Tuesday, September 17, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, September 17, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Extreme Politicization of the Supreme Court—and The American Press: The New York Times Reports “New” Accusation against Justice Kavanaugh, But the Paper Itself Became Part of the Story
Big headlines concerning Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the United States Supreme Court. The headlines as of yesterday were the fact that many of the leading contenders for the Democratic 2020 Presidential nomination were calling for the Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached.
Why the controversy now? Well, The New York Times ran an article in the print edition on Sunday with the headline, "Brett Kavanaugh Fit In, She Did Not." The article is identified as news analysis in The New York Times. It's by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. And the reporters are telling us, in what's identified as a news analysis, that there is renewed controversy concerning Justice Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by a narrow vote with Republican support in October of 2018 after weeks of national controversy.
That controversy in and of itself became one of the most bitterly divisive moments in recent American history. You'll recall that controversy. It had to do with the fact that accusations were made against the nominee to the Court, and it had been President Trump that had made the nomination in the aftermath of the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely and rightly assumed to be the swing vote in many of the major decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, especially on moral issues such as all of those covered under the LGBTQ umbrella, and in particularly same sex marriage.
But that controversy was not only deeply divisive, it was also extremely revealing. We saw the basic fault lines in the United States, and we also saw what happens when the Supreme Court itself becomes so politicized. There's a long history to that, it's not a recent history. It goes back especially to the 1950s and the 1960s when the Court began to assume a very marked progressivist character. That is, the Court was moving to the left.
Presidential nominations to the Court and the confirmation process then took on a renewed unprecedented political volatility and all of this underlined the fact that the Supreme Court was becoming operationally the most influential branch of government, at least at times, largely because of the abdication of responsibility from the United States Congress, but also because the Court had usurped to itself, dealing with so many the most fundamental and controversial questions in American life.
Just think about issues of school prayer and whether or not The Ten Commandments can be posted on public property. Just think about Roe v. Wade and abortion, or of course the entire range of sexuality decisions handed down by the Court that usurped unto itself the supposed Constitutional responsibility to determine the answer as to what American policy should be on so many of these issues, when it was also clear that the decisions handed down by the Supreme Court, especially in a liberal direction, could not have been produced through the democratic process and through the legislature.
By the time you get to the 2016 Presidential election, President Trump understood as candidate that one key to the support for his election would be the fact that conservatives would take note of the fact that he would likely have the opportunity to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court. And at the same time, you had the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who understood the same from left.
And so, during the 2016 election, you had the Republican candidate assuring Republican voters that he would appointing Justices who would understand the Constitution and conservative terms. And at the same time, you had the Democratic candidate assuring the Democratic base that she would appoint to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary only those Justices, for example, who would uphold, as Hillary Clinton made clear, abortion rights, as invented by the federal courts, most importantly, the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.
But then fast forward to 2018, President Trump did make the nomination after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. He nominated Brett Kavanaugh, who was then a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. And both sides in America's political and moral divide understood exactly what was at stake, and those opposed to the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh, now Justice Kavanaugh, effectively pulled out all the stops. Indeed, breaking patterns of political agreements in the past concerning even how this kind of confirmation process should go forward.
In one sense, that was all broken already back in the 1980s when a Republican majority in the Senate shut down the nomination of Robert Bork that had been made by President Ronald Reagan. But there is actually no precedent for the controversy and tumult in the confirmation process and the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh. For example, you can only explain it by the fact that there was the intersection of all the controversy already built up about the Supreme Court and then the collision with the #MeToo movement. And that movement gave the opponents of Justice Kavanaugh some ammunition to use against him, at least during the controversy and the hearings.
At the center of the controversy and the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh stood Christine Blasey Ford, who accused the future judge and justice of having attempted some form of sexual assault during the time that both were high schoolers, operating in rather fast circles of adolescence in suburban Virginia. There was also an accusation made by a woman who had been a fellow student to Brett Kavanaugh at Yale. I'll refer to the charge here as coming down to an inappropriate personal exposure.
There were hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that involved both Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. It was high pitched emotionally, and of course politically as well. And at the end of the day, most of the people who had been supporters of Brett Kavanaugh continued to be his supporters, disbelieving Christine Blasey Ford. And those who opposed him, at least said they believed Christine Blasey Ford's accusations and that they were sufficient to deny Judge Kavanaugh a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment.
There were many lessons from that controversy and confirmation process, but at least one of those lessons was the extreme difficulty of providing true evidence over time, in incidents that took place so long ago when the participants were either adolescents or young adults. I'm not going to mention the names of all the persons involved, but the article that appeared on Sunday centered in the charges that had been made by a second woman, the woman who had been a student with Kavanaugh at Yale.
But the article by Pogrebin and Kelly that appeared in The New York Times on Sunday was an excerpt from their forthcoming book entitled, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation. And they basically presented themselves as having carried out an extensive investigation. And they also made very clear that in their investigation they were doing their very best to find corroborative evidence for the charges made against Kavanaugh by the woman who had been the fellow student at Yale.
Once again, they didn't draw much in terms of evidence at all. They did claim to have found persons who corroborated the account, or who corroborated someone's memory of the account, or someone else's memory of the account, but they didn't basically come up with anything new, except one thing. The explosive revelation that was presented in The New York Times on Sunday was that the investigative reporters had uncovered a man, who had been a fellow student with Kavanaugh at Yale, who remembered that Kavanaugh had actually exposed himself to yet another female student. This was dated to the time that Brett Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale, presumably age 18.
In their article, the reporters said, "We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes," the other woman's name is mentioned here, her allegation. The man, who had been Kavanaugh's classmate at Yale, who is identified in the story, is not identified very fully, but it is said that he told the reporters, or at least he provided the information to the reporters, that there had been this other incident.
That's where the story broke on Sunday, and it broke with a great deal of controversy. But The New York Times had actually posted the article electronically on Saturday. And at the same time, The New York Times entered into a vast controversy when it tweeted what amounted to an obscene tweet advertising its own news story, or at least the story identified as news analysis. Hold on to that for just a moment.
The New York Times had to take down the tweet and had to apologize for it. But then, and follow the story, The New York Times story was in print on Sunday. It was posted electronically on Saturday. On Sunday, in the electronic edition, the editor's note that was appended to the story, that means a correction basically to the story, stated this, "An earlier version of this article, which was adapted from a forthcoming book, did not include one element of the book's account regarding an assertion by a Yale classmate that friends of Brett Kavanaugh," then follows the description of the exposure. Then it says, "The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information," said the editor's note, "has been added to the article."
Now wait just a minute. The New York Times claims to have offered a news analysis, written by two of its own reporters who are writing a forthcoming book, keep in mind this could have something to do with book sales. And The New York Times posted not only the article as an excerpt from the book, but they also tweeted about it. They posted a tweet that they had to take down because it had been acknowledged to be obscene and offensive.
And then, after they ran the story and supposedly broke the news of this second woman, only later, after the print edition had been distributed, did they add to the digital edition the editor's note that, “Wait just a minute, perhaps we should have put in that the woman, who has claimed to have been the victim in this case, has no memory of it.”
So this means that, ladies and gentlemen, we are right back in 2018. We are really right back where we started. But you'll notice that this is now inseparable from something that wasn't yet apparent in the 2018 controversy, and that's the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination.
Maybe the big story here is the story of The New York Times rather desperately trying to bring some kind of new charges to ignite a new controversy concerning Justice Kavanaugh, but also the fact that you had major leading Democrats for the 2020 race announcing that they had already come to the conclusion that they believed this news story, whatever it was, the particulars really didn't even appear to matter, and were calling for Justice Kavanaugh to be impeached.
As USA Today reported yesterday, "Democratic Presidential candidates, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, and US Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Kamala Harris of California called for Kavanaugh's impeachment."
So in worldview analysis, what should we note here? First of all, a great deal about how the press works. What's the difference between a news report and news analysis? Well, it's a fairly newly invented way for mainstream media to present an editorial analysis in the guise of news. In this case, it backfired, or at least publicly we can hope that it backfired, on The New York Times, that had to de-tweet a tweet, and then had to add an absolutely humiliating editor's note that the charges that had been indicated in the story that was supposed to be breaking so much new ground turned out not to be remembered by the woman who was remembered to the victim.
Secondly, keep in mind that this kind of article appearing on the Sunday before the release of a book has a very great deal to do with creating controversy that will lead to sales of the book. There are commercial aspects to this as well.
But more importantly than anything else, understand that what we are looking at here is what happens when you have this kind of moral controversy meet this kind of political context, but in this case, this kind of political context isn't the confirmation hearing from 2018, it's the run up for the Democratic Presidential election in 2020. I'll go so far as to say that if you take that 2020 race out of the story, the entire context and the volatility of the report claimed by The New York Times over the weekend disappears.
That's not to say that controversy about Justice Kavanaugh disappears. That's another of the moral lessons of this entire story. It's not to say that attention and concern about the U.S. Supreme Court on both sides of the political equation will go away. That's not going to happen either. It is to say that whenever you have a context like this, in which the first question that comes to people, especially the press, is what will the leading Democratic Presidential candidate say about this? Then here's a clue, this is probably a story about the 2020 Presidential election, not a story about whatever the story is supposed to be about.
The Political Class Exiled to the Heartland? The Bureau of Land Management Moves from D.C. to Colorado
But next, while we're thinking about worldview analysis and issues concerning the government, a story that didn't get much attention but should have, has to do with the fact that the Trump administration is moving to relocate the Bureau of Land Management from the area of Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado, and this is creating howls in the political class and also in the leadership of Washington DC and the area.
The Washington Post ran an article by Dana Milbank with the headline: "This is How the Trump Administration Quietly Incapacitates the Government." Just consider that headline again, the accusation is that “This,” meaning the relocation of the Federal Bureau, “Is How the Trump Administration Quietly Incapacitates the Government.”
Now, here you're looking at another aspect of the basic political divide in the United States. Those on the more liberal side of the divide like government big and they want it to be bigger. They like it centralized and they want it even more centralized. They like it powerful at the federal level, they want it even more powerful.
The conservative instinct is exactly in the opposite direction, believing that the power belongs more at the local and at the state level than at the federal level, that centralization breeds all kinds of problems, and that a bigger government simply begins to feed on itself and to serve itself rather than the people in whose name the government is serving.
But the article really gets down to that relocation of the Bureau of Land Management and then Dana Milbank says that the problem is that 97% of the Bureau's employees are already outside of Washington. And then he says, "The few hundred in the capital," note the few hundred in the capital, "do things such as coordinate with Congress and other agencies; now half the congressional affairs staff," he says, "will work out of Reno, Nevada, 2,600 miles from Capitol Hill."
So what's the bottom line in this? You either see that as a radical success or as a radical threat. We're talking about the relocation of a headquarters of a Federal Bureau from Washington D.C. to what the cultural elite will consider to be the boondocks, which basically is anywhere west of New York City or east of Las Angeles.
The Washington Post article cites Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's acting Chief of Staff, who is reported to have said at a Republican gathering, "It's nearly impossible to fire a federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me and I've tried." He went on to say, "By simply saying to people, ‘You know what, we're going to move you out in the real part of the country,’ and they quit. What a wonderful way," he said, "to sort of streamline government."
The Washington Post article also cited the statistic that 85% of federal employees already work outside of Washington D.C. But what's not mentioned is that virtually none of them are in positions of policy making and authoritative leadership that is represented by why these agencies and those who want to fund them and enlarge them want them right there in Washington D.C.
The District of Columbia and its environs are virtually recession proof in the sense that even though other areas, sectors of the economy, may suffer an economic down turn, that virtually never happens to the federal government and to all those who are fed by the federal government, including all those federal contractors who employ thousands and thousands of people near Washington D.C., because the federal government really never suffers any kind of economic down turn, not for long or not for real.
But leaving the jobs and the numbers, and even matters of economics aside, even leaving politics per say, let's just consider the fact that we would have a very different government and a very different culture if the centers and powers of that culture were more evenly distributed around the country, even by population. But instead, they are largely bi-coastal. They are found on the west coast or the east coast, in concentrations in which you have a great deal of self-referencing and the fact that many people who are encapsulated on those coasts never have to really even think about what people think who live in those areas that are described merely as flyover country.
Large Government Becomes World Government? The Left’s Favorite Economist ‘Jumps the Shark’
But next, speaking of government, we have to understand that the logic of an ever more powerful government can never stay merely federal or national. It can't be limited to one nation. That's because we really do live in a situation in which you can have people and money and ideas move from nation to nation, from continent to continent, not only from coast to coast.
And that is raised by a recent headline at Bloomberg entitled, "Thomas Piketty jumps the shark." It's by Leonid Bershidsky. The article is about the man named in the headline, Thomas Piketty, who just might be one of the most influential economists in the world today.
Piketty is most famous for having written a book several years ago that largely became the obsession of the left. It was one of the early works arguing against what it called economic inequality and arguing for expropriation, or that is government taking of funds from those who have the funds and giving the funds to those who do not.
But the point being made in this Bloomberg article is that Piketty has now jumped his own shark —you'll recall that cultural reference —he's departed from all reality and has become a parody of himself. But what's really interesting is the fact that he still has vast influence on the cultural and political left, and that includes in the United States.
In his new book, not yet translated into English but summarized by Bloomberg, Piketty is arguing not only for progressive taxation, and this means massively high levels of taxation, and he's not only calling for a larger government sector, a vastly larger government sector. He's also talking about something far beyond a minimum annual wage, he's calling for giving every single individual the equivalent of about $132,000.00 as a personal investment when that individual reaches age 25. That's his recipe for resolving the problem, as he identifies, of economic inequality.
Confiscate money and property from almost everyone and redistribute it to almost everyone at the rate of $132,000.00 per person upon reaching age 25. But here's where the story gets really interesting from a worldview perspective, how do you pull that off? Well, you have to take just about all the wealth in the world, or first of all, in your country. You have to take all the wealth in the country and confiscate it, or expropriate it, in order for the government to have it to redistribute it. And that means that you're going to have to go to the rich, or the rich here being defined perhaps as people who have investments or equity of value of only $100,000.00 or more, which means virtually all middle-class Americans, certainly by the time you count their pension funds and their home equity.
You confiscate all that money, you redistribute it. But what happens when rich people figure out that they could leave the country before this happens? Well, that's a problem. You have the fact that you could have a rich person in Britain or in France or Switzerland or Canada or the United States seeing this kind of proposal coming and deciding that he/she will move and move that money out of that country to another country. And by the way, other countries would have at least an initial ambition and incentive to have low rates of taxation to recruit more of those rich people to move themselves and their money to their country.
So how will Piketty prevent that? Well, here's where he not only jumps the shark, he reveals the inevitable logic of what happens when you decide that you're going to trust government with this kind of mission, you're going to redistribute wealth, and you are going to resolve all problems in order to bring about what you declare to be equality, you have to have a world government.
Leonid Bershidsky writes at Bloomberg, "But what if the rich don't want to pay these confiscatory tax rates and decide to emigrate? First, “hit them with an exit tax,” Piketty says, “and then work to establish a global justice system that makes it impossible to hide from expropriation anywhere.” To that end, he proposes a supranational parliament comprised of members drawn from national legislatures. The latter would be elected under different campaign finance laws to those of today: “Citizens would get vouchers of, say, five euros a year to give to their party of choice."
Now you'll notice just how many sharks Piketty has jumped here. Not only the shark of his only model, but he's also jumped all kinds of other forms of rationality by suggesting that he's going to form a super national parliament and that it's going to be drawn from members who are already serving in the national legislatures, there is going to be some form of campaign financing that is different than the one we have now, how's that for specificity? Citizens would get vouchers of something like five euros a year to give their party of their choice.
But that's not all, as Bershidsky writes, "Once you reach that utopian level of world reinvention, the myriad specific questions that occur to most people considering this vast project tend to recede into the background." One of the truths that is relegated to the background here has to do with something we discussed in recent days, and that is how wealth is created.
What Piketty doesn't note is that if you confiscate all the property, it effectively is devalued. Some of it devalued to nothing, because if there's no market for it, there is no value for it, no one's trying to buy it, there's no competition for it, no one's going to raise the prices, no one's going to pay the prices. So the property that you just confiscated, well, it's now worth a fraction of what you said it was worth when you confiscated it.
In an interesting note, Leonid Bershidsky says that perhaps one effect of Piketty's argument is that Europe's listless center-left parties, and you could also say the increasingly not center-left, but left-left Democratic Party in the United States, it might be forced to be honest that this is the inevitable result of its actual proposals. And to at least come clean on the fact that its proposals call for massively high tax rates that would indeed confiscate wealth from most Americans, and also in the process, as Piketty doesn't understand, destroy the very wealth he wants to confiscate.
So again, from a Christian worldview perspective, one of the realities we face is that the Bible makes very clear that everything starts locally. And the principle of subsidiarity points to the fact that the most important unit of economics, of politics, of anything is the family. The biblical worldview begins with the essential foundation of marriage, and then the family, and then human society. The New Testament qualifies that only by adding the imperative of the Gospel and the reality of God's redeemed people in Christ in the church.
The Bible also makes clear that anarchy is the worst possible state and that God has given human beings government in order to structure human existence to uphold the good and to punish the evildoer. But beyond that, government just isn't very competent and the biblical worldview tells us that in a fallen world, it really can't be.
And this is where Christians trying to think through these issues understand that once you decide that you're going to upload meaning and reality, responsibility, and moral imperatives to a government, then eventually you're going to have to have a bigger government, that's going to have to be followed by an even bigger government. And eventually, you're going to have to have an international government, a global government that will be able to trump every lesser authority on planet Earth.
And that is effectively turning the biblical worldview upside down. A lesson that you would at least think might have been learned at the Tower of Babel.
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'm speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.