Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018
Tags: Audio, Bill De Blasio, France, New Jersey, New York, Sexual Morality
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll see worldview at work in a political swing in New Jersey and a similar swaying in New York City, the bottom line: blue America is growing bluer; we’ll see why politics and hypocrisy go together so dangerously, and we’ll see the French accuse Americans of a Puritan sexual morality in a tale of two letters.
Blue America is growing bluer: Political swings in both New Jersey and New York show worldviews at work
If you want to look at looming political change in the United States right now you need to look at the American Northeast. Specifically, this week, you need to look at the state of New Jersey. Yesterday, Philip Dunton Murphy was inaugurated as New Jersey's 56th governor. He's a Democrat replacing a Republican Chris Christie; furthermore, what you're looking at in New Jersey is a seismic political earthquake. The state of New Jersey currently has Democrats in charge of every major part of the government, especially when it comes down to the governor's mansion and both chambers of the New Jersey legislature, but you're also looking at the fact that the specific Democrat who was elected, Philip Murphy, a former financier with Goldman Sachs and a former US ambassador to Germany, he is one of the most liberal governors ever to have been elected in the United States.
David Weigel reporting for the Washington Post puts it this way,
“If Murphy has his way, New Jersey will become a proving ground for every liberal policy idea coming into fashion, from legalized marijuana to a $15 minimum wage, from a ‘millionaire’s tax’ to a virtual bill of rights for undocumented immigrants.”
What Weigel is pointing to is the fact that in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries in New Jersey this candidate, Philip Murphy, now the governor, ran significantly to the left of the other Democrats, already basically pretty liberal in traditional liberal American terms. Governor Murphy seems to be taking a playbook from Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, but then in effect upping the political ante. He is a big believer in government spending and that's where his plans may run into trouble even with a democratically controlled legislature. Why? It's because the tax bills and economically stressed in New Jersey are already monumental, the state already has the highest property tax rate in the country, it already has the highest effective tax rate in the country, it has a very significant personal income tax and the new federal tax reform places it at now a disadvantage in raising taxes because those state taxes are now going to be capped in terms of federal deductibility at $10,000 per year. That's really important because those northeastern states, along with California and other big spending states, have counted upon the federal government by means of its tax deductions underwriting or at least in some sense subsidizing the escalating state income and property taxes. But newly inaugurated Governor Murphy's answer to all of this taxing and all of this spending is to tax more and to spend more, to spend a lot more.
Nick Corasaniti reporting for the New York Times broke the story of yesterday's inauguration this way,
“Philip Dunton Murphy, whose brand of pragmatic progressive politics propelled him from Democratic donor and former American ambassador to the 56th governor of New Jersey, was sworn into office on Tuesday, claiming a mandate to provide sweeping change and promising to focus heavily on the stagnant economy.”
The story was on the state,
“An unabashed liberal, Mr. Murphy’s rise to one of the most powerful governor seats in the country comes against the backdrop of the polarizing Trump administration.”
And as the story in the New York Times continues, it simply details the very progressive course for New Jersey that this new governor has taken, progressive here, one of the words used in the headline for yesterday's inauguration story.
As we’re thinking about the worldview implications of a development like this we need to recognize that one of the biggest movements now on the American political landscape is this: The blue states are apparently becoming evermore blue. We might put it this way: The blue states are becoming an even deeper shade of blue. It may also be that the red states, the Republican and more conservative states, are also becoming redder, that still remains to be seen over the next several years, but it is already quite evident that the blue states are growing a good deal bluer. And when you're looking at New Jersey, you're looking at a state which has had a very long tradition of liberal governors, but most recently had a rather significant Republican governor served two terms, Chris Christie. In one sense this newly inaugurated governor is apparently a political corrective of sorts, a repudiation of the previous administration. That's not uncommon in American politics, especially in state houses. At the same time it is very significant that the language that was used, the policies that were affirmed, the vision that was set out in New Jersey is extremely liberal, so liberal that it would've been unthinkable even in terms of a Democratic candidate just a few years ago, maybe even just two years ago. The New York Times article documents the traditional liberal positions taken here including the fact that we're looking at another Democrat who favors not only the protection and preservation of what he identifies as abortion rights and styles as reproductive freedom but, furthermore, the use of tax dollars confiscated coercively from taxpayers to fund abortion in the state of New Jersey.
But even as we’re looking in New Jersey, we need to look at its close neighbor, New York City. Just a few days ago, Bill de Blasio took the oath of office for his second term as New York governor. Again, an extremely liberal figure, and what we should note in de Blasio's second inauguration is the fact that the symbolism indicated that this already very liberal big-city mayor was trying to send the signal that he intends to move even more to the left. In his first inauguration, de Blasio had as a central honored guest, former President Bill Clinton and then former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; they were notably absent from his second inauguration. Who was the big featured guest? Well, you’ve guessed it, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But it's also clear that de Blasio intends not only to be a factor in the politics of New York City, he sees for himself a national role, perhaps even a run for president. The media noted that in the days preceding his second taking of the oath of office de Blasio visited, of all places, Iowa. Not the kind of state where the mayor of New York City is likely to be found, unless of course he is at least sowing some seeds for a future presidential run.
Considering the deeper significance of worldview behind the symbolism, reporters David Goodman and William Neuman pointed to the shift from the Clintons to Bernie Sanders. They wrote,
“In a sign of the changing times, Mr. de Blasio [was] sworn in this time by Senator Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign rival who represents the ascendant left wing of a Democratic Party that is more in line with the mayor’s worldview.”
Now that raises a fascinating question: Is Senator Sanders more in line with the mayor's worldview now, or was he actually more in line all along? Does that mean that the mayor felt the need to send a more moderate signal, consider that by the way, by having the Clintons present over against having Bernie Sanders be the official at his swearing in. We can't know the answer to that question, but we do know that the symbolism points to something far deeper and it's also significant that the New York Times uses the word worldview in trying to explain why all of this matters.
Why politics and hypocrisy go together so dangerously
But next, while we’re thinking about the change in the political landscape, we also need to consider, even as we’re looking at changing politics, the unchanging risk and threat of political hypocrisy, and this story leaves us again in New York City looking at mayor Bill de Basio. Back early in January, the mayor indicated that he was leading the city to divest from the big oil companies. The Washington Post published his speech online dated January 12, when de Blasio pointed back to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and said that that's when New Yorkers learned the lesson about climate change and about the dangers of using fossil fuels, and that's why he was going to lead, as a major moral effort, a full divestment of all New York City and New York City pension investments from big oil, especially the big American oil companies. And make no mistake, his message was punitive, he intends to send a message to big oil. New York City has your number, New York City is going to divest your stocks, New York City wants fossil fuel use to come to an end, now. Except of course, that's not true, and it's certainly not true of the mayor. In his speech, the mayor had spoken of divestment and then said that those steps are by no means
“the first steps we have taken in this fight. We are already committed,”
said the mayor,
“to a series of ambitious projects aimed at lowering our emissions and creating a livable environment for the New Yorkers of tomorrow.”
Now, the issue of my concern today as we’re thinking of worldview is not even really the issue of climate or the issue of carbon and its fuels. What I'm looking at instead is an article by Jim Dwyer in the About New York column that also appeared in the New York Times. The headline,
“Battling Climate Change From the S.U.V. Back Seat.”
“A mayor who is driven to his gym 11 miles away criticizes oil companies.”
Now before we even look at the article just remember that 11 miles is a very, very long way when you're considering the fact that this is a mayor whose residence and office is in Manhattan. Dwyer's article begins this way,
“Purring in the mild winter day, a small armada of S.U.V.s was parked Thursday morning along 42nd Street outside the New York Public Library. Inside was Mayor Bill de Blasio, at an interfaith prayer breakfast that went on for quite a while. By divine right of mayoralty,”
“or someone, 13 vehicles waited at the curb in a no-standing zone, among them four black S.U.V.s (three Chevy Suburbans and one Yukon XL) an ambulance, a huge E.M.S. vehicle and a police school safety van. The engines on those big boys,”
“were running while the mayor was inside, for about two hours.”
Dwyer the notes the irony when he writes,
“One day earlier, Mr. de Blasio announced that the city would sue five big oil companies for the hardships and costs inflicted on New York by climate change.”
The reporter goes on to say,
“For an archipelago city with 520 miles of coastline, rising seas are no joke.”
But then Dwyer writes,
“Whatever the merits of the suit, Mr. de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, are the very embodiment of a possible line of defense by the oil companies. Namely, that it wasn’t the oil companies that created the greenhouse gases, but society in general — companies and individuals who used oil to generate electricity, or for transportation.”
Then the report goes on to tell us that
“Many mornings, [the mayor of New York City] is driven 11 miles to his gym in Park Slope, Brooklyn, from the official mayor’s residence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Gracie Mansion. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg,”
we are told,
“a billionaire, rode the subway most days. On the other hand, Mr. Bloomberg routinely splurged on carbon usage by deploying his personal fleet of carbon-inefficient private jets and helicopters for long-distance travel. He would use them to fly to a weekend home in Bermuda, for instance, or to Europe.”
But then, Dwyer writes,
“In an episode so rich you could choke on it, Mr. Bloomberg brought an entourage aboard his personal Falcon 900 to Copenhagen, at a cost in carbon emissions that was 37 times more than if the group had flown commercial. The reason for the trip? Mr. Bloomberg was speaking at a conference on climate change.”
Now this particular column on this particular set of politicians and on the issue of climate change and big oil, points to the danger of hypocrisy on the left, but Christians understand the danger of hypocrisy knows no political polarity, it knows no partisan advantage. On issues like this it's very easy to see the political posturing, the gestures, the virtue signaling, and the hypocrisy of the left. Well, we also need to note that the same temptation comes to the right, but on a different array of issues. This is where Christians must remind ourselves that as we’re thinking in worldview analysis, the most important thing is that we watch what a politician does not merely what a politician says. We know enough to know they're not always the same thing and we understand why. But that's a rule that shouldn't be extended only to politicians, although politicians are particularly susceptible because the very fuel of their endeavor is public support, public support at whatever costs, whatever the public may demand, it's a rule to be extended to all of us. Watch not only what we say, watch what we do.
A tale of two letters: French accuse Americans of holding to a Puritan sexual morality
Next, as we’re thinking about the difference that worldview makes in contemporary headlines, we turn to France, where one of the headlines of the last several days has to do with a prominent French actress, Catherine Deneuve, who first made a statement criticizing the #MeToo movement after sexual harassment in the United States and then had to come out and make a statement apologizing for what she had said after she came under sustained criticism from one wing of French feminists. The movement comes in the form of two letters, the first letter from the French actress and then the second letter after the controversy. As two reporters of the New York Times tell us,
“A public letter signed by more than 100 French women that denounced the #MeToo movement has sparked an intense debate in France over everything from the appropriate limits of flirtation to the extent to which the French should absorb American sexual norms.”
The first letter was published in the major French newspaper Le Monde. It was signed by Catherine Deneuve and many other women, and they were suggesting that the American movement #MeToo demonstrates a very reckless fragility of women, and, furthermore, they said that the claims of this movement in the wake of the sexual harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein and others would lead to the end of flirtation and the end of romance, and, furthermore, they went on to indict the entire controversy in the United States as rooted in puritanical American sexual mores. Now as we think about the background of this, we need to recognize that much of Europe has considered America to be sexually backward for a long time, and the continental liberals have put the blame on Protestant Christianity in America. Catholicism is not without blame in their view, but they see Puritanism, a particular historic strain in American history, as the main culprit, and they want nothing to do with American Puritanism. Now anyone who understands the actual Puritans and what Puritanism was will be rather shocked to understand that the current morality that is emerging in Hollywood would be identified as Puritan, but what the French mean is that it's restrictive; restrictive in some way, restrictive in any way, because any restriction is really out of bounds in French culture. Part of the letter stated this,
“Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.”
These prominent French women were making the statement that they wanted men to continue to flirt with them and, furthermore, they saw it as gallantry not as sexual aggression that was to be resisted. The political head of the party that is represented by the current French president to Emmanuel Macron, according to the New York Times,
“His view of the United States as a country with an absurdly Puritan streak is not new.”
Various additional articles in the mainstream media in the United States and in Europe have indicated the distinction, not only in France but also in other nations. For example, Jason Horowitz wrote an article also published in the Times; the headline,
“Italy’s #MeToo Moment: Shrugs and Rolled Eyes.”
Italy, the article makes clear, is not looking at the issue of sexual harassment as are the Americans, or at least the Americans gaining the headline attention, but it's not just France and Italy, it's also Scandinavia. Specifically it is Sweden, as reported by Jenny Nordberg in yet another article in the Times. She tells us that Sweden, like much of Scandinavia, prides itself on gender equality, absolute gender equality, absolutely mandated gender equality, and yet when it comes to sexuality there really isn't gender equality and sexual harassment is an issue, but it’s not really a spoken issue. And the point of the article is that in a country that has declared gender equality to have been achieved, it really can't be talked about, not without forfeiting the very claim the nation has made. But back to France and back to the controversy over actress Catherine Deneuve. The important news is that yesterday she had to withdraw the first letter, she had to write another letter in effect apologizing for the first letter. As Anna Codrea-Rado reported for the New York Times,
“The French actress Catherine Deneuve apologized to victims of sexual violence who decried a letter she signed with more than 100 other Frenchwomen denouncing the #MeToo movement and its French counterpart.”
But what's really interesting in this article, as we’re thinking about worldview analysis, is that it reveals two different forms of feminism in France. The article goes so far as to call it a major cultural divide in France. But it’s not just France, it's also in the United States. The current controversy indicates and reveals two very different feminisms in the United States. We might call the first the feminism of the 1970s. It was the feminism that Catherine Deneuve understands, a feminism that claimed that women were as strong as men. It was a feminism that presented women as strong and not in need of male help. Gloria Steinem, one of the founding mothers so to speak of modern feminism, once said infamously,
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
The theme song of this form of feminism was offered by Australian singer Helen Reddy in her song from 1972,
“I am woman, hear me roar.”
That generation of feminists, represented here by the French actress, do not understand the current new wave of feminism that often presents women and females as symbols of victimization rather than its strength. So, we see here two forms of feminism, both in the United States and in France, that represent two different worldviews as well as two different generations.
But before leaving this story, we need to consider the central claim made by many of the French about American sexual morality, that it's overly influenced by Protestantism and Puritanism. Well here's where we need to note that France is largely unaffected by both of those traditions, and this simply serves to underline the fact that the religious history of a people and of a culture is one that really cannot be escaped, it is formative even when it might be resisted. The French do not want any form of Puritanism, and French culture was really in no way shaped by anything that could be called Puritanism. But there is a strain in American society, and there is at least one formative factor in the American conscience and harkens back to the fact that this nation did include Puritans and Puritanism in its formative influences, and that influence continues to be formative, at least as we think about some aspects of the American conscience. So far as the French see it, looking as outsiders, the American impulse towards any kind of moral restriction is just another form of some kind of updated Puritanism. As we think about these European observations and French criticisms of American sexual morality, we understand that that current morality in Europe is shaped mostly by a haunted conscience and a very secular present. In United States that secularization is also proceeding, but it comes out of the background of formative theological influences that nations such as Italy and France simply never had. So whether we’re looking at New Jersey, New York, or France and Italy and Sweden, we’re looking at worldview as central and unavoidable, and we’re looking at the fact that worldview arguments sometimes come in the most interesting and unexpected ways, and it would no doubt perplex the real Puritans that they are blamed for a very confused sexuality in America at the present moment.
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.