Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019

The Briefing

February 5, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, February 5, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A morality tale lived out: As Virginia’s governor faces calls for resignation, lieutenant governor is confronted with allegations of sexual assault

For well over two centuries the Commonwealth of Virginia has existed with a certain reputation as a state, a reputation for a certain genteel culture and civility. It has also been in more recent decades a state that has served as something of a barometer about the entire nation as it is now listed as a purple or a swing state that is obviously one of those states that is in massive political demographic and cultural transition.

The state had been considered safely read throughout most of recent American history, although the growth in the state economically and in population growth is located primarily in northern Virginia, which just by no coincidence happens to be a boundary with the district of Columbia. Thus, as you are looking at the composition of northern Virginia, you are looking at a section of the state that is incredibly deeply blue and growing more so. So as you’re looking at Virginia just about every four years with the presidential election cycle more recently, the question has been which way is Virginia going? But in just the last several days, the headlines coming out of Virginia have been a very different sort, of the kind of sort that we can expect the citizens of Virginia did not foresee and would not want.

We go back to the early part of last week and a member of the state legislature and the governor of the state made national and indeed international headlines by supporting a radical abortion bill that would’ve legalized abortion all the way up until the moment of birth, all the way through even the third trimester and in a journalistic interview, the governor of the state was in the position of appearing to affirm infanticide. That was early in the week. By the end of the week, the headlines had changed to something very different. It had to do with the fact that a 1984 photograph in the yearbook of the incumbent governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, had disclosed a picture on his personal page that included a man in black face and another wearing the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.

On Friday night, the governor apologized for being in the photograph but said he did not know which of the two individuals he had been, both of them holding beer cans. But on Saturday, the governor in one of the most bizarre press conferences in American political history, announced that he did not think he was either of the individuals, but he took responsibility for the fact that the photographs did appear on his personal page in the medical school yearbook of the Eastern Virginia Medical School, but he appeared to have no coherent answer as to how it might’ve happened and no definitive answer to the question as to whether he was or was not one of the men in the photograph.

There were other racist elements related to a nickname that was also included in one of the yearbooks and the governor in that very same press conference had to admit that even as he did not think he was one of the two individuals in the incriminating photograph that he had apologized for on Friday night. He said on Saturday that he did however, participate in blackface in another event in a party at roughly the same time, 1984 to 1987 when he had participated in a party impersonating Michael Jackson, and again in blackface. The governor seemed to believe somehow that the context in the second incident which he did admit was different than the first incident which he says he doesn’t think was actually himself. But as we discussed this story in worldview analysis in detail in yesterday’s edition of The Briefing, where we stand 24 hours later is still bizarrely yet in a very different place.

We talked about the fact that political parties act in line with their interests or what the Party perceives to be the party’s interest. Thus by the time you reach Friday night, not to mention Sunday night, the Democratic Party in Virginia and nationally had decided it needed to be rid of Virginia’s incumbent governor Ralph Northam.

But the governor insists that he is not leaving. He has said that he will not resign. He has gone through two different rounds on Sunday night and during the day yesterday of considering with age whether or not he would resign and appears to be adamantly refusing to leave office. We mentioned in yesterday’s edition of The Briefing that the Democratic Party and also openly this isn’t reading their minds, Democratic leaders have stated openly. This would include the former vice president of the United States Joseph Biden had stated that Governor Northam needs to get out of the way so that the African American Lieutenant Governor can serve out the remaining years of his term and then run for office a full term which Virginia’s constitution would allow him to do.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been measured in his public comments concerning the controversy surrounding the governor, but authorities inside Virginia have indicated that he has been preparing to assume office as governor and serve out the remainder of governor Northam’s term. But all that began to change. It began to change on Monday when press reports began to come out first slowly and then in a volume that there were sexual assault allegations against the Lieutenant Governor himself. Headline in the Washington Post, so late yesterday afternoon, read this way. Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, denies sex assault allegation from 2004. Theresa Vargas reporting for The Post tells us, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Fairfax issued a statement early Monday denying a sexual assault allegation that appeared on the same conservative website that posted a racist photograph from Governor Ralph Northam’s Medical School Yearbook page.

The Lieutenant Governor’s chief of staff and communications director said, “Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect. He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form.” Now that would be rightly labeled as a categorical denial, a denial of any sexual assault, a statement that the Lieutenant Governor has never assaulted anyone ever in any way, shape or form. But the story originates in the fact that in a private Facebook posts, a woman did indeed accuse the Virginia Lieutenant Governor of sexual assault.

The Washington Post report includes details that we will not report, but it summarizes the incident this way: “The woman described a sexual encounter that began with consensual kissing and ended with a forced act that left her crying and shaking.” In the statement released by the Lieutenant Governor, this tells you something about his urgency around midnight on Monday morning, Fairfax said, “The post, meaning the Washington Post carefully investigated the claim for several months after being presented with the facts consistent with the Lieutenant Governor’s denial of the allegation, the absence of any evidence corroborating the allegation and significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegation, The Post made the considered decision not to publish the story.” Well, as of yesterday afternoon, The Post defended the fact that it had not run with the story, but it denied that there had been indeed evidence of red flags or inconsistencies within the woman’s claims.

At this point, it appears that just about everyone in the stories from Virginia is on the defensive, understandably the governors on the defensive given the allegations against him. The Lieutenant Governor is now on the defensive releasing this report in the early morning hours overnight. The Washington Post is now on the defensive trying to explain why it did not run with this story when it had it sometime ago. The defense offered by The Post for why it did not run with this story of the woman’s allegations has contradicted the defense made by Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor it is a huge story it’s unfolding certainly minute by minute, but it also raises some potentially very revealing issues, dimensions of tremendous worldview significance. For one thing, what process? What guy did the Washington Post use in deciding not to run this story when it ran numerous stories? Numerous here is an understatement about the then nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

Indeed by late Monday, it became very clear that the allegations against the Virginia Lieutenant Governor, were objectively stronger than the allegations against judge Kavanaugh. Now, Justice Kavanaugh, what’s the difference? Well, the difference was made very clear in a headline story at the Washington Times on Monday, “Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax says he had consensual sex with a woman who accuses him of assault.” This puts this story in an objectively very different and far more serious situation than was the case of the allegations made against Justice Kavanaugh. Why the difference? What’s going on here? The Post is now going to have to defend why it made one judgment in this case by apparently a very different standard than it made in all those stories related to judge Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh.

But then we have to expand that to the larger context of the culture. So many in our society, we’re rushing to judgment, making statements, making immediate claims that they could judge the credibility of the claims made, the accusations made against judge Kavanaugh, will they follow in a situation in which there is now an admission that there was a sexual relationship? Will they follow the logic of their own reasoning and accusations? Just a few months ago when it comes to a democratic Lieutenant Governor who just might be about to become governor of Virginia. There are massive questions here. How does anyone come to a responsible conclusion? Well, one of the things Christians must keep in mind is that when you are looking at a story like this, you already have an admission of what is defined as consensual sex outside of marriage.

We at least should note that for the larger culture that appears to be of absolute moral insignificance for Christians, it can never be morally insignificant operating out of a Biblical sexual morality, but it will be very, very interesting. It’s going to be incredibly revealing to see how this story unfolds during the course today. That is on Tuesday and in the hours and days to come. This is a live story.

This is a morality tale being lived out developing right before our eyes and we need to keep in mind that the morally significant actors in this case are not only Virginia’s governor and Lieutenant Governor, but also the reporters and editors and publishers of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post and of course going far beyond print media to the entire world of the media and elite opinion in this country. We know exactly the message they intended to send in Judge Kavanaugh’s case. What will be the message that they will send in the case of Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor.

Christians understand that all of life in one sentence is a succession of morality tales. Few make the moral nature of those tales so immediately apparent as we see in this case, still unfolding.

Part II

Lessons from the Cold War: Why many European elites refuse to learn from history

Next, we need to recognize that when these kinds of headlines cross America’s imagination, they tend to dominate everything and that means that even more important stories, perhaps in an historical context, get eclipsed.

There could be huge happenings that can change relationships between nations. That might be entirely neglected and forgotten because the American people are particularly drawn to the headlines related to sex and personalities. They’re far less interested in some the big questions related to the world in which we live. A huge example of this comes just in recent days where one of the biggest stories that will relate to the international security of the United States and the stability of the world came down to the announcement made by the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that the United States was announcing its withdrawal from the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty, often known by the acronym INF. The announcement came even as the United States, not only in the trump administration, but for multiple years in the Obama administration had found and reported to the congress that Russia was in violation of the treaty. The secretary of state announced that the United States having found Russia unwilling to abide by the treaty would be withdrawing from it, and this really is a massively important story.

Michael R. Gordon and Courtney McBride reporting for the Wall Street Journal tell us this, “The US said it plans to withdraw from a 1987 nuclear treaty with Russia, setting up potential development of new missiles to counter China.” Current and former American official said, and a fresh debate about Washington’s military posture in the Pacific. If I have any quibble about that lead paragraph, it is that it focuses on the Pacific. That’s not wrong, but at the expense of understanding that the first issue here really does have to do with the relationship between the United States and Russia. In order to understand that we have to go back to the Cold War that particularly pitted the United States and its Western allies against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact from the years at the conclusion of World War II, all the way to the breakup of the Soviet Union between the years 1989 and 1993.

There are many factors behind the breakup of the Soviet Union central to that wouldn’t have to be the failure of its central theory, which was Communist Marxism, but there is also the fact that the Soviet Union was broken up. It was lead to collapse by an arms race with the United States and with the fact that during the 1970 and especially during the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the United States began to make very clear that it would not bend to the pressure of the Soviet Union and would instead make very clear its intention to defend not only the territory of the United States, but in particular the territory of Western allies and that included putting on the ground in western Europe Pershing II missiles.

That was a very controversial move in the 1980s, but it was verified in its effect in the breakup of the Soviet Union. In the larger picture, the Soviet Union’s economic failures meant that it could not keep pace with the United States and its allies in updating the military, but there was also the understanding that even as the Soviet Union was becoming a failed state, it was a failed state armed to the teeth with deadly nuclear weapons.

And so successive American administrations, most importantly in this case, the Reagan administration again, made the goal of reaching an agreement, a treaty with the Soviet Union. That would limit those weapons known as intermediate range nuclear forces. Now just think about it for a moment. These would be missiles that would not be intercontinental. We’re not talking about missiles in this treaty that will be fired from the Soviet Union all the way to North America. We’re talking about shorter or intermediate range nuclear forces. Why was this so important? Well, it is because the trip wire in the conflict and tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies was the territory of Europe where these forces would be particularly deadly and particularly dangerous because the intermediate missiles could be fired, giving American allies in Europe and the Warsaw Pact allies of the USSR, very little time, if any to respond.

So the 1987 pact, which came frankly shortly before the breakup of the Soviet Union, came because of the leadership of President Reagan and the agreement of the leader of the USSR, general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev. But during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, long after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin has decided to violate the treaty and he has done so repeatedly most importantly, through a new missile system known as the Russian 9M729, and Russia has produced at least 100 of these intermediate range nuclear weapons.

I think the most important comment made about this announcement from the United States was the editorial board of the New York Times that made very clear, “Too many Americans don’t understand that the holiday from history of the post-Cold War decades is over.” In the holiday of history language what the editors of the Wall Street Journal are pointing to is the fact that after the breakup of the Soviet Union Americans, this includes political leaders all the way down to citizens. Americans believed that somehow the threat had been removed, that Russia would be a long standing US ally whereas the Soviet Union had been our major global rival. But recent years are made very clear that is not the case. Vladimir Putin intends by his vision of greater Russia to basically emulate not only the military posture of the Soviet Union, but frankly the kind of aggressive military nature of previous Russian strong men, including Czar Peter the Great.

Now, in worldview analysis, there’s just a lot here. For one thing, it reminds us that we do not really enjoy ever a holiday from history. History continues. Why would Christians put it differently? We will put it this way. You can’t remove sin from the equation you never actually do. Sin remains a massive reality temptation is ever close at hand and the patterns that repeat themselves so often throughout world history, well, they just keep showing up again and again and again. One of the patterns particularly have noticed to us is the fact that when you look at Russia, it has basically itself admitted what’s going on here. Years ago, Russia suggested an end to the INF Treaty. The United States and his ally said, no, actually the treaty is only formally between Russia and the United States. The allies are basically observers in this case, but they’re playing a strange role because even as the United States made this announcement, its European allies said, yes, we totally agree that Russia has been violating this treaty for years, we are the nation’s most vulnerable. We are going to make that very clear. We think Russia is violating this treaty. We think the treaty is thus being violated and compromise, but we want you to keep it anyway.

This gets us back to the fact that one of the lessons of the Cold War, indeed, I’ll be frank to say, one of the lessons of the 20th century, is that many Europeans opposed a rational understanding of their own situation and they do so again and again and again. Going back to the late 17th century and onward, many European leaders, those in the European elites began to believe that we are living in a rational world and that eventually rationality will prevail and rational arguments will win. How exactly to make that argument with a straight face after the 20th century is beyond me. In this case, one of the strengths of the United States is that the US has a very long memory.

That memory goes back not only to the end of World War II and the Soviet conquest of so much of eastern Europe. It also goes back to 1957. That was the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, and at the celebration of that revolution, the USSR, that is the Soviet Union as the Wall Street Journal reports elsewhere, “unveiled a wealth of secret rocket weapons as the highlight of a massive arms display in red square.” It is really interesting to see so many officials, especially in the foreign ministries of European nations, say, “yes, we know we concede, we document, we agree Russia has been violating the treaty.” But at the same time say, we don’t want the United States to withdraw from the treaty. That again just demonstrates an artificial faith and confidence in the power of these treaties on the part of a continent that you would think had learned through the last century that a treaty is only so good as the will of the individuals and the reputation and character of the nations that will make them.

Part III

When it comes to world affairs, what you see is not always what you get

But going back to that opening paragraph in the Wall Street Journal article, it said that America’s interest in this case is not only about Europe with those intermediate nuclear forces that are covered by the treaty, but also Washington’s military posture in the Pacific. In the Pacific, the great concern is that Russia, it is China, and this takes us to an extremely important article about the nature of our world found in the review section of the Wall Street Journal in its last weekend edition. It’s by Yaroslav Trofimov and the article’s entitled, the New Beijing Moscow Axis. Again, it’s just really important. Americans do often want to take a holiday from history. We want to act as if the rest of the world really doesn’t matter, but the rest of the world is going to matter whether we like it or not.

And one of the factors that matters most is the fact that there is a new alignment between Russia and China. Now at the end of World War II, there was another arrangement between the Soviet Union and China. There was an alignment of interest, but there was also no question that Russia, the Soviet Union was clearly the senior partner in that relationship. China was the junior partner, so much so that the USSR had to build the factories in China, had to provide the bombers and fighter planes for China, had to provide vast infusion of money for China in order to prop up the relatively young communist regime under [inaudible 00:23:01]. But the point made in the article by Yaroslav Trofimov is that everything is now reversed. It is now China that is the senior partner, the dominant partner. It is Russia, that is the junior partner.

Russia is an economic failure, it’s failure to develop its economy is threatening the entire existence of the nation as the Wall Street Journal and others have noted its military might is the only vestigial issue in its longstanding claims to international greatness. It simply isn’t a nation on the front line and that has a great deal to do with it’s demographic failure. The birth rate in Russia has nothing other than catastrophic. Russia’s population is declining. It’s territorial lands have been reduced, its economy is in a shambles and now it has entered as a junior partner in a new arrangement with China. This is of course at the expense of the United States. China has decided that at this point in order to counter the influence of the United States around the world, it will enter into this arrangement with Russia. Yaroslav is exactly right, they have different interests nonetheless there are only shared interest is trying to limit the influence of the United States.

China wants to be the dominant economic power in the world in order to do so, it wants to maintain the basic world economic structure we know now by which it has profited mightily. Russia on the other hand wants to do exactly the opposite. It wants to change the economic rules of the game. China as the dominant partner means that it can check Russia on those ambitions and hope that Russia will help it to check the influence of the United States. But the flipping of these two nations in terms of which is dominant and which is less dominant, is very clear in this article. It used to be the Chinese workers tried to get into Russia now Russian workers are trying to get into China.

Leonid Blacker who is a professor at Pacific National University said, “It makes no sense to be a Chinese guest worker in Russia now, the incomes in northern China are comparable to or even higher than what they could be earning here. Now we are told it’s the Russians who cross the other way to find work, hocking nesting dolls, rye bread and chocolates and rappers and blazoned with Putin’s face to Chinese tourists in Harbin.”

But finally, as we bring this to an end, there’s another dimension to this that is also important in that is that when it comes to world affairs, what you see is not always what you get, the words that are expressed are not always the sentiments that are actually behind them. What do I mean by that? I’m not trying to decipher the relationship between Russia and China. I’m simply pointing to the relationship between the United States and our own western allies. Many of these western allies in a pattern that goes back all the way to before World War II basically operate this way. They will say in public what they do and do not want the United States to do.

They will protest the United States doing something like withdrawing from the INF Treaty. While of course they are either secretly or at least quietly, very happy that the United States is doing just what it is doing. If the editors of the Wall Street Journal wants to remind Americans that we experience no holiday from history, one thing is sure those who are in Europe inhabiting the very lands that are threatened by these intermediate missiles, they must know with an even more powerful force that there is no holiday from history. There never is until Jesus comes there never will be.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Today is opening Convocation, a very important day for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Boyce College. We open the new Spring term with a formal service of worship. I’ll be preaching on the text of Deuteronomy 29:29, a message entitled, “But the Things Revealed Belong to Us and to Our Children Forever.” The service will be at 10:00 AM Eastern time and you can watch by going to www.sbts.edu/live.

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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