Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018

Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018

The Briefing

October 30, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, October 30, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

In response to corruption and economic turmoil, Brazil turns to the right in Sunday’s presidential election

The human consciousness is finite. We can only think about so many things at one time. Our attention is so often focused first on this, and then on that. It is difficult at times to gain perspective. It’s important for us to recognize that in recent days it has been right for Americans to be primarily concerned with the headlines, the grievous headlines that have come at us here in the United States over the last several days. Headlines including an attempted attack by pipe bomb upon numerous Americans, including a former president of the United States. A murderous attack in Louisville, Kentucky, and an even more deadly attack in a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Americans will continue to grieve and we will continue to follow the story as it unfolds through investigation, and later judicial action, and even right now there are people in Pittsburgh and far beyond whose lives are so impacted by these events that they can give little attention to anything else.

But the world has been moving, and as the world was moving over the weekend the biggest story of international concern was the presidential election in Brazil. In a recent edition of the briefing from Brazil I talked about the history of that country and why the 2018 presidential election in Brazil is so important. The election was held in this last round on Sunday and the clear winner of the presidency is Jair Bolsonaro. He is a conservative candidate. In many ways he is considered to be something like a Brazilian Donald Trump, but the story turns out to be even more interesting once we begin to look below the surface.

For example, you take the headline in the New York Times, quote, “In turn to right voters in Brazil lift up populist. Bolsonaro,” they say, “wins easily.” Indeed, he won by what would be in the United States defined as a landslide. He won with about 55% of the vote, and as the story by Ernesto Londoño and Shasta Darlington continues, “Brazil on Sunday became the latest country to drift toward the far right electing a strident, populist as president in the nation’s most radical political change since democracy was restored over 30 years ago.” The story continues, “The new president Jair Bolsonaro has exalted the country’s military dictatorship, advocated torture, and threatened to destroy, jail, or drive into exile his political opponents. He won by tapping into a deep well of resentment” say the reporters, “at the status quo in Brazil, a country whip lashed by rising crime and two years of political and economic turmoil and by presenting himself as the alternative.”

Now, one of the most interesting things we need to note is that when you’re looking at the 2018 presidential election in Brazil, we just might be seeing a foretaste of the 2020 presidential election in the United States of America. In Brazil, we saw the radical polarization in the runoff between the two final candidates. From the right, Jair Bolsonaro, and from the left, Fernando Haddad. But what’s really interesting is how the American press has dealt with this story, both before and after the election. For example, I read the exact words from the lead paragraph of The New York Times. I go back. It indicates the countries that is Brazil’s “Drift toward the far right …” You see a similar language in the front page story in The Washington Post where Anthony Faiola and Martina Lopez report, “A 63-year-old populist renegade rode a wave of voter rage to Brazil’s presidency, marking the South American giant’s most dramatic shift to the right since the end of the Cold War military dictatorships.” The next words, “Jair Bolsonaro, a far right lawmaker and former army captain defeated leftist Fernando Haddad in the runoff.”

So what’s so interesting here? You look at the BBC from London, you look at The New York Times, you look at The Washington Post, what is the common pattern? In every single one of these major news media reports Bolsonaro is identified as far right. But Haddad is identified as of the left, or leftist. You do not have an acknowledgement of the fact that if one is going to define Jair Bolsonaro as far right, then you would have to identify Fernando Haddad as far left, but this tells us more about the political perspective of the American press and their understanding of the Brazilian election. It tells us more about the press in this case than it does about the two candidates. Is it fair to call Jair Bolsonaro a man of the far right? Well, it’s arguable. You are looking at the most conservative, or rightist candidate to be elected in any modern era of South American or Latin American politics.

But if you’re looking at Fernando Haddad, you have to realize there’s a huge story behind how he became the leftist candidate. In the beginning of the 2018 Brazilian presidential election cycle, by far the most popular candidate was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula. A president form the left who was disqualified from running for president precisely because he is now serving a 12 year sentence for political corruption. Brazil has been afflicted by political corruption particularly from the left for many of the past 30 years in which democracy has been restored. Not only is Lula now in prison, but his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached also because of charges of corruption, but there are other major members of the Brazilian government who have also been openly accused of corruption; many have been convicted, and it is generally accepted that corruption has worked its way through virtually every level of Brazilian politics leading to an immense frustration on the part of the Brazilian people.

The fact that it wasn’t the candidate from the left but the candidate from the right who won in Brazil requires some explanation. I want to return to how The New York Times tried to explain Sunday’s election. Again, we are told that Bolsonaro “won by tapping into a deep well of resentment at the status quo in Brazil, a country we are told whip lashed by rising crime and two years of political and economic turmoil, and by presenting himself as the alternative.” Indeed, Bolsonaro did present himself as the alternative. But the issues are even deeper than what The New York Times has recognized. A team of reporters for The Wall Street Journal explained the background this way: That Mr. Bolsonaro has promised “To restore order in a country riddled with crime and corruption, return the moribund economy to growth, and revive traditional family values in a society increasingly guided by Evangelical Christianity.”

You will notice that that explanation gets to even deeper issues than politics; connecting to family and deeper moral and cultural concerns. Once again, you have a similarity with the pattern happening in the United States where you have the more conservative candidate in 2016 Donald Trump won, largely not because of economic arguments, but because of moral and cultural arguments. We see a similar pattern right now in the election that took place on Sunday in Brazil. You’ll also note that that article made reference to the fact that there is an involvement of Evangelical Christians in the Brazilian vote that is noteworthy; even catching the attention of major media in the United States.

Similarly, in an editorial entitled Brazil’s Sad Choice, published on October the 22nd, that is almost a full week before the Brazilian election. The editorial board of The New York Times identified Bolsonaro as “An Evangelical Christian who preaches a blend of social conservatism and economic liberalism.” That means, liberalism as a free market. Now just to state the matter as simply as possible, when The New York Times in an editorial identifies someone as an Evangelical Christian that is to intended to be understood as a compliment.

You put all of this together and you understand that every time almost every time Bolsonaro is mentioned in the Western media we is mentioned as the candidate who is far right, not just conservative, not just of the right, but far right. Even as there’s no balancing recognition that his opponent was a Marxist simply in a new Brazilian form, and that he represents a worker’s party that is not only of the left but in the United States would be representing the far, far left. That lack of balance is also indicated in the basic secular framework out of which so many in the media work whereby the identification of a candidate as an Evangelical Christian or receiving the support of Evangelical Christians is supposed to send a certain kind of shiver down the spine of the culturally enlightened.

A very important, a very relevant insight into the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil came on the pages of The Washington Post yesterday because the author was none other than Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil from 1995 to 2002. Former President Cardoso wrote, “Bolsonaro surfed a tsunami or popular anger and despair that swept away the entire Brazilian political system along with the old party leaders. He was able to do so,” said the former president, “because of the people’s growing suspicion that representative democracy is incapable of delivering what they need. This disaffection” he said, “was compounded by a brutal economic recession in Brazil; the longest in our history. Unemployment soared, urban violence reached staggering heights, nearly 64,000 homicides in 2017, or 175 homicides per day. Organized crime,” said the former president, “spiraled out of control. Political parties, especially the left wing worker’s party floundered in corruption.”

Now, what makes that statement so important is that the former Brazilian president is not pleased with the election of Jair Bolsonaro as the new Brazilian president. What makes this so important is that the former president does understand what was happening. He does understand the basic desire of voters that was reflected in this rather shocking development. Shocking over the long-term of Brazilian politics, and certainly shocking to the liberal media and to the political establishments in the West. The New York Times article that ran on Monday announcing the Bolsonaro win also documented some of the same problems.

“Nearly 13 million people are unemployed. The homicide rate is among the highest in the world. Last year, 63,889 people were murdered, and Mr. De Silva …” that is Lula, the former leftist president, now in prison, “The former president many had idolized had left office with an approval rating of 87% only to become the most prominent scalp taken by a corruption scandal that has ensnared dozens of the country’s political and business leaders.” The Times then summarized, “Part of Mr. Bolsonaro’s appeal lay in the extreme solutions he proposed to assuage the population’s anger and fear of violence. Bolsonaro had also run on a motto, the very nation’s motto, “Order and progress,” in which he had pledge if elected to return the nation to order, and to reestablish the structures that would give Brazil another chance at national greatness.

In an address he gave immediately after his victory he stated that Brazil cannot continue “Flirting with socialism, communism, populism, and the extremism of the left.” Now what should American Christians think of all of this? Well, politically we’re going to have to wait and see, but it is very clear and it is very instructive that when you are looking at one of the most populist nations on Earth, by any means, the most populist and influential nation in Latin America, the population in a democratic election on Sunday has taken the nation decidedly in a more conservative turn. But at a deeper level, here’s where Christians also need to understand there are huge worldview issues implicated here. Most importantly it is this: A representative democracy, a constitutional form of government requires certain preconditions resting on certain presuppositions. Those preconditions include order and respect for law, and that is exactly what Jair Bolsonaro rightly indicted Brazil for lacking in the contemporary generation. He went precisely what former president Cardoso indicated was an unrest and a deep sense of urgency about Brazil’s descent into disorder, and what makes this really, really interesting from a Christian perspective is that Bolsonaro didn’t merely point to a lack of political and legal order, but he pointed to the fact that even the family itself is at stake, and that’s one of the reasons why Bolsonaro himself identifying as an Evangelical received overwhelming Evangelical support in the election on Sunday.

A surge in Evangelical influence and numbers in Brazil helps to explain why what you wouldn’t have expected from Brazil and any generation previous, the western media reporting on this election have to note the influence of Evangelical Christians in Brazil on the 2018 Brazilian presidential election.

Part II

Why order is a precondition for liberty in a representative democracy

But as we think about this we need to go back to that issue of the preconditions for democracy. There are certain human needs that have to be met before human beings feel free or responsible to turn to other needs. There is a deep seated desire for freedom and liberty within the human being, but we also need to note that there’s something that’s a precondition to that, and that precondition is order and structure in society. Let’s put it this way, if a people have to choose between order and liberty they will choose order almost every time. Why? Because order is a precondition for liberty. Liberty is not a precondition for order. That’s important for us to recognize. It helps to explain the sense of cultural and civilizational urgency on the part of so many around the world right now.

If you look at a place like Syria, or you look at other failed states and you look at unrest, and you look at what instability looks like, when you see that kind of disorder represented by a skyrocketing homicide rate, when the streets become dangerous for anyone to travel, when cities become lethal and when there is such fear on the part of the population, then you should expect that population to seek first to restore order before that population then feels the security to turn towards other political goods and other political aims, such as representative democracy. That points to the fact that in 2018 Brazil now faces a critical turning point.

The nation was under order imposed by a military dictatorship until just about 30 years ago, and the past 30 years have not been tremendously encouraging about maintaining both order and liberty within one of the world’s most populist countries. We have to hope that the election of Jair Bolsonaro will give Brazil a new opportunity and that Brazil can move forward in establishing a rightful order in order to get to the establishment and strengthening of a constitutional democracy.

Christians can discuss any number of arguments about which form of government, even which form of democracy is superior, but the Bible makes very clear that the worst condition of government of all is the condition of anarchy. It is disorder, because disorder leads to a breakdown of morality, it leads to violence, and of course it leads to a hampering of every dimension of human flourishing including the economy. Liberty, ordered liberty is only possible because citizens trust one another, and that trust is earned. We have to hope that over the next several years in Brazil that trust can be re-earned, both by the government and by the people.

Part III

A moral revolution in primetime: What the record number of LGBTQ characters on TV tells us about this cultural moment

Turning back to the United States where we are also experiencing our own tensions and our own deeply seated cultural conflicts, consider the headline that appeared in the life section of USA Today as the nation went into the weekend. The article’s by Bill Keveney. The headline: LGBTQ Presence On Broadcast TV Hits High. The subhead: Representation at 8.8% according to GLAAD. That’s G-L-A-D-D, a major LGBTQ activist group that offers a regular scorecard of Hollywood when it comes to their aims. The reporter tells us “LGBTQ characters have reached a record level of representation on broadcast TV, a GLAAD study reported Thursday. In the current TV season, we are told primetime scripted series on the five broadcast networks have set a record for the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer series regular characters according to the report from the LGBTQ media advocacy organization.”

Now at times we just have to pause and wonder whether or not our grandparents would understand even the language that we are using here. We also have to understand that this language represents in itself a part of the moral revolution that we are now experiencing as a nation. I go back to where we are told that the record has now been set, “For the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer series regular characters …” Now just consider the moral revolution that must have already happened for that sentence to make sense, but the story continues. The annual survey, which has tracked the number of GBTQ characters for 23 years … Now wait just a minute. That tells us something too. It tells us that 24 years ago this wasn’t a cultural concern. There was no measure. There was no meter. There was no metric. That tells us that the moral revolution we are now observing is a moral revolution that can be tracked in a very real sense back to about a quarter century. Just about, or within 25 years ago.

The GLAAD report also tells us that those identified as people of color outnumbered white characters on this primetime television survey for the first time and that women have gained parity with men. The report is entitled Where We Are On TV. As it comes out from GLAAD the latest report includes confirmed casting for all scripted programming airing between June the 1st of 2018 and May the 31st of 2019. Overall, we are told, the survey found 75 of 857 of broadcast regular characters. Now note how specifically all of this is counted. The number again: 75 of 857 broadcast regular characters. That’s 8.8% just in case you hadn’t already done the mental math. They are LGBTQ topping last year’s 6.4%. Now let’s just consider that. Again, the velocity of a moral revolution and the success of activists pressing on this score, in just one year the percentage has gone up from 6.4% to 8.8%. If that keeps going you can imagine where Hollywood is headed.

We are then told that this is marked the highest percentage since GLAAD began counting all broadcast series regulars. Sarah Kate Ellis the President of GLAAD, she has set we are told a representation goal of 10% by 2020. Now wait just a minute. How would that goal be set? What exactly would that goal mean? By any rational calculation the number of persons in the United States defined as LGBTQ is well below 10%, So how did the activist group arrive at 10%? Well it’s because of a goal. Not so much because of some kind of representation that would be measured. We are told in this article, “With LGBTQ policies being debated here and abroad the stories and characters on television are more critical than ever before to build understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people.” That’s incredibly important. Here you have the president of the activist group that is measuring this study and is also putting activist pressure upon Hollywood. Here you have the declaration of why. We are told in her own words that it is because of their goal to “Build understanding and acceptance of GBTQ people.”

Now before you even get to the particulars of that argument just understand the pre-understanding here; the pre-understanding is this: what people watch on television affects their moral judgment. That’s really important for us to recognize. It turns out that the activist for any kind of moral revolution have to bring pressure for change in entertainment, such as the products of Hollywood precisely because they are confident. They know. They can demonstrate that if you can change the stories that are told and you can change the casting of those stories with specific characters you can change the moral views of the population.

And you might step back and say, “Well how exactly is that done without argument?” Well, it is not often without argument. The characters in the storylines often bring arguments. The arguments are written into the programming. Just remember on the briefing a few days ago when we discussed the return of Murphy Brown, and the fact that it is acknowledged even by critics that the new Murphy Brown isn’t so funny. It appears to be written more for applause lines than for laughs. In other words, the moral messaging, the political messaging is even more important than what’s understood to be the comedic or entertainment value. But looking at this report it tells us that there’s an even deeper issue that Christians must understand, and that is that the cultural products that we consume, the stories that we’ve used, the movies that we see, the music to which we listen, all of these affect our moral intuitions at a level that night not be reached by overt cognitive argument.

We are instead affected by how we are trained to laugh; how we are trained emotionally to respond. The moral revolution is almost assuredly made more progress by pushing change at the emotional and intuitional level rather than by making overt political or moral arguments. And we’re also told that several shows are to be recognized as representing history making television moments. Again, these are moments in a moral revolution. The reporter then tells us, “Broadcast TV saw significant growth in LGBTQ characters. All five networks showed increase, but the report says the number of lesbian characters was down from earlier surveys, adding that many were killed as part of a trend that has been criticized as ‘bury your gays.'”

Now what in the world is going on here? This is the accusation from the activist group that there are too many characters, specifically lesbian characters who have appeared for some time on a television series or in a dramatic storyline, but they then disappear, effectively written off. This is an indictment. It’s a criticism, and you can count on the fact that Hollywood will note this criticism. It’s also interesting to note as USA Today tells us that Netflix topped other streaming services in LGBTQ representation and FX is recognized as the most inclusive of the cable networks. Across all TV programs we’re told, the number of bisexual characters reached 117 up from 93 a year earlier. I pause again. How exactly would you know this? You don’t have some kind of label that comes up when a character appears on television indicated sexual identity. There are instead other ways of signaling that identity, but the identity that must be most difficult to signal in a way that would be convincing to a television audience is bisexual. How exactly would you demonstrate that and how would you count it down to a specific not one more, not one less, than 117?

With the identity politics that so affects our country, coming right down to identity politics and popular culture consider this line from the report: “Racial diversity among LGBTQ characters an area that researchers said needed improvement in the 2017 report was significantly higher.” Yes. So now you have the overlay. This is intersectionality at work you have the overlay of racial issues with sexuality and sexual identity issues, but that’s not all. There is more to come. The study, we are told, found a record high for black characters, 22% up from 18%. Latinx characters held steady at 8% and Asian/Pacific Islander characters accounted for 8% up from 7%.” The last words: “The number of regular characters with disabilities, 18, hit a new peak.” Now obviously when it comes to the inclusion of characters on television by racial and ethnic background, and also by disability, well that becomes very important, but how exactly do you count? This points to the moral crudeness of the way this count is conducted. It points to the fact that human beings cease actually being human beings; even as characters, even as human characters in this kind of storyline, and simply become a number, or a part of a percentage formula.

The article on USA Today isn’t all that long, but it is absolutely packed with the kind of information we need to know about how the sexual revolution is happening, how far it has progressed, and why the activists behind it aren’t even close to being satisfied with the revolution even at this point.

Part IV

Why cultural bankruptcy is a far more serious concern than corporate bankruptcy

Then finally, yet another story from USA Today. This one from another recent addition. It’s by Nathan Bauming, and the headline is this: Wedding Retailer Flirts With Bankruptcy. The subhead: David’s Bridal fails to make debt payment. Now normally this would not be the kind of news story that would capture our worldview attention, but this one is for a very important reason.

It turns out that David’s Bridal as a corporation is in trouble; not only because of debt and management issues but because of a falling marriage rate in the United States. Here you have something parallel to one of the perils we saw in the fall of Toys “R” Us. One of the problems with Toys “R” Us was a decreasing number of children. Now you have a falling marriage rate. Christians looking at this story in the business section of USA Today recognized that that falling marriage rate, the subversion of marriage in our society is a far bigger story than the corporate perils of a bridal gown company. For a company to go bankrupt is one thing; for a culture to go bankrupt is quite another.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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