Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018
Tags: Agriculture, Audio, California, Independents, Megan Barry, Nashville, Politics
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 7, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What we learn about the moral tenor of our times in the wake of Nashville mayor’s guilty plea and resignation
Events that unfolded yesterday in the City of Nashville, Tennessee tell us a great deal about the moral tenor of our times. The scandal in Nashville has to do with the city’s mayor or at least, she was the city’s mayor until yesterday. Megan Barry resigned as Nashville’s mayor yesterday morning just almost immediately after she entered a formal guilty plea and she pleaded to charges of felony theft, all of this tied to a sex scandal that emerged just a few weeks ago.
Barry had been a rather popular mayor in Nashville, a Democrat, and a relatively liberal Democrat especially on social issues but her resignation came after a scandal broke in which it was revealed that she had had a personal and sexual relationship with a police officer who had been assigned to her as part of the mayor’s security detail, but even as that scandal broke and it broke in a very loud way, we observed some of the fracture, some of the fissures in America’s moral foundation. They became clear especially in the response to the news that the mayor and the police officer had admitted to an adulterous affair.
Many civic leaders, including political leaders in Nashville immediately surrounded the mayor with non-judgmentalism, arguing that the mayor’s sex life was her personal matter, and furthermore, the implication was that we, as a society, have gotten over concerns about character or the question of adultery. Let’s just be clear, the sin of adultery. As predicted, almost just as quickly, some of those very same civic leaders, some of those very same office holders came back to say, “Well, everything will be different if it turns out that money was involved, whether or not it came in the form of payments to the police officer or another cost to the city that would have been involved in supporting or enabling this adulterous affair.”
Almost as quickly after that, it became transparent that just such monetary complexities were almost assuredly involved. When the mayor pleaded guilty yesterday to felony theft, the district attorney said that he had plenty of evidence to indicate that the mayor and the police officer had misused and thus stolen between 10,000 and $60,000 of the city’s money. The money was directly traceable to salary and overtime and expenses paid for the police officer who, and this is extremely significant, was often the only individual accompanying the mayor on trips that included city financed trips to Paris, Athens, Washington, D.C., Denver, and New York City among others. The mayor and the security detail officer had indicated that they had not conducted their adulterous affair on city time or on city travel but a review of the mayor’s phone indicated that sexually explicit photographs had been exchanged between the two when they were indeed on the city-financed trips.
Now, from a Christian world view perspective, the most important insights about this story are these. First of all, once again, we face the reality of personal character and public office and we notice that this kind of sin is almost always accompanied both by financial implications and, well, an entire system of lies. The lies begin to fall apart. The monetary issues become clear, and the morality is thus unavoidable. The other thing we need to note is that in this kind of case, the fractures and fissures that we detect in the foundation, the moral foundation of our nation, come down to the fact that we have lost seemingly the ability to say that almost anything as a sexual behavior is wrong. It might be a personal matter. It might be embarrassing, but we have lost the ability to say even that adultery is wrong and should have consequences, but when it comes to crimes involving money, isn’t it interesting how clear the nation’s moral conscience seems to be?
This should remind us all of the quotation that was linked to the Watergate Scandal in the early 1970s when one of the major figures was indicated to have said that in order to trace the crime, all one had to do was to follow the money. Following the money is often actually a great diagnostic tool in order to understand the underlying moral reality. It is true not only in Nashville but everywhere human beings are found. Christians have to understand and we have to say out loud to one another that it’s not just about the money, and it’s a very sad society that can achieve moral clarity only when it comes to crimes and the sins involving finance, economics, and cash.
On this story, one final observation. In recent months, we have seen the vice president of the United States roundly criticized for what the press mocks as the Mike Pence rule, the rule that the vice president has had not only in his current office but in previous office that he is alone only with his wife and with no other woman. As I said, that has been routinely mocked. Of course, it’s not really the Mike Pence rule. Before that, it was associated with others including the late evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham, but before that, it was already a part of Christian common sense.
The secular world dismisses it as unrealistic and furthermore, repressive and discriminatory against women. Let’s just note the plain moral fact in this case. Here, you had a married woman as the mayor of Nashville traveling alone with a married man, and traveling all over the world in situations where it was not only professional but quickly turned personal. This was made clear in a statement made by the now resigned police officer who also pleaded guilty to the same kind of charges of felony theft. He said, and I quote, “I deeply regret that my professional relationship with Mayor Barry turned into a personal one.” He went on to say, “This has caused great pain for my wife, my family, friends, and colleagues.” Finally, he said, “At no time did I ever violate my oath as a police officer or engaged in actions that would abuse the public trust.”
Well, we now know that that statement is profoundly false even as indicated by the guilty plea, but here’s something else. We need to note that this police officer, now a former police officer, said at no time did he violate his oath as a police officer. Well, we know that’s not true, but we also know something that’s even more importantly true. In the admission that he made when the original scandal broke, he revealed and admitted that he had broken an even more fundamental oath, indeed a fundamental vow. It was the vow of marriage that he had made and adultery was the crime against that vow. We are a society that tries to say that as important as other moral matters are, adultery is really not all that consequential, but I don’t believe the society means it as reflected in the fact that if you trace the morality, not just the money, you get back to adultery.
Why it’s important to understand that culture produces politics, not the other way around
Next, we turn to a rather constant, urgent, and necessary conversation that preoccupies our culture every two years. That, of course, is our political conversation. Every four years in a presidential election, but every two years, even in the midterm elections as are scheduled now for November, but between now and then, this is going to be a constant chatter. Much of it will be very important. Americans tend to tune out midterm elections and the related issues far more than presidential election years and the associated campaigns. Between now and November, there’s going to be a constant conversation about what might happen, what will happen, and eventually, what did happen, and at every stage, what it means.
A couple of very interesting developments have taken place just in recent days. The New York Times this week on Monday ran a front page story with the headline, Democrats Face Primary Shove from New Left. Now, one of the truths that Christians need to keep always foremost in mind is the reality that politics is downstream from culture. Now, what does that mean? It’s been an observation made for decades now but it’s extremely important especially for those who want to think accurately and carefully about politics. We often assume that the politics will produce the culture but a closer observation reveals that the opposite’s really true. It is the culture that determines the politics.
What does that mean for us? Well, it means that we need to understand that the basic changes driving the society are reflected in politics but they're driven by the culture. That’s not to say that politics is every inconsequential. It’s just to say that by the time a big cultural or moral change shows up in an election, it is already reshaping the entire culture. What this headline story in the New York Times from Monday tells us is that when the Democratic Party is now being shoved, that’s the verb in the headline, further and further to the left, it is because a large segment of our society is already moving in that direction and demanding that the Democratic Party follow.
The story in the New York Times begins in Chicago. We’ve already remarked on The Briefing about the fact that Congressman Daniel Lipinski who is himself a Democrat with a solidly liberal voting record when it comes to most political issues especially as related to labor, well, Mr. Lipinski finds himself faced by very stiff competition and a great deal of party endorsement and energy coming from his left, in his own party, in the primary, and of course, it was also clear from the beginning that two of the issues that are central to the fact that the Democratic Party is now moving to the left has to do with the fact that Congressman Lipinski has been pro-life as well as his father who held the seat before him, and as were so many blue-collared democrats in Chicago who had formed at least previously the political base for this congressional district.
The critics from the congressman’s left say that his pro-life position is simply out of step. One of the women running to replace him said, “He’s a dinosaur because he’s a phony because he’s a Republican who claims to be a Democrat.” All that basically traced to social issues and the fact that Congressman Lipinski has been a critic of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, but the New York Times also makes clear that Congressman Lipinski isn’t alone. Even members of congress from the Democratic Party considerably to the Chicago congressman’s left, they're also finding themselves threatened and primaried in their own districts including one significant congressional district in the State of Massachusetts. It’s also interesting to note that at least some are tracking the secularization of the nation as a part of what’s changing the political landscape.
In the case especially of Congressman Lipinski, many of the voters who had established his base, a solidly Democratic-leaning base, were Catholics, blue collared workers who had supported the congressman and his father and who had also supported the Catholic Church’s historic position on abortion. All of that is being swept away and an increasingly secular Democratic Party is also increasingly liberal. It seems to have far decreasing space even for historic congress persons and office holders who had been highly rated by the Democratic Party and important constituencies such as labor unions but who now find themselves being opposed in their own party because they are not far enough to the left especially on crucial social issues.
As California proves, the further you get from agriculture, the more liberal the social context grows
The most interesting article along these lines in quite a long time appeared Monday on the front page of the Orange County Register in California. Ben Bradford of Capital Public Radio is the author of the article and the headline is this, How the State of Reagan Morphed into Anti-Trump Land. Now, what Bradford’s talking about is the moral landscape of just one state, in this case, California. One out of nine Americans lives in California. California is by far the dominant political state in the union. Bradford’s talking about how California grew from being a predictably, even reliably republican state in national elections and statewide office to being exactly the opposite.
One of the points made in his article is that it has been now 10 years since a single Republican has been elected to statewide office in the nation’s most populous state. For a very long time, Americans aware of the nation’s political landscape have understood that California is one of the very most important laboratories for social, moral, cultural, and political change, but even though same Americans tend to underestimate the scale and scope of that change just over the last several decades.
Bradford gets right to the point when he directs this back to the year 1943 when then Republican governor Earl Warren took the oath of office as California’s governor. As he tells us, from that year, 1943, to the end of Governor Pete Wilson’s final term in 1998, the State of California elected only two Democrats as governor, only two, and both of them were named Edmund G. Brown. That will be the father and the son. The father, Governor Pat Brown as he was known, later defeated by Ronald Reagan, and the son, Governor Jerry Brown who is now serving a remarkable fourth term he will soon conclude as California’s governor.
University of California at Davis Professor Mindy Romero who studies California voting behaviors said, “California was a red state. We had consistently elected Republican governors.” It was true even during those years that Democrats had a lot of influence and periodic control in the California legislature but, as Bradford says, from Dwight David Eisenhower in 1952 to Ronald Reagan in 1988, a majority of Californians voted for the Republican presidential candidate. The only exception to that rule was the presidential election of 1964 when a majority of California voters rejected the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, in favor of the incumbent Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, but as Bradford makes clear, starting in the 1990s, Republicans began to lose ground and Democrats began to gain ground so much so that there is not a single Republican in statewide office, nor has there been for a decade.
Bradford directs attention to some of the underlying trends that explain this phenomenon and all of them are important. One of them has to do with demographic change, especially the rather significant rise of immigrants and especially of the Hispanic population in California. The Hispanic population, though traditionally morally conservative, tends to vote Democratic for all kinds of reasons. Some of them have to do with perceived alliances with the Democratic Party. Others have to do would decidedly mixed signals especially on immigration set by Republicans.
The Republicans in congress from California, where they are found, have traditionally been found in the more conservative midsection of California in the Central Valley, very much time to agriculture and also in Orange County, but Orange County is quickly turning from read to purple blue. From a Christian world view, biblical perspective, one of the most important insights of this phenomenon comes down to the fact that there is a basic seismic moral shift especially on social issues that now defined even entrance into a political conversation in California. That is decidedly true in the Democratic Party, which has moved so far to the left, but it’s true throughout most of the state, especially along the coasts and anywhere near a major academic institution.
It’s also extremely telling that in California, the only remaining conservative areas of influence are the agriculturally rich area of the Central Valley. That’s very important because as we see coast to coast and culture by culture, it is the communities most closely tied to agriculture that tend to be the most morally conservative. Why would that be the case? Well, as one farmer in the Central Valley told me just a few days ago, a farmer is repeatedly reminded to be humble. A farmer is repeatedly, sometimes even disastrously humbled by realities such as a lack of water or too much water or any number of varieties of weather. Agriculture is not only hard work. It is hard work on the schedule of the crop and the land and the cycle of farming. It’s not set by personal preference and those crops are absolutely immune to moral persuasion.
There’s also the obvious reality that agriculture and particularly animal husbandry makes one very, very aware of what it means for God to have created so many species as male and female and to have given those species a basic drive towards reproduction that could only happen with the male and the female clearly showing up as male and female. There is also the fact that agriculture on any scale at all requires community starting with family, but then also pointing to the interdependence even of farmers upon other farmers of a community working together.
All of that appears to be the moral antithesis to so much of what is happening in metropolitan, cosmopolitan America. In that America, increasingly calling the shots politically and economically, food mysteriously and magically appears in a supermarket or on a menu. As the farmers of California Central Valley understand, the political leaders and the political culture in the state are now almost entirely enamored of Silicon Valley rather than the Central Valley. They’ve turned to hope and technology rather than to a basic understanding of the importance and centrality of agriculture.
The turning away of so many Americans from any contact whatsoever with the cycle of nature, with the reality of agriculture, and with the responsibilities of food production helped to explain why so many in this culture are so attracted to liberal ideas and to a secular world view. One of the most revealing realities of our age is the fact that the further you get from agriculture, the more liberal the social context grows. Just consider the sheet concentration of liberal ideas on a major American college or university campus.
Despite Americans’ claim to rugged individualism, political affiliations are often very predictable
Finally, yet another article. This one appear recently in the Los Angeles Times is by Mark Barabak and the headline is this, The Rise of Independents, It’s a Myth. Barabak points to the fact that even though independence in many areas may be the second largest political identification, the reality is most people still vote on big electoral questions and especially in presidential elections, predictably along party lines. Even as there may be now a radical increase in the number of Americans who say they're politically independent, their own voting records indicate they're really not so independent as they claim.
Barabak tells us that in 2016, 34% of Americans described themselves as politically independent. That’s just compared to 33% who identified as democrats, and 29% who identified as republicans. As you look to the 2016 presidential election, that electoral vote was pretty much binary, pretty much divided between the democratic and republican nominees.
In the most interesting section of Barabak’s article in the Los Angeles Times, he tells us of what he identifies as the myth of the independent voter who might swing between voting cycles voting for a Democrat one time and a Republican the next, but as he writes, “Experts suggest that independence, true independence who genuinely favored neither major party and hopscotch among democratic and republican or third party choices depending on the office or election may constitute as little as 5% of the electorate and are nowhere near the 25% or more who show up in registration numbers and polling.
Peter D. Hart, well identified as an experienced and influential democratic pollster, he said and I quote, “We all like to believe that we are our own free agents. What we like to say is we call it as we see it.” As Hart acknowledges, that’s simply not true. It is not true for the vast majority of Americans, probably at least 95% of active voters. Nowhere in this article in the Los Angles times does it argue exactly why this is probably the case, but I think we really do know why. That takes us once again to analysis at the level of world view.
Human beings, given the issues that are at stake, live vast issues now separating, the Republican and Democratic parties just consider, for one example, the vast distance between the two parties on the question of abortion. I think the reality is that despite themselves and in spite of our claim that we are rugged individualists and political independents, the reality is that we are probably instinctively more consistent even though we know ourselves to be.
It’s one thing to imagine this independent, skipping between republican and democratic candidates on the basis of personality, but when it comes to policies, just again considering the single issue of abortion, skipping between the parties election by election would be every four years, swinging between, or to use the word in this article, hopscotching between pro-life and pro-abortion world views. There is simply too much at stake and evidently, the vast majority of American voters understand that.