The Briefing

Additional Reading

Part

Washington Post

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns at Trump’s request, by Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, and Josh Dawsey

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018

Tags: Audio, Jeff Sessions, Politics

Transcript

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

It's Thursday, November 8, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Just how important should politics be? Why Christians should be the first to understand that politics, while important, is not ultimate

It's almost as if a massive storm has passed, that storm named the Midterm Elections in United States of 2018. When you add up all the media attention and all of the ad space, all of the conversation, and of course right now even the post-electoral debate, this is one of those events that has dominated the nation's official conversation for some time now.

That reminds us of something else as Christians we should keep in mind. Yes, the election is important. It was important, it will continue to be important, it will continue to be an important part of our talk and analysis even as we're trying to think by Christian worldview.

But Christians, operating out of a Biblical worldview, start from a different premise of which we must remind ourselves repeatedly. The most important events that we understand that are taking place on planet earth take place in homes. They take place in marriages. They take place in families. They take place in churches. That gives us a grounding that others do not have, which raises a very interesting issue on America's current worldview, as well as political landscape. Just how important should religion be?

There have been several news stories, at least arguing the fact, that for many Americans politics has become almost everything. Almost everything. You have so many who are now so animated by politics, you could argue both on the right and on the left, that politics becomes the single most important issue, the personal obsession, it becomes the singular explanation for the entire world as we know it.

But that's a temptation that Christians must resist. That is no excuse for Christian disengagement or Christian lack of responsibility, it's just a statement of Christian truth. We believe there are even more fundamental issues at stake than politics can ever touch and we believe there are more fundamental relationships and realities than politics can ever even envision. In that sense, we understand that politics can be helpful or unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy, even righteous or unrighteous, but the most important realities of life for us are not secured by politics.

Recent stories have asked the question as to whether or not, especially on the left in the United States, politics is becoming something of an ersatz, a new religion. A false religion, but a religion all the same. And we have talked about this even on recent conversations over the last several years in thinking in public. We have noticed that on the left there has been a realignment of discourse, a realignment of argument, so that many of the issues that actually are politically are being argued as if they are theological or religious in nature.

What does that mean? Well, I think we explained this by looking at the fact that this temptation can surely come to the right or to the left. But on the left, over the course of the last several decades, it has been the increasing secularization of the political and cultural left in the United States that explains why something has to be religion, and in this context it appears that the most religious commitment amongst many people on the left is a political commitment.

But that then raises an issue for those on the more conservative side. What would it look like if the same thing were to happen among American conservatives? And here's where we need to note something else, we are detecting an increasing secularization of the conservative movement in the United States. That's a process that has probably been there from the very beginning. Especially, for example, going back to the 1964 presidential election, the Republican conservative nominee at that time was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Many people would point to 1964 as the organized beginning of American conservative electoral politics as we know such politics today.

But Barry Goldwater, even though he ran with a great deal of support from Christians, he didn't run on any kind of campaign that was spiritually or even religiously identified. That's all changed, of course. And right now, over the course of the last generations in American politics, the right, the more conservative aspect of American politics, has been far more explicitly identified with a religious argument and with a religious, specifically Christian, identification. But what we are noticing is that that's changing on the conservative side as well.

And that raises an interesting issue for our future consideration. If on the left we see that politics is becoming religion, we had better be careful to watch if the same kind of development happens on the right. But it's also important for us to note how America's political conversation has shifted on the other side of this storm. Once the storm clears and the horizon is visible, political change comes very quickly.

Part

Welcome to the 2020 presidential campaign: the cycles of modern American politics

So you have the Democratic Party, as of this Thursday morning, now already deep into consideration as to what it is going to do now that that party is in control of the House of Representatives. You have the Republican Party, already very much at work figuring out how to use their even larger majority in the United States Senate and how to leverage that for maximum impact and influence.

But there's something else going on and you're going to detect it very, very quickly. The 2020 presidential election is basically already on. If you're tired of politics, this is the wrong country and this is the wrong epoch because there is not going to be any break from politics in the United States because the 2020 presidential cycle has been waiting to break loose, held back only by both the formal constraints and the informal agreements of the midterm election process.

Now, this is going to be a different picture on the Republican side and on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, there is not likely to be any credible contender to President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination for 2020. Thus, there's not going to be the energy on the Republican side of trying figure out who the nominee is going to be. That's a process of party self-identification, of self-discovery, and of political combat that's going to take place exclusively in this cycle on the Democratic side.

The Democratic Party is going to be figuring out who it is, but it's not going to be doing it by some kind of organized meeting of Democrats in a room. It's going to involve millions and millions of Democratic voters in caucuses and in primaries and an unprecedented number of Democratic candidates will be likely to join in this process.

Already right now reporters could tell you that in Des Moines, Iowa, which is the site of the early caucuses, there have been Democrats who have been spending an extraordinary number of days inexplicably showing up in Iowa over the course already of the last two years. Well, they had better get ready for a flood, for an onslaught of Democratic candidates and political consultants who are going to be coming now, not by the dozens, not by the tens, but the hundreds and eventually by the thousands.

Welcome to the 2020 presidential election political cycle, because it's here. And we're going to be watching which Democrats actually gain some traction as they try to advance towards the Democratic presidential nomination. Huge issues here and those who are thinking in worldview analysis will understand that the eventual nominee will represent the worldview that will shape the Democratic Party towards the future.

Here's what we already know. That party has been surging to the left, lurching, lunging to the left over the course of the last couple of years and there is no indication as of Tuesday's election that there is anything likely to even slow down that process. You can see this in the discourse of the Democratic Party just over the last 48 hours.

The question for the Democrats now is, where will they find a presidential contender of the left? Of the far left, perhaps even of the far, far left. The question is, how left will that nominee have to be to gain the support of the most active members of the Democratic Party? A party, that especially at that activist level, has been moving surprisingly, perhaps even shockingly, to the left over the course of the last two to three years.

On the Democratic side, Tuesday did provide some clarity about who is and is not likely to be numbered amongst those serious contenders. For example, the Texas Senatorial Democratic nominee, Beto O'Rourke, he energized the party but he didn't win. Stacey Abrams in Georgia, also the same. Andrew Gillum in Florida, even more so. So those three figures, to whom the media have been looking as the future of the Democratic Party, are not actually now probably going to be that future.

So who is? Who would be clarified on Tuesday as someone who will have to be considered at the very top of that list, or amongst the top candidates and contenders? That would include the newly elected California governor, Gavin Newsom. And as a man of the left, it's hard to find someone who would have a better position from which to start. He has served the last several years as Lieutenant Governor of the state of California. He's been staking out liberal positions all during that time. He's also had the opportunity to work for Democratic candidates across the country. That earns you a certain kind of credit that can be translated into very important support.

But Gavin Newsom before he was the Lieutenant Governor of California was the mayor of San Francisco. And famously, and infamously, Gavin Newsom as mayor supported same-sex marriage when it was not legal. Allowing, fostering, even basically organizing same-sex marriage ceremonies in defiance of the law. That has made him a hero of the LGBTQ movement and a rather iconic figure on the left. Now he is also the newly elected governor of the nation's most populous state. That's going to put him in a position of tremendous advantage moving toward the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

That would represent a significant worldview shift when you're thinking about the Democratic Party. But keep this in mind, the last two nominees of the Democratic Party, back when they were running against one another in 2008, that would be Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both at that time opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. Gavin Newsom did not oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were converted on the issue of the legalization of same-sex marriage and they did so at junctures that were fairly obviously timed for their electoral runs.

But when you're looking at Gavin Newsom, you are looking at the new reality in the Democratic Party, let's just state it boldly, it is virtually inconceivable that that party will nominate for president anyone who at any time for any reason had opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. That just shows you how the moral revolution is already reflected in the changed political realities of the Democratic Party, even just looking at its upcoming presidential nomination process.

Well, as we're thinking of worldview significance, here are a couple of issues we're going to need to watch even in the early days, the early phases of this Democratic presidential nominating process. What should we be looking for? Well here are a couple of issues to consider. Issue number one, immigration. Here's where the Democratic Party stands on immigration. They stand, basically, no where except opposing President Trump's positions on immigration. They are basically standing for some kind of open borders, most of the Democrats who'll be running as serious contenders for the presidential nomination. But they're going to have to define their position. Some of them have even played around with, sending the signals that they would be willing to dismantle ICE, that is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. That would basically throw the borders wide open.

And furthermore, when you're looking at the immigration question, it's going to be very difficult for a Democrat to eventually seize that party's presidential nomination without supporting the so-called sanctuary cities. But let's understand what's going on there, the sanctuary cities are basically refusing to obey the law of the United States of America and to cooperate with US law enforcement and customs agencies in dealing with those who have broken the law and entered the country. It's a very interesting position for the Democrats to be in. It's a position, at this point, of no very clear position.

Why do the Democrats have no clear position? Two reasons. The first reason, there is no political capital for the Democrats at this point in assuming a clear position and having to actually make a proposal. On the other hand, there's a second reason. The second reason is that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, only more so, is riven, divided from within over some of the questions about immigration. The biggest issue there is whether or not the Democratic Party member, elected official or activist, is living near a border state. That tends to change just about everything.

Just this month, the editors of The Economist of London, one of the most respected media outlets in the world, pointed to the fact that people worldwide have a pretty good idea of what President Trump's immigration policies would be. They know the ambitions, the convictions, and the very important determinations of this administration. They may like them, they may hate them, but at least they know them. But the editors of The Economist pointed out that on the Democratic side, all that is known, even worldwide, is the fact that the Democrats are not in agreement with President Trump. Beyond that, said the editors of The Economist, the Democratic Party's understanding of immigration is deliberately incoherent. So that's going to have to be clarified.

The second big issue that's going to have be clarified, and here the worldview significance is massive, is whether or not the Democratic Party is going to embrace some form of socialism. Here's the very interesting development. In the Democratic Party, right up until the 2016 nomination process and the unexpected popularity of Bernie Sanders amongst Democratic voters, the Democratic Party had been steadfastly, ever since the 1940s, doing everything it could to establish as much distance as possible between that party and any form of the word socialism.

But all that changed when Bernie Sanders ran as a self-identified Democratic socialist. And furthermore, even in the 2018 Congressional elections, there were Democratic candidates who ran and won on a platform of identifying themselves as socialists of one kind or another.

One of the interesting developments even yesterday morning was an op-ed piece that ran in The Wall Street Journal indicating that Elizabeth Warren, who was re-elected as a Senator from Massachusetts, has actually fallen behind in a lot of standing for the Democratic presidential nomination process because she has made statements of the fact that she identifies with capitalism, even as she has done so from the left. That has turned out to be a turnoff for many of the activists in the Democratic Party who demand, or at least say they demand, some form of socialist as the presidential nominee for 2020.

A tremendous amount of cultural analysis and research undertaken by both academics and the media indicates that a growing percentage of younger Democratic voters identify, in some sense, as socialists. By the way, the same research indicates that most of those who self-identify as socialists have really no clue what socialism is. Nonetheless, that's a political reality and it has huge worldview significance, just to say the very least.

Just consider the fact that in the United States, let's just rewind history, say to 2012, it would have been inconceivable. That's just six years ago. Inconceivable that any major American politician would have any change at getting any where near the Oval Office or even for that matter, the US capitol, identifying as a socialist of any kind. Now it just might be that no candidate is going to be able to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 without being identified as either some form of socialist or in some way, friendly to socialism.

Once a bit more of the smoke clears from the midterm elections, we'll know where we stand on some crucial issues and we'll be looking at issues like marijuana and abortion and other questions related to the electoral returns that will be, even in coming days, more clarified from this past Tuesday. But right now, what we're looking at is the fact that the worldview issues are exploding right before our eyes as the 2020 presidential cycle has already begun. It's going to be a very fascinating process and we'll be watching it together, trying to figure out the worldview implications of what comes day by day, week by week, and month by month.

You can almost in your imagination see, and I think very soon with your eyes you're going to see, the computer generated graphics on the cable television programs coming at us almost nightly with America's Decision 2020. That's just how fast this media cycle works. You can count on it.

Part

What the outcome of the midterm elections has to do with the resignation of Jeff Sessions

But next, the major news story from yesterday wasn't about the election, but yet it was. The announcement came yesterday afternoon that Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General of the United States, had announced his resignation. The headline, however, across almost all the media is that President Trump, the White House, fired the Attorney General of the United States. Which is true? The answer is, both of those statements are true. And both of those statements come out in just a few words in the opening line of the letter that Attorney General wrote yesterday to the President of the United States: "Dear Mr. President, at your request, I am submitting my resignation."

That was a very carefully written line. It was written by a lawyer, indeed the man, who at that time was the chief lawyer of the United States of America, the Attorney General of the United States. Again, his words, "at your request, I am submitting my resignation." That's another way of being fired. But it's a way of being fired that follows the etiquette of official Washington. The President asks for your resignation and you resign.

It is unusual, however not unprecedented, but it's unusual that the cabinet member asked to resign states in his first words, "at your request, I am submitting my resignation." What does that mean? It means that the now former Attorney General was signaling that he did not resign and that he was fired and that he wants his firing to be a part of the historical record.

So then you might ask, what does this have to do with Tuesday's election? Sessions wasn't on the ballot, President Trump wasn't on the ballot. Oh? But this question was on the ballot, whether voters recognized it or not. The President received an even greater Republican majority in the United States Senate as of Tuesday. And that's the big issue behind the timing of this announcement. The President was holding back from firing the Attorney General, that was signaled over and over again, especially since this past February. He held back so that the firing didn't become an impediment to Republican candidates running on Tuesday. But he also held back to find out exactly what the United States Senate was going to look like beginning with the new Congress. And that comes down to the fact that the President must have the advice and consent of the Senate for nominations such as Attorney General of the United States. Had the Republicans lost the majority in the United States Senate and that majority shifted to the Democratic Party, this announcement probably would not have been made.

Now, that's not to say that the President would not have wanted to fire the Attorney General. The President's made that clear ever since February. It is to say that he might not have been able to get a new Attorney General through the new Senate. That's now not going to be a problem, he knows that the President has done the math.

Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post got it right when he said that the announcement "ended the tenure of a loyalist President Trump soured on shortly after Attorney General Sessions took office in 2017 because the former Senator from Alabama had recused himself from oversight of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign."

Now, what should we be watching for here? A couple of things very quickly. Number one, the Attorney General of the United States serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States and numerous presidents have found themselves wanting to rid themselves of their Attorney General and numerous presidents have done so. Is that a matter of massive national consequence? Not necessarily, but it could be, especially given this circumstance.

It's clear that in the view of the President, the Attorney General had lost his trust and confidence in the Russia investigation decision. The big question is going to be this, will the new Attorney General follow a different policy and will the new Attorney General be put in office with some specific instructions or expectation concerning the Mueller investigation? The answer to that question will be hotly debated in the confirmation process, but at this point we do not yet have a new nominee for Attorney General of the United States. You can count on the fact that process will come very quickly.

Over the next several days, we're going to turn to some of the important issues that we have not been able to address with the electoral process dominating the news. Those are important, we'll turn to them tomorrow.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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