, newspapers such as the New York Times are openly asking whether these protests have much of an effect after all. They certainly attract media attention and they are engines for social media, but there’s very little evidence that movements, even as large as the so-called Occupy Wall Street movement, actually led to any major political change or influence.
Why the Electoral College? Understanding the worldview behind the architecture of the US Constitution
At the level of worldview analysis, beneath the level, the immediate level of politics are some very deep constitutional issues that come with massive worldview significance. One of these has to do with the increased popular conversation about something that only comes up rarely in American life, oddly enough about every four years, and even then only amongst those who have a particular interest in politics, and that is the United States Constitution’s method of electing a President of the United States by the means of electors and what is known as the Electoral College.
The New York Times ran a headline story by Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder entitled,
“Many Call the Electoral College Outmoded. So Why Has It Endured?”
They explain that Hillary Clinton, having just been elected to the Senate in 2000, was responding to the fact that Al Gore, that year the Democratic presidential nominee, won the popular vote but lost the election in the Electoral College to George W. Bush. Then newly elected Senator Clinton said this,
“I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”
Now we should note that she just days ago became the second Democratic nominee to win the popular vote, albeit by a fairly small margin, but then to go on and lose in the Electoral College and to lose rather convincingly. That does raise a question, why is the United States bound to a constitutional system that includes the Electoral College in the year 2016? Perhaps it is just as those who are arguing in this headline story an outmoded institution, but a closer look reveals that the Electoral College is not an anachronism. It is an important protection in terms of our Constitution for our understanding that the United States is actually a federation of states that have willingly bound themselves together. The necessary corrective to an overarching federal system was the understanding that the states would count, and that they would count even in the election of a president.
When the American presidency was defined after vigorous debate in our constitutional order, it was made very clear that the Electoral College be an important protection for the rights of the states and the understanding that if there were no systems such as the Electoral College, then those who were running for the office of President of the United States could simply appeal to the largest popular vote and could thereby direct their attention not only in the campaign, but also in their governance, only to the largest cities and the largest regions, and the largest states, effectively consigning the smaller states to no political influence either in the campaign or in the system of governance. At the level of worldview analysis, there’s a very important reason why the framers of the Constitution understood the necessary role of the states as a break against the possible tyrannical power of a national government.
In more recent years there have been times when the Electoral College has favored Democrats and other times when it has favored the Republican candidates, but in any measure what has done more than anything else is to protect the smaller states from the larger states, and also to make certain that in our contemporary electoral map, candidates have to appeal to states in the center of the country, and not just to the giant population centers on either coast.
Now just imagine what the destruction or elimination of the Electoral College would mean for a presidential election in 2020. If you look at the 2016 race, all you have to do is to look to the east coast and the west coast and understand that Hillary Clinton won some of the biggest population centers and states, as we’ve mentioned, such as New York and then, of course, California. And if you look at the popular vote, the entire margin can be explained simply by the State of California. A candidate running to the left in our current political map could simply run in terms of giant vote counts in states such as New York and New Jersey and California and Oregon and Washington and ignore the rest of the country. Such a candidate could effectively rule while overlooking the entirety of the center of the country. The elimination of the Electoral College would also mean that inhabitants of the cities would have an outsized influence. As a matter of fact, those who are more rural voters might end up with absolutely no political voice in a presidential election whatsoever.
In response to the conversation about the Electoral College after the 2016 election, USA Today’s editorial board ran an article entitled,
“Dump the Electoral College? Be Careful What You Wish For.”
As the editors explain, and I quote,
“If the national popular vote were the ultimate decider, candidates would gravitate toward the voter-rich big cities and their suburbs and ignore everyone else. If candidates felt obliged to blanket the entire country with visits and advertising, it would set off a scramble for even more campaign money, leaving candidates more beholden to special interests.”
At this point in American history, it is very clear that it is the left-wing of the American political system that would most benefit by the elimination of the Electoral College. This would effectively create the institutionalization of the elites as the electors of the American President. In the New York Times an interesting assertion was made by former Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer M. Granholm who said,
“If we really subscribe to the notion that ‘majority rules,’ then why do we deny the majority their chosen candidate?”
It is because our Constitution never simply asserts the fact that majority rules, rather, it is a majority in the Electoral College. David Boies, who was the attorney for Al Gore in the infamous Supreme Court case in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, said,
“I personally would like to see the Electoral College eliminated entirely. I think it’s a historical anomaly.”
But it’s not merely an historical anomaly, nor is it an anomaly that is primarily those on the left in American politics who now want to see the Electoral College eliminated. But there is very little danger that that will ever take place, because that would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That would require a super majority in the Congress. That’s not likely to happen. But even more so it would require the adoption of the amendment by three fourths of all the states. And that’s certainly is not going to happen because the states surely recognize, even if this is a time outside their political season, if not in accordance with their political season, that to eliminate the Electoral College means that for most of the country their votes would simply not matter in a presidential election. We can count on the fact that if nothing else, states are unlikely to remove their own relevance in the political process by means of a constitutional amendment. And that points to the genius of our founders in making it very difficult to amend the Constitution. That’s because the Constitution should not be at the whim of any particular season of political or emotional intensity but rather should stand the test of time.
An autopsy of the 2016 presidential election indicates that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, lost most especially because of a turnover in the electoral vote in crucial Midwestern and Great Lakes states such as Wisconsin and Michigan and Iowa, and also the state of Pennsylvania. Some of those very states would discover themselves completely irrelevant in presidential elections if the Electoral College were to be eliminated. But for that matter, just imagine a political map of the United States: other than the two coasts, the entire map would become politically irrelevant or at least every single vote radically discounted, because all a candidate would need to do is appeal to the massive population centers on the two coasts and electoral victory could be supplied.
In this light, we have to understand that even though the United States Constitution is over 200 years old, even though it is a very old document, even though it is a document marked by human frailty, it is not a perfect system of government. Still at the same time we have to recognize that the United States Constitution has provided a stable platform for the longest enduring constitutional form of government, in terms of a written Constitution in the history of humanity. And we also need to recognize that the framers of that Constitution understood some of the deepest worldview issues at stake in the constitutional debate at the end of the 18th century as the United States was still a very young nation and as that nation was being defined in terms of our constitutional order. It’s really important for us to understand that the framers of that Constitution engaged not only in vigorous debate, but in a debate that reached the deepest levels of worldview consideration. They understood what was at stake.
Our constitutional system is a Democratic Republic, and it is so for very good reason. And that is, those who were the framers of the American experiment in representative democracy understood that democracy has to be protected from mob rule and, furthermore, it has to be protected from moments of emotional intensity in which something less than calm reason could prevail. The requirement in terms of amending the Constitution ensures that deliberative reason and long debate would be necessary. And that’s one of the reasons why we need to understand that even if the focus is currently on the Electoral College, the background to this is the genius of the framers of the American Constitution and the enduring authority of that written document. Flawed? Yes. Historically old? Yes and increasingly so. But essential to our understanding of how democracy in representative government is to be protected? Absolutely.
In telling 60 Minutes interview, Donald Trump says he is "fine with" same-sex marriage
But finally, we’ll all be watching as the Trump administration comes together and as the President-elect makes very clear positions that perhaps were a little less than clear during the 2016 race. And in that light, the President-elect dropped a bombshell last night in an interview with Leslie Stahl on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” As Politico reports, in that interview Donald Trump said he is fine with the legalization of same-sex marriage.
As Eli Stokols at Politico reports last night,
“Donald Trump said he is ‘fine with’ same-sex marriage but offered few specifics about his plans for the first 100 days of his administration during his first television interview since becoming the president-elect.”
Stokols goes on to say,
“In an extensive interview with CBS’s Leslie Stahl broadcast Sunday night on ‘60 Minutes,’ Trump sought to ease the anxieties of LGBTQ Americans that a new conservative Supreme Court majority might overturn last year’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage.”
“Ducking a question about his personal view on the issue, which he dismissed as ‘irrelevant,’ Trump asserted, bluntly, ‘it’s done.’”
The President-elect went on to say,
“These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m—I’m fine with that.”
This should raise the concern of many of the conservative Christians who supported Donald Trump as candidate precisely because of what they hoped could be achieved by the appointment of conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. As we pointed out, especially in the third debate, it was Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, who openly asserted without any embarrassment, an outcome based understanding of the legal system and the High Court in which she insisted that she would only appoint to the Court justices who would uphold decisions such as Roe v Wade, specifically, who would be pro-LGBTQ rights and would be pro-abortion rights as well. It was Donald Trump who said that he would appoint to the Supreme Court justices who would read the text of the Constitution and rule accordingly.
What’s really interesting about this is not only what the President-elect said about what is now to be understood by him as settled law, remember that it was settled supposedly just a year ago in the Obergefell decision. This raises enormous concerns about what the President-elect really means when he said he would appoint strict constructionist judges and when he gave assurances to pro-life voters that he would appoint justices who would uphold the dignity and sanctity of human life.
By his argument, Roe v. Wade that is now far more than 40 years old, not just one year old, would be even more settled law. For the sake of the unborn, and remember that tens of millions of the unborn have died since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, let’s hope that the President-elect doesn’t consider Roe v. Wade as a part of the settled law and in terms of abortion simply say “it’s done.” In the course of the presidential campaign, the President-elect made many statements on issues related not only to LGBT issues, but also, of course, to abortion. And on those issues we can only hope and we now must pray that he said what he meant, and he meant what he said.
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.