Thursday, Sept 27, 2018

Thursday, Sept 27, 2018

The Briefing

September 27, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, September 27, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

How a fundamental breakdown in our political system led to this moment in American history

We knew that the confirmation process for any Justice of the United States Supreme Court was going to be chaotic and controversial. We knew that this particular confirmation hearing for the Justice who would replace Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court would be contentious and highly politicized. But in all honesty, no one saw this coming. No one saw coming what will take place today, beginning at 10:00 in a formal session of the committee on the judiciary of the United States Senate. No one saw the devolution of our entire political process into what can only be described as a carnival with the exception that that’s really an insult to most carnivals.

What we are looking at is the continual crashing of democratic norms. The kind of norms that an experiment in democracy depends upon. The kind of norms that are not only bipartisan, they are considered to be the absolute minimum necessary as normalized relations and a normal understanding of the process of a democracy. It’s understood that this is so fundamental that it comes before partisan politics.

But of course partisan politics is never not a part of the equation. That’s basically been true ever since the founding of America’s Constitutional order. George Washington may have warned famously in his Farewell Address against the development of political parties, but by the time Washington left office the basic two party system in the United States was already coming into view. This means that almost everything becomes partisan. The downside to this is that everything is partisan. The upside is that under the best of circumstances this leads to two different parties that keep each other in check and to some degree keep each honest. But what we are watching right now is not two political parties keeping each other honest. We are watching two political parties, each in its own way contributing to the crashing of our democratic and political system.

As Christians are looking at the controversy right now where it stands. But of course where it stands right now in this particular context is not where it will stand for long. Developments come one after another with a pace never before seen in any kind of judicial confirmation process. What we are watching right now is something that Christians need to think about very, very carefully. We need to understand that what we are watching is a nation, not only two political parties, not only democrats and republicans on the judiciary committee, not only the talking heads on television and beyond, we are watching Americans as they are observing this process, and many are deeply invested in the outcome of this process. We are watching Americans come to heads over the very most basic issues of true versus false. Fact versus non-fact. Right versus wrong.

We could even say that the current state of the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh have revealed a giant roar shock test for the people of the United States. We are looking at an ink blot. Some Americans say, “This is what the blot means.” Others insist, “No, this is what the blot means.” But even as there might have been some discussion amongst Americans about the blot and its meaning in generations past, right now it is simply a matter of hurling arguments. But not just arguments, charges and counter-charges. And what we are watching is not only injurious to democracy, it’s raising basic questions about whether or not our Constitutional order can survive. We’re looking at a tension point virtually without precedent in American history.

At different points in this evolving controversy, even in different points in one single conversation, thoughtful, Biblically minded Christians may find ourselves making arguments that we’ve never thought we had to make before. For example, arguments in this context in which we have insist truth really matters. It really matters whether or not the accusation made against Judge Kavanaugh is true. It really matters whether or not a sexual assault took place. It really matters whether or not events happened as they are alleged. It matters whether the judge, Brett Kavanaugh, or his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, is telling the truth. It matters if both of them, in their own way, are telling the truth as they have remembered it and reconstructed it.

Christians observing not only the generalized controversy now spinning out of control, but the hearings that will begin at 10:00 this morning, Christians should be watching carefully, asking basic questions about credibility. Remembering that credibility does not mean an absolute proving of facts, that’s going to be impossible in this situation. But rather the establishment of moral believability. That’s the crucial issue. When you look at the likely outcome of what’s going to take place today, it will hinge tremendously, it must, it can only hinge tremendously on which of the two major witnesses today, the Judge or his accuser, is heard and becomes most believable.

But here again, there’s another angle. Believable to whom? I will make a prediction to you, by the time the hearings are over it is likely to reveal that the believability factor will line up virtually 100% with the way that members of the committee indicated they would vote before the accusations had ever been made.

Now if indeed that’s the way this turns out, how would we as believing Christians try to think that through? Well, here’s one aspect, we need to remember the fact that we are listening to claims and counter-claims, we are listening to an accusation and a rejection of the accusation, and we are looking at this in the middle of a very highly politicized context that can only be highly politicized because as both sides in this understanding have affirmed, we are looking at the future of the United States Supreme Court. The historical background is not just the Constitutional importance of the Supreme Court, but the fact that the Supreme Court has become a super legislature in the United States, deciding in the end so many issues of great significance to this nation and sometimes far beyond what the Constitution assigns as its responsibility, adjudicating issues that the legislature and the executive, primarily charged with such issues, are not able to resolve because of a fundamental breakdown in our political system.

As we have noted already on The Briefing, looking at this controversy unfolding, the reality is that we are likely to see that the way people say they believe, they way they vote to indicate what they believe, is likely to reflect not just what they believe but what they want to believe. And Christians, remind ourselves that that is a trap from which human beings simply cannot escape. That is to say it takes a profound amount of evidence to change a human mind especially when it comes to an issue of great personal urgency and great investment. When we understand that the stakes are high, and we are personally invested in the issues.

We also have to remember that as we understand that evidentiary burden, the reality is that over the normal human lifespan, Christians understand this, a change of mind on a fundamental issue or an issue of moral urgency, is actually very rare. Over a human lifespan, the likelihood is that genuine occurrence of a change of mind mid-course on an issue of urgency, it turns out that over the human lifetime most of us will experience very few, if any, of those fundamental changes of mind.

Christians place this within the general context of the epistemological or the noetic effects of the fall. The fall, human sinfulness, corrupts our thinking. It doesn’t mean that we can’t know anything, it doesn’t mean that we can’t know the truth, but it does mean that we have tremendous defenses against the truth. And for Christians, most fundamentally, it reminds us of the fact that we are absolutely dependent upon divine revelation.

But looking to this political context, we have to ask whether or not it is possible that some of the persons on that committee are likely to come out of the hearing today in a different place than they have gone in. One of the things to watch is that many, if not most, of the members of the Senate Judiciary committee, now note this very carefully, on both sides, many if not most have already indicated what they believe and whom they believe, even before the testimony takes place.

And you might say, “Well that appears to be unfair. Democrats are charging republicans of having their minds made up. Republicans are charging democrats with having their minds made up.” Well, there’s a sense in which that might be a fault in thinking. But there’s another sense in which it might not. That’s because there’s a context of evidence. Those who are going into the hearing, the senators who are the primary public, let’s keep in mind, for the hearing. Those senators are not going in merely looking for the evidence from the testimony that will take place today, they already have a great deal of evidence. They already have a great deal of information about Judge Kavanaugh and, as we have already seen, most of them, if not all of them, have already announced exactly how they will vote. And even if some of them have not formally stated their intention when it comes to voting on the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, if they haven’t said it, they’ve signaled it. And usually signaled it several times over.

Something else that Christians should watch for, and we’ll have more to say about this after the hearing takes place, Christians should watch for how the conversation in the general public has turned over and over again to people speaking either of Judge Kavanaugh or of Professor Blasey Ford and saying, “I know him, I know her. What’s presented here is not him, this is not her. I know the real Brett Kavanaugh, I know the real Christine Blasey Ford.” But here’s the really frightening thing, what if they reality is that those who are closest to these two individuals really do not know them as they think they know them?

Here is where Christians have to also understand two realities, in this respect. Number one, we really do not know many people we think we know as well as we think we know them. Our knowledge of all things is partial, our knowledge of other human beings is particularly partial. Especially if we knew them in college or we knew them in high school or we knew them in the work place or we knew them in some other context. The reality is, everyone of those contexts was only a slice, and in many cases a relatively thin slice, of a life.

The second issue to remember here is that the human heart is notoriously hidden. Which is to say we know someone we think very, very well. Perhaps we know them in more than one context over more than one period of life. We think we know them, and of course to some degree we do know them. But what we cannot claim is that we actually know their hearts, all of their hearts. The Biblical worldview actually reminds us that we do not know our own fallen hearts perfectly, much less the heart of another.

Part II

What Christians should watch for during today’s Kavanaugh hearings

Keep that in mind as you hear the cultural chatter or as you’re paying attention to a major media report where friends of either Judge Kavanaugh or Professor Blasey Ford might say, “I know her, she wouldn’t lie.” Or, “I know him, he wouldn’t do this. Trust me on this.” There is actually very little reason to believe that any of those people would be acting insincerely. The problem is they’re all thinking incompletely.

Now as you’re thinking of this context and you’re watching the hearings today, if indeed you do, here are a couple of other things to watch for. Number one, watch the words. Pay attention to the kinds of words that are used. Are they descriptive words? Or are they action words? That’s a very important distinction.

Furthermore, listen to the sentences that are used. Not only by Professor Blasey Ford and by Judge Kavanaugh, but by the senators who will be asking, or at least are supposed to be asking, what are supposed to be questions, rather than making speeches. As you are listening, listen for clear declarative statements. Statements of fact, statements that claim the truth. Statements that are not only about evaluation and certainly are not only about some kind of narrative. The narrative is certainly not unimportant, but the larger issue is whether or not the narrative includes very clear truth claims. Declarative statements.

Now pay attention to something else, of course. You are going to be observing a human drama today. And at the center of that human drama are two particular human beings, Judge Kavanaugh and Professor Blasey Ford. Both of them are going to be under intense pressure, almost assuredly the greatest experience of pressure either of them has ever had in the context of this live televised hearing before the United States, as well as before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and furthermore before the world. Both of them must understand that their personal reputation is at stake. How they will be known and how they will be remembered in American political history will have a great deal to do with how they answer questions in the course of the hearing today.

But as you are thinking of those two human beings at the center of the story, think of human agents who are also going to be a part of the story. And we’re talking here about elected members of the United States Senate appointed by their party leadership to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. That is a much coveted position. Every single senator on the Judiciary Committee has a seat on that committee at the expense of other senators who would have wanted it. That means that the party leadership of both parties has decided that these senators should be on this committee and respectively in leadership on this committee. And that means that the parties also have a great deal at stake here.

And this not just, as you’re thinking about the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice, it’s about how the two parties are understood through some of the most senior elected members of that party, members of the United States Senate on this committee.

Now watch something else, watch the distinction between authentic questions and what can only be described as virtue signaling coming from members of the committee. This is going to be an acute temptation. You are talking about political characters here who are also experiencing one of the rarest of all political moments. It is both a challenge and it is opportunity. But the opportunity has a double edge and there is a real danger here that members of this committee will take advantage of the situation to signal their virtue rather than to actually contribute constructively to the hearing.

Watch something else, you’re going to see several members of this committee who are already discussed as likely democratic presidential candidates in the 2020 presidential cycle, you’re going to see them inevitably trying out their role and their influence as they know the cameras are watching so closely. And along with the cameras, the American people. And specifically, the democratic party. And beyond that, in specificity, the left wing of the democratic party.

But as we bring this consideration to a close, understanding that the story is only going to become more interesting in the course of this very day, we also have to ask a question, why is it that we have arrived at this moment? Well, here you have a very open play on the part of the democratic party to try to prevent at all cost and at every length the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And one of the things you have to note is that the political ambitions behind those who are trying to prevent his confirmation have been very clear from the very beginning. And furthermore, as you look at how these accusations, very serious accusations of personal and sexual misconduct have arisen, they have arisen specifically from within that context.

The next thing you should also keep in mind is that under almost any other historical circumstance, the President of the United States would have withdrawn this nomination. That’s not to say that the President would have been convinced that the nominee was guilty of any personal or sexual misconduct. It is to say that in a political calculation, a nomination that has reached this point of controversy is usually withdrawn because it is simply too expensive in the currency of politics. So why has this nomination, a nomination now more controversial than virtually any Supreme Court nomination before, why has the nomination not been withdrawn? It is because even as the democrats understand what’s at stake in this nomination, so also do the republicans and so also does the White House.

The White House understands that if this nomination fails, there may not be time for President Trump to be able to nominate another to this seat who could get through the process of vetting and confirmation before the United States Senate, it’s certain that that could not happen before the 2018 mid-term elections. And, depending upon how those elections turn out, the New York Times was very clear yesterday morning in a half page story in the print edition. The play of the democratic party is to prevent President Trump from having the opportunity in this term to nominate successfully any successor to Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court.

Part III

Worldview issues abound when looking at this year’s most closely contested Congressional races

But next, speaking of the New York Times and the 2018 mid-term elections, that newspaper has offered a very interesting analysis, especially looking to the future partisan composition of the House of Representatives. The Senate right now is the big story in the judicial confirmation process, but the House of Representatives, we need to remember, is the big story when it comes to the nation’s budget. And particularly to spending. We should not discount the authority and responsibility of the United States House of Representatives.

And as you’re looking at the House, the big question is how will the swing district’s most crucial in 2018 vote? And we’re talking about this today on The Briefing because the New York Times recognizes there are very interesting worldview angles to this story. And so they break down the five battlefields, they suggest, for the control of the United States House and these are basically demographic. They are politically described units of Congressional districts and the differences tells a great deal about America and how to read the American worldview map, as well as the American political map.

So the five battlefields they identify are the metro-melting pots, the wealthy suburbs, the outer-suburbs, the open west, and rural Trump country. Five different battlegrounds.

Now, this is really interesting. The first is the metro-melting pot. These are, as they say, the booming areas in and around major cities where growing Hispanic and Asian-American communities are fueling democratic gains. They make the prediction democrats are likely to make the most gains in these districts. As we have observed previously on The Briefing, when you get closer to a metropolitan area, especially a highly urbanized metropolitan area, you are entering more and more secular, more and more politically and morally liberal territory. The same thing is true along the coast and that would tell you that a major metropolitan area with an urban concentration near the coast, either the Atlantic or the Pacific, is likely to be trending to the left, not to the right. That’s likely to be true even more so in 2018.

The wealthy suburbs are really interesting because these wealthy suburbs are associated with more traditional historic American cities. Those wealthy suburbs have, over time, trended republican. They have been trending republican or more conservative on economic issues, but they have also at the same time, and perhaps even more profoundly, they have been trending liberal on social and moral issues. So the big question is, which way are they going to go in the 2018 election and the indications are that the temptation is going to be to go with the moral and social issues, the more progressive direction than the more conservative direction.

That third battlefield is the outer-suburbs. And those outer-suburbs have recently been even more republican, even more conservative. For one thing, in those outer-suburbs you are likely to find a greater concentration of families. And where you find parents with children, especially married parents with children, you find a far greater concentration of moral conservatism. This is important, from a Biblical worldview. Why would that be true? It is because the responsibility of raising children actually tends, over time, to turn parents even more conservative. They understand what is at stake and they understand their hope’s invested in their children. They are very concerned for the world their children are going to inherit.

The fourth battlefield is the open west. And here the New York Times says, “Maverick democrats are exploiting divisions on the right in these culturally complex agriculture heavy districts that tend to lean conservative.” So, why would this battlefield be important? It is because here you find a mixture in the west, generally, of a basic economic conservatism but a moral libertarianism. The question is, again, will that libertarianism outweigh the more conservative instinct that has been demonstrated in these districts in the past.

The last category, rural Trump country. Now almost immediately, my guess is, you’re thinking about the south or you’re thinking about the southwest. But the interesting thing in this particular case is that the example of this kind of Trump country rural district that the New York Times points to isn’t in Mississippi, it is in Maine. And here is where many people thinking of America’s worldview demographic and political map think of rural and social conservative districts as being only in the south and the southwest. That isn’t true. When you look at rural areas in other parts of the country, and here we’re talking about the northeast, one of the most historically liberal parts of the country. There are pockets of deep conservatism in some of those northern states as well.

Maine’s second congressional district, by land mass, is one of the largest Congressional districts on America’s political map. But it’s blue collar, not white collar. And it tends to have supported President Trump and it tends to support republicans ever since the republican party began to dominate in the blue collar vote in the United States, going back to the 1970s.

As we come to a conclusion today, I simply want to state that I think much of the media coverage, especially of the Kavanaugh hearings, over the last several days has demonstrated a collapse of the norms in the American media as well. We are witnessing major news media run with stories including accusations that they never would have run about any other individual, under any other circumstance, in any previous time.

Something of a cultural tsunami is happening right before our eyes and Christians, at least, must understand and be morally serious in our understanding that there is more here than meets the eye. Not only when you think about the hearings that will be held today, but when you think about the longer term question, what exactly are we doing to this American experiment and Constitutional self-government? Some have decided, evidently, it’s time to burn the house down. Let’s hope that when it comes to the majority of those in the United States Senate, they’ve counted the cost before they strike the match.

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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