Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, November 7, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Voters send decidedly mixed signals in Tuesday’s midterm election setting up divided government
A major election always raises two questions. The first question is the obvious, what happened? The second question is almost as obvious, what does this mean? And that's what Americans are asking on this Wednesday morning after the 2018 midterm elections. It's not because at this point we don't, in general terms, know what happened.
By early this morning it was pretty clear what happened. The United States House of Representatives has been flipped, the United States Senate will be an even greater Republican control. The governorships of the nation are going to be roughly more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. And voters across the nation sent decidedly mixed signals yesterday. The mixed signals are themselves far more interesting perhaps than the election, but the election's plenty interesting.
As you look at what happened, some of the biggest races became clear early in the evening. That's because so many of those races were on the eastern side of the nation. That's not to discount even the fact that this morning there are going to be all kinds of stories especially about Senate races in the west and in the Midwest, but when you look at the nation's most populous state, California, it is basically, as was reaffirmed last night, a one party state with the re-election of Senator Dianne Feinstein and the election of Gavin Newsom as the new governor of the state.
And it is important to recognize that last night we had the general picture pretty much in mind, especially when it comes to the governorships and the United States Senate, earlier in the evening because by the time you went from the east coast to the center of the nation, that picture was already becoming very clear because by that point the Democrats had virtually no hope of regaining the Senate. But they did have not only the hope, but the realization of regaining the House of Representatives.
Last night, in what amounted to a victory speech, the last Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives and the current Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, claimed victory stating that the Democratic Party would reshape the House of Representatives, and she also made very clear that the House would now represent under Democratic leadership what she defined as a check on the power and authority of President Donald Trump.
President Trump was clearly the winner of the Senatorial side last night. His personal intervention on so many of those Senate races will turn out to have been decisive, and the President accomplished what virtually no other President of recent history has done in the United States in the second year of his first term in the midterm elections, he actually helped his party to pick up seats. And of course, that will make the confirmation process for nominees from President Trump even more readily accomplished within the United States Senate. The House of Representatives is going to be a very different picture.
And so, as you wake up this morning, the big news, the big political news, the bottom line political analysis is that we will now have what's defined as divided government. Now, we also need to understand that if you look across the span of American history, divided government simply means that the President and at least one chamber of Congress are of opposing parties. That's all it means. But that is big because as you're looking at more recent American history, ever since 2016 there has been united Republican leadership not only in the executive but also in the legislative branch.
But you can easily overplay the meaning of united government. You can imply by that that the party in power, in the executive office and in the legislature, can basically accomplish whatever it wishes. It turns out that in the real world, it's not so easy. For one thing, the dynamic in the United States is not just reducible to the big picture of two opposing political parties, it is also marked by the fact that inside each of those parties are different constituencies that have different agendas and different legislative visions.
But when you're looking at divided government, here's what's absolutely crucial for our understanding. A divided government is most often not known for what it does, but for it does not do. If you're looking at the simple political equation of divided government, it means very little legislation in the years going ahead.
As we think of actual legislation, the most immediate effect is likely to have to do with budget bills because the House has such authority in making the national budget and in also passing any spending legislation that a Democratic majority opposed to a Republican President means that the Senate will be cut out of the equation simply because if the House won't pass it, the Senate support won't matter.
That also creates some other very interesting dynamics that we can look to in the future. In order to gain any kind of spending authority, the President of the United States, a Republican, is going to have to do business with a Democratic majority in the House. Now, you can see politically how that might take place, but the problem is that very same Republican President is then going to have to get the same compromised legislation through the Republican dominated Senate and that's going to be an entirely different political game.
But that analysis is really looking at the actual political equation of legislation. There's another political equation and that is the great game of politics at the level of public knowledge and public attention. And when it comes to that sense of divided government, you can count on the fact that the Democrats now, who will be in the majority in the United States House, are going to use every single political megaphone they can find in order to trumpet their message over against the President.
Now, let's be clear, in our Constitutional system and in our media environment, no one has a megaphone as loud as the President of the United States. But when you're looking at an opposing party gaining power in the United States House, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, let me just remind you according to our Constitution, third in line of succession to the Presidency of the United States, has a very important role to play and that Speaker will have his/her own very important, very loud megaphone.
And so will other members of the Congress, and that especially has to do in this sense with the Democrats who will be the chairman or the chairpersons of the very important committees of the House of Representatives. Every one of them will now have a profound increase in authority. Americans don't pay a lot of attention to this during the operation of Congress because you simply take, as a matter of course, in so far as Americans are interested at all, the fact that you have committees, the committees have chairmen or chairpersons. But here's what's important, those chairs of those committees have enormous power over whether or not a bill ever sees the light of day or what kind of changes are made to the bill, what kind of amendments are allowed to a bill. All of that, for the last two years, has been in Republican hands. But that ended last night. In the election, the new Congress will be a very different reality.
There is one more dimension to this and both Democratic candidates and Democratic Party leaders made much of this in the run up to the election. The United States House of Representatives, as a chamber of the United States Congress, has subpoena power. The question is, how is that subpoena power invoked? The reality is, it cannot be invoked over against the majority. But now the Democrats will be in the majority and that means that Republicans will be unable to stop subpoenas that have to do with investigations that might be launched against, well, just about anyone or just about any branch or department of government. But make no mistake, the Democrats had painted a target on President Donald Trump and that is where they intend to direct their new subpoena power.
There's going to be another very interesting phenomenon you're likely to witness today. And you'll hear this in headlines where you are told how the stock markets around the world are responding to the election. Now think about that for a moment, the investor class tends to prefer Republican leadership, but the House has just flipped to Democratic leadership. So, will the stock market fall today? In all likelihood, following previous patterns, it will not fall, it is even likely to rise. Why? It is because the stock exchanges love divided government.
You might ask yourself, why would investors love divided government? It is because they prize stability over just about anything else and a divided government is a check on any erratic movement of the government. It means less legislation, not more. And thus, oddly enough, not only in the United States but in world markets, you are likely to see investor confidence go up.
That pattern may be only temporary, but it's another interesting aspect which we should understand in worldview analysis. The investor class is making a decision about how much confidence that group of investors should have in the United States government. And it's a strange twist in the tail that there is often more confidence in a divided government that will do little than of a united government that might do much.
Who was the most crucial swing vote in the 2018 midterm elections?
But Christians, trying to understand what happened yesterday in analysis by the Christian worldview, will want to understand something that was already apparent, even before Americans went to the polls yesterday. The Tuesday edition of USA Today, the print edition on the front page, had the headline, "Go For Broke Contests Reveal a Clash of Visions." The article is by Susan Page, veteran political writer for USA Today.
Now, often I have returned to the concept of a conflict of visions. That term was coined by Thomas Sowell of The Hoover Institution, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century. He understood what many did not and that is that underlying economic and political debates are fundamental visions. That's exactly what we mean when we speak of worldview. Sowell understood that when you are looking at political divisions or arguments over matters of economics or social policy, it's never about the isolated issues. It is about the most fundamental vision or the most fundamental worldview that is held by persons who end up, by no coincidence, opposing one another on what might be considered even unrelated issues. What relates them, what connects them? It's the level of worldview.
And here you have, on the front page of USA Today, on Election Day, a headline saying that the election reveals a clash of visions. But as you look at this front page article by Susan Page, even though she deals mostly with the explicitly political, she understands, and that becomes very clear, that there's something even more fundamental than politics at stake.
You will also look at the fact that just in the last several days and even hours, there have been some penetrating analyses offered about what happened. Some very interesting patterns. Here are a couple of the most interesting patterns. It turns out that in the 2018 midterm election there was a new group identified as crucial swing voters. Now, we've often discussed the fact that given the worldview divide in this country, there aren't that many swing voters to begin with. It might be a number as small as about 4 to 6% of the American electorate that will actually in one election vote in a major way for one party only to reverse that in the next major election.
No, the swing vote's very small. But that swing vote, even though it is small, is very crucial. Over the last several election cycles the most interesting swing vote has been made up of suburban women, particularly educated, college educated women. They have represented the most crucial swing vote in most previous election cycles in the United States. But it appears that they were not the most important swing vote in the 2018 midterm elections. If they were not, then who was? The answer to that might surprise you. The most crucial swing vote, we are now told in the 2018 midterm elections was likely also found in the suburbs, but it is not college educated women. For the first time probably in American history, it appears that it well might have been college educated men.
Aaron Zitner, writing in The Wall Street Journal, runs a story with the headline, "College Educated White Men Become Swing Voters." He writes, "Polling throughout the year has shown that white college educated men are now essentially a swing group available to either party and tilting, in fact, slightly toward Democratic candidates." He goes on later in the article to say, "Politically speaking, this group has traveled a long distance in recent decades. In 1994, 62% of white men with bachelor's degrees wanted Republican to control Congress while 29% preferred Democrats. A net tilt to the GOP of 33 percentage points. And yet more recent polling," says The Journal, "has demonstrated a significant shift from that picture." In their words, "The picture is far different."
The article goes on to say that the most reliable voters for Republican in virtually any election cycle turn out to be those identified in this article as working class white men, but the college educated men have become a swing vote. Now, how did that happen? Well, there's a very interesting answer to that question. It's not so much that they have now become what they were not. That's not to say that they were not swing voters before, but they have just become swing voters. It is to say that that group who had been the swing voters in recent election cycles, their not politically swinging one way or the other any more. That is because women, college educated women, have moved decidedly into the Democratic Party. They are not swinging between the Democrats or the Republicans any longer.
Just about one week earlier, that same newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, had run a headline article on the front page entitled, "The Chasm That Explains US Politics." The article is by Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni, and the subhead in the article is this, "White women with college degrees and white men without are on rapidly diverging tracks." It's almost the same story, but told from a different side, looking at different data points in the analysis.
But this does tell us something very interesting and it is something that has been happening over the last several decades in the United States. There has been an increasing divergence between the political judgments made by men and the judgments made by women. That has been true for some time, it is becoming an even bigger factor in American politics.
The Wall Street Journal goes so far as to explain in the inside pages in the print edition, that the paper believes that this gap is now "explaining politics." Whether it's actually adequate to explain politics, it does at least explain part of the picture. But as you might suspect, the article understands that there must be something more than sex and gender behind this, it again comes back to economic understanding. As the reporters tell us, these two divisions, gender and education, have radically changed the political orientation of many voters. In particular, white voters. The economy, they write, and cultural differences are two main causes. The recession hit people without college degrees hard and many felt left out of the recovery that followed. The income of men with only a high school diploma actually fell in the decade from 2008 to 2017.
The authors then go on to say, "Differences in cultural values and views of government widened during President Obama's time in office when he promised to build an activist government that would increase spending on education and social programs." Now, here you see the cultural side of this. There is never a time when politics is merely about money, merely about economic interest. There is never a time when politics or elections are merely about politics or foreign policy. The most important analysis that Christians must remember is that every single election eventually comes down to deeper issues, whether or not the voters actually articulate what those deeper issues are.
Keeping on the same consistent theme, Gerald Seib, writing for The Capital Journal column of The Wall Street Journal in yesterday morning's edition, the very morning of the election. He said that there are now two new political forces set to collide in the election yesterday. What are those two forces? Well, he says they come down to the political supporters in the base of President Donald Trump and highly educated, more affluent women in the suburbs. If you put those two things together, and by the way, not only the suburbs but more urban and metropolitan areas, then Seib says you see two new very powerful political forces in the United States and they are almost surely to be locked in conflict.
Looking across the results last night and this morning, it's also really clear that the two parties are moving into even deeper and thicker cultural identities opposed to one another. So, as you look at the Democratic Party yesterday, especially in House candidates winning across the nation, you will notice the Democratic Party point to the cultural ethnic gender and sexual diversity. Sexual orientation and gender diversity represented by so many of these candidates.
For example, this isn't from the House, but rather from the Colorado governor race, USA Today reports this morning that Jared Polis has now become the "first openly gay man elected governor in the United States." One of the things we're going to be looking at in future editions of The Briefing is how identity politics has now become so much a part of the American political electoral equation. But in this case, you're looking at the fact that the Democratic Party is saying that one of the most important achievements the party made last night was electing the person who is identified as the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.
Now, you'll also note that when the Democratic Party was identifying several of its candidates and the reason for the support of the candidate, it came down to who might be more diverse than whom. It comes down to what can only be explained by the new ideology of intersectionality. At one point, one woman running for a Democratic Congressional nomination announced that she should be in the Congress because she would be the first woman from her state who is an actively practicing physician and the lack of a woman who was an actively practicing physician in the United States Congress from her own state was a rationale for why she should be elected. You're seeing people try to tick off all the identity issues they can possibly come up with. It wasn't enough to be a woman, it's not enough to be a doctor. One has to be a woman doctor who is currently practicing.
Almost every report this morning is also telling us the story that the Democratic Party's flipping of the House of Representatives had a great deal to do with the women who ran as candidates in these Congressional elections. There was an overwhelming wave of women in the Congressional races on the Democratic side and the Democratic leadership is now explaining that that wave had a great deal to do with the blue wave, as it was described, that flipped the House last night.
But as we continue to think about this, yesterday on The Briefing I pointed out that both the right and the left are announcing that yesterday's election, at least in the run up to the election, was the most election of our lifetimes. I looked at the fact that on the one hand, that's certainly bipartisan hyperbole. On the other hand, given issues at stake, an argument can be made that every election cycle is more important than the one that came before. But Christians, understanding that every election is a worldview war shot test for the nation, we also have to understand that the media analysis after an election tends to say what we just experienced is the most important turning point in American history. We guarantee it, we insist upon it, we're going to keep talking about it. Forever and ever apparently.
One of the interesting things that Christians should consider is the fact that we are being told that the election represents the continued division of the nation. Perhaps, a deeper divide in the nation. A partisan divide and a partisan acrimony that is unprecedented in American history. This is where a bit of actual historical knowledge can dispel a bit of that exaggeration.
There have been times when fist fights and worse have broken out in the floor of the United States Congress. There have been times when political acrimony has used language that hasn't even been heard in the last several years in American electoral politics. There was a time when the press and the political candidates, especially presidential candidates, routinely trafficked in patently untrue stories about the opposition where you had the media basically offering alternative realities and selling completely different narratives on the street corners as newsboys harked their headlines.
So what's the point here? Well, the point here is really two-fold. We, as Christians, understand that the division is real because the issues are real. The worldview divide is real and thus the election is a real contest, not only of personalities and of candidates, but of ideas. And Christians understand it's the ideas and the worldview under those ideas that is most important.
But this where Christians also have to recognize that we are, after all, talking about an oppositional political process. We are talking about the very idea of an election being two candidates who, well, here's a news piece for you, run against one another. And run against one another defining their own ideas and themselves as candidates against the other. That's actually the way that elections work.
Somehow out there, certainly aided and abetted by the mainstream media, is the idea that there must be some alternative such as we might presume Americans gathering together in one great harmonious meeting to exchange ideas and compromise on proposals and to avoid the acrimony of electoral politics and the partisan divide by entering into some giant communal exercise in national therapy.
But this is where Christians also have to understand that is a basically anti-democratic proposal. Because the people who would actually be in control in such a concept, well they would be the intellectual elites who have controlled the discussion and they would be very happy to enter into some kind of meeting that they would define on their own terms to decide together what would be best for all of us.
So, if you think about the election yesterday and you're listening to the discussion, especially in the media today and in days to come, and you say, "There must be a way to avoid this kind of divisive exercise of democracy." Well just remember that this divisive exercise known as an election is the secret to our understanding of what it means to exercise self-government as a people.
We understand that there are very real issues and very real arguments and there is a very real disagreement all the way down to the level of worldview in this nation. But those who treasure freedom would never exchange even the mayhem of a major election for the peace that would come by the rule of the intellectual elites.
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.