Monday, Mar. 26, 2018

Monday, Mar. 26, 2018

The Briefing

March 26, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, March 26, 2018, I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christina worldview.

Part I

March for Our Lives: Just how significant is a symbolic march?

The event was called the March for Our Lives and it received hours and hours of sustained major media attention over the weekend. The event was centered in Washington DC and it took place primarily on Saturday. Even as the protest was gathered on the nation’s mall in Washington, similar protests simultaneously took place in other American cities and even in some world cities as well.

Now, listening to the media the story that we were told over and over again is that this was a student-led protest. A student led protest that was believed to have gathered at least a 150,000 people on the mall in Washington, several hundred thousand across the United States and a scattering of thousands around the world. We were told the demands by the students, the originating students being student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that the demands of the students especially those students who saw their own school become the target of a mass killing was restrictions on firearms in general and specific actions including limitations upon access to assault weapons.

Now, congress wasn’t in session, the President of the United States was not a participant in the event. There was no immediate political effect but that raises huge questions as we’re thinking about how a culture actually operates at how a culture changes. One of the fundamental questions is this, “What is the impact of symbolic events?” This event was symbolic. There were very real people in very real places giving very real speeches but that led to no immediate political action. What then is the effect?

Looking over the 20th century, just to take one example, and especially looking at the last decades of the last century with mass media, it has become very clear that marches on a city like Washington DC, the capital of the United States, can have lasting symbolic value but we also need to recognize that week by week protests and marches become routine in a city like Washington DC. Now, the press coverage was not routine but the events get repeated over and over again often with competing arguments being made by competing crowds. Sometimes with the competition even being down to the estimates made by the National Park Service and other authorities of the size of the crowd as if the size of the crowd represents relative political and cultural strength.

We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the young people who originated the idea of this march. They have been eloquent in pressing their case and they also appear at least at this point to have a certain political persistence. They’re often eloquent, very articulate, able to make the case and particularly to gain media and cultural attention because of their relative youth and that raises some really interesting questions.

One of them appeared in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times and in this case the story raised the question why was this story that the media had treated as the number one story of the weekend buried in the print edition of The New York Times on page 22 of the front section? Page 22, the headline: Children versus Guns Around the World and in Washington. The reporters, Michael D. Shear and Emily Baumgaertner, they wrote, “Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them teenagers, infuriated by the gruesome regularity of deadly school shootings poured into the nation’s capital on Saturday and gathered in hundreds of cities around the world to demand that politicians no longer stand idly by as young people are slaughtered in their classrooms.” Now what makes that lead interesting in itself is the fact that it begins speaking of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them teenagers. But again, the story actually appears on page 22, far within the front section of The New York Times. The story did not appear on the front page of the paper.

The reporters go in to tell us that there were more than 800 so-called sibling marches that took place around the United States and furthermore, around the world and yet later in the article an interesting question in raised, “How could a group of teenagers have organized such an event?” The bottom line reality is that they couldn’t by themselves. They may have come up with the idea but there is no way that they themselves came up with the logistics, came up with the money and came up even with the transportation. The New York Times tells us well into its report quote, “Every town the National Gun Control Group founded by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York helped expand the Washington rally to other communities. The group gave each more than 200 grants of $5,000 each a total of more than $1 million to people wanting to organize a local march on Saturday. The group said that nearly two-thirds of people who received grants were first time political organizers.”

On Sunday, The New York Times published another article, this one online with the headline: In Gun Control Marches, Students Led but Adults Provided Key Resources. The reporters were Alan Blinder, Jess Bidgood and Vivian Wang, and they themselves reported that they were skeptics of the marches who quote, “Seized on the roles of major interest groups suggesting that the students were unwitting participants in political warfare that should be reserved for adults but organizers and supporters at the times have done little to disguise that millions of dollars and thousands of hours were directed toward the weekend’s protest.” This report also goes to the group that was founded and financed by Michael Bloomberg but then it goes on to say and I quote, “A nonprofit led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, arranged for more than 200 people from the Parkland area to attend Saturday’s march in Washington and said it had worked with the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, to use the NFL franchise’s plane to bring some people to the capital.”

The New York Times article acknowledges that established groups and quote, “High profile supporters,” end quote were a large part of paying for and organizing the actual event. Nonetheless, a woman by the name of Jenn Hoadley, age 36, who we are told helps students organize a march in Anchorage said quote, “The kids did everything. All I did was say, “You wanna stage? Cool. I’ll find one for you. You need a sound system? Cool. I’ll find one for you. You want to march in the park? I do paperwork to help you get that done.” They planned it all and they should be given credit for that,” end quote.

Well, you can understand something of the mixed messaging coming in that. There can be no question that the students originated the idea and we shouldn’t question the fact that students came up with many of the plans for the event but the actual logistics and the financing, the transportation and the arrangements, were done by others. In the course of the event itself, what we saw were some significant signals of the fact that even as the teenagers originally intended the march to be about safety and the threat of violence in schools, other issues, other political issues, other frontline controversial issues, well they also appeared inserted in the comments, inserted in the speeches and some of the entertainment in the events, seeking to understand the culture intelligently and to understand cultural change, there can be no question that massive symbolic acts can often have lasting consequences. The problem is those lasting consequences and which events will produce lasting consequences are both extremely difficult to predict.

One of the phenomena of our age is the reality that on social media and in much of the mass media, there can be declarations that this a world changing event, only to find out that the very same media report the story the next day on page 22 not on page 1. But, I will go out on a limb and argue that the reality we ought to watch is not so much the teenagers and others who fill the nation’s mall on the protest that took place on Saturday, but rather we should look at a more fundamental generational change, a change in morality, a change in politics, a change in economic theory, and even more fundamental change in worldview and of course behind that is an increasing secularization that appears to impact every coming generation more profoundly.

Part II

What generational gaps tell us about the future shape of politics

Perhaps the best way to understand this reality is to look at an article not a really good article but a nonetheless important article that appeared after the march in The Washington Post is by columnist Dana Milbank, a liberal columnist who celebrates quote, “The kids have come to save us.” He writes, “The kids have to save us. They come from Florida where their high school peers were gunned down on Valentine’s Day, inspiring them to organize Saturday’s March for Our Lives, but they also come from Minnesota where my two teenage nephews boarded an overnight bus to Washington to participate in the march. They have come,” says Milbank, “By the hundreds of thousands to the capital or to the streets of their hometowns just as kids across the country, my daughter and her classmates among them, walked out of classes on March the 14th to protest school shootings.”

Then Milbank gets to what he believes is most important. I quote again, “Most important they are coming to the polls in November, the beginning of a generational wave that will upend our politics and they’re going to get what they have come for. They will get reasonable gun control eventually but they will get a lot more than that,” says Milbank, “The kids, millennials, and those following Generation Z born since the mid-1990s and just coming of age, they’re going to save us from ourselves,” end quote.

Milbank’s confidence is not just in the young people he saw on the mall, his confidence of massive social change is coming as a result of demographics and the study of coming generations. He writes and of course he’s celebrating this and I quote, “We are on the cusp of change of a magnitude not seen since the 1960s at least and not just on guns,” he writes, “But on immigration, race, health care, diplomacy, the role of government and America’s place in the world,” end quote.

Milbank argues that if you are looking at what took place on Saturday, you’re actually looking at the future, not so much what might happen next week but what’s going to happen over the next several years. He writes quote, “It cannot be clearer that the power structure has created this mess on its way out. Millennials,” he writes, “will sometime next year become the largest living generation and Generation Z is poised to be even larger. Together,” he writes, “they will resoundingly repudiate the status quo.”

He writes later of research done by the Pew Research Center which he says reveals that quote, “The generational gap in political views is wider than at any point since Pew began examining it in the early 1990s.” He traces this coming political change to underlying demographic changes including what he described as changing racial demographics but also what he celebrates as the very marked liberalization of both the millennials and Generation Z as they are increasingly identified. This political and moral liberalization is something that doesn’t just rest on one study whether by the Pew Research Center or anyone else but it’s frankly tangible in the larger culture and reflected in popular entertainment and also in just about every major research project that has directed itself to the political, moral and cultural views of younger Americans.

Again Milbank is celebrating this. That’s very clear in the title where The kids are coming to save us. He writes about the zeitgeist guys that’s the spirit of the age that in his words is already changing. He says quote, “Those now controlling Washington may not adapt but rest assured kids they will soon be gone,” end quote.

Now as I said, this is not a particularly good argument and it doesn’t go very deep as we think of its analysis but what is important is that Dana Milbank understands that a basic generational shift in worldview will have massive political consequences. What Christians should think about as we understand how a culture changes is that political affiliation and deeply seeded worldview commitments made when Americans are young, they tend to have very lasting powers of influence shaping a generation as that same generation moves through the various phases of adulthood.

Looking back over the last several decades the generation that came of age in the late ’50s, the ’60s and the ’70s, the baby boomers had an out sized, liberalizing influence on American society and that has continued. But, the generation that came after, the generation who were adolescents and young adults in the age of Regan, they tended to be more conservative than their own parents, sometimes even more conservative than their own grandparents and that cultural and moral conservatism also has lasted throughout decades even as those young adults became less young adults and as they themselves became parents and eventually grandparents.

But, what we’re looking at now is a rising generation of younger Americans who are again for to the left of their parents and grandparents but even as compared with the baby boomers and the moral and social liberalization of that generation, the millennials and Generation Z turned out to be if anything considerably to the left of the baby boomers even measured in the social change that was reflected in the 1960s versus what we see today.

The fundamental reality that we should understand and we should think about and we should watch is not just the symbolic actions that might take place in this march or that one event or another, but lasting and very fundamental social, cultural, and worldview change taking place generation by generation. Marches come and go and even in 24 hours can move from the headlines to page 22 but the more fundamental generational change, it doesn’t go away in a hurry. It lasts, even as the word implies, for generations.

Part III

Congress passes omnibus spending bill and continues to fund Planned Parenthood

But next turning to the biggest political story of the weekend, there can be no doubt that what we saw on Friday was Washington at its most Washingtonian and that is certainly not a compliment. What we saw was government in this omnibus spending bill that was adapted by Congress and then later signed by the President of the United States is an act of political expediency that will inflict upon coming generations in the United States bills that they cannot possibly pay and the fulfillment of promises that no one is possibly going to be able to keep but the legislative compromise that lead to this 1.3 trillion dollar blowout that after all just takes us until September of this year, that legislative bargain is no bargain for the American people.

Even as leaders in Congress had to celebrate this as a great achievement, and even as President Trump signed the legislation after he had threatened briefly to veto it after he had said publicly that he would sign it, all of this confusion was reflected in a statement made by the President when he said he would never sign such a bill again. Now we should simply note that that’s the kind of statement that is often made in this context by a President who will one way or another for one reason or another sign a similar bill again. But the President made a very revealing statement when speaking of the bill he said quote, “Nobody read it,” end quote.

Well perhaps someone ought to read it. It’s 2232 pages that will add up to 1.3 trillion dollars of spending. The President said that his primary motivation in signing the bill was to facilitate continued funding of the US military but the bill is called Omnibus for a good reason. Just about everything conceivable was thrown into it. What we see in this case are legislators, individual members of Congress, individual Senators, special interests, even states and massive federal programs, all of those leaders and advocates making very clear that their concern was to get their projects and their special interests funded and just about everybody in this case came up to the trough.

This will be a particularly difficult pill for Republicans to swallow since that party at least had been historically committed to fiscal restraint and some kind of control on federal spending. As recently as just a couple of years ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives had very clearly put into place spending controls that were later abandoned and now appear not even to be remembered. There are all kinds of political considerations here but one of the issues we need to remember is that we are borrowing money by overspending, spending money the federal government does not have and will not have and eventually our own children and grandchildren will pay the bills. This kind of deficit spending, this kind of borrowing from the future is not a way of not paying taxes, it is a way of downshifting those taxes to those who are not yet born or do not yet have a vote.

Leaders in both parties will make a politically plausible argument that they had no choice but to reach some kind of compromise. That’s a simple matter of math and some compromise was inevitable but this raises the question as to whether or not any kind of lasting change politically can be accomplished in Washington DC and it raises the specific question as to whether any kind of budgetary control will ever be a lasting reality long enough to change that fundamental picture in the United States government.

Finally, intelligent Christians looking at this picture will understand that what has been inflicted is not only injury but insult because included in this 1.3 trillion dollar Omnibus Spending Bill is $500 million this year of US taxpayer money to an organization we were promised would be defunded from taxpayer funding and that is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a half billion dollars of the United States tax confiscated money now sent to the nation’s leading abortion provider. Of course, we’re being told that that taxpayer money will not directly pay for abortions but make no mistake any intellectually honest person will recognize that that money becomes fungible and eventually it pays for the organization and the organization beyond question has as its major industrial effect the killing of unborn babies in American wombs. So dear Christian, what your political leader likely will not tell you is that as a result of this spending bill, America as a nation and every single one of its taxpayers is even more complicit in abortion.

Part IV

The military's transgender revolution is put on hold

Finally, we turn to other news that came from Washington DC just as we went into the weekend but because of everything else this story didn’t get much attention. The headline in The Washington Post, quote, “Trump issues order supporting ban on many transgender troops, defers to Pentagon on new restrictions.” Dan Lamothe reports accurately that President Trump issued the order late Friday that supports a ban on many transgender troops and then the words that become important that follow quote, “Deferring to a new Pentagon plan that essentially cancels a policy adopted by the Obama administration.” Now, you may recall that President Trump in a Tweet announced a complete ban on transgender troops but that was immediately put on hold by a Federal Court and beyond that the Pentagon announced that it was undergoing a major reconsideration of the question.

Back in 2016, the Obama administration through then Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, announced a new policy of absolute inclusion of transgender troops but that was not put into full effect not only because of the election later that year but because the Pentagon acknowledged it was by no means ready to move forward with that kind of so-called full inclusion. The report that came out over the weekend indicates that current Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, had reported to the President that he and the Pentagon had very significant concerns about the possibility of full inclusion of transgender troops. The policy that was announced over the weekend in which the President affirmed the report coming from the Pentagon and the suggestions of the top military indicates that there will be a grandfathering in the military of some who have already transitioned in their gender identity and some who’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria but there will be a rather significant limitation on the entry of new transgender personnel or the continued service of those who identify as transgender in the future.

One of the key issues raised by the Pentagon was unit cohesion and the continued functionality of the American military and here those who are trying to think about this from a Christian biblical worldview understand that something like the United States military must operate on a basic understanding of personal identity and must also rest upon a certain understanding of gender identity without which nothing but confusion can result. But here, we also have to understand why this is such an issue focused on the military. It is because if you want to bring about massive cultural and moral change in a society, you’ve got to change through the most basic institution. One of the most basic institutions in the United States of America, one of the most powerful, culture shaping and influential institutions is the United States military. If you can force change there, you can use that as leverage to force change elsewhere.

That’s what’s going on here after being advised by the Pentagon the President made his announcement on Friday and of course not you will see a rush to the Federal Courts and that raises a question troubling on its own. Are we really going to see United States defense policy established by federal judges?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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