briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 23, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, January 23, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Is the Impeachment Trial Just about Gaining Votes? The Political Nature of the Trial on Full Display in Yesterday’s Proceedings

The impeachment trial of the president of the United States proceeded in the United States Senate yesterday and it was, for all extents and purposes, the first major day of actual presentation of the case. The House impeachment managers began laying out their case. Remember, they have 24 hours over three days, then the president’s attorneys will have the same amount of time with the same structure.

But as the House impeachment managers, seven Democrats appointed by the Democratic majority in the House began setting out their case against the president and for his removal from office, it became very evident that not only are the tensions high, but in one very real sense, it has become very evident that the public in this case is the voters of the United States, not so much the United States senators, all 100 of them, sitting as the court for this trial. That is to say that when you listen to the House impeachment managers talking yesterday, they were not in any genuine way trying to persuade Republicans in the United States Senate, rather, they were trying to convince voters of their case, and that points to the basic partisan nature of the impeachment trial and the unquestioned political nature of the entire process.

Just think yesterday, the comments made by House impeachment manager, Jerrold Nadler, Congressman of New York and, of course, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on the judiciary. His statements were so intense, basically accusing Republicans of political corruption, that he was faced with a rebuke by the chief justice of the United States, serving as the Chief Magistrate for the proceedings in the Senate. Now, the chief justice actually chided both sides, that is, the House impeachment managers and the president’s attorneys for intemperate language, but there can be no doubt that the primary catalyst was actually not only the House impeachment managers making their case in general, but Congressman Nadler in particular. The chief justice rightly asked all those involved in the process to remember the decorum of the United States Senate as the world’s greatest deliberative body. But of course, the irony in this is that the senators themselves are doing absolutely no deliberating at this point. They have to sit silently as the cases are made.

In terms of worldview analysis, we need to keep ever in mind, no matter the political flack in the air, that serious constitutional issues are at stake and we are a constitutional form of government. Now, for that reason, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal yesterday released an editorial statement that is really of importance here. The headline of the editorial, “The ‘Corrupt Purposes’ Impeachment”— “corrupt purposes” put in quotation marks because corrupt purposes is, as the editors said, a fairly new form of the argument made by the Democrats against the president of the United States.

To summarize, they are arguing that his actions in themselves were not unconstitutional, but because he was acting out of corrupt purposes, which means for his own political purposes, they were, therefore, unconstitutional and worthy of removing the president from office. The editors described as especially pernicious this new “corrupt purposes” standard for removing a president of the United States from office. As the editors said, “The House managers don’t assert that any specific action by President Trump was an abuse of power or a violation of law. They don’t deny he can delay aid to a foreign country or ask a foreign leader to investigate corruption. Presidents do that all the time. Instead,” said the editors, “they assert in their first impeachment article that Mr. Trump is guilty of abuse of power because he committed those acts for ‘corrupt purposes.'”

Later in the editorial, the editors say that the House Democrats “are going much further and declaring that Mr. Trump’s acts are impeachable because he did them for ‘personal political benefit.'” As the editors said, the president isn’t accused of corruption. Instead, the Ukraine interventions “are said to be corrupt because he intended them to help him win reelection this year. In other words,” said the editors, “his actions were impeachable only because his motives were self-serving.”

The editors then get right to the point, “Think about this in the context of history and as a precedent. Every president has made foreign policy decisions that he thinks may help his reelection.” The editors continued, “That’s what President Obama did in 2012 when he asked Dmitry Medvedev to tell Vladimir Putin to ease up on missile defense until after the election.”

Now that means the 2012 presidential election when Barack Obama, by the way, was the incumbent president re-elected for a second four-year term, it is beyond debate that President Obama did exactly what is indicated here. The editors then ask, “Was Mr. Obama’s motive also corrupt and thus impeachable?” Well, that’s a very crucial question. But the bigger point made by the editors of the Wall Street Journal is that every single president of the United States makes foreign policy decisions that at some point are calculated either to enhance political standing or at least not to damage political standing, and presidents, first-term presidents, of course, make decisions, foreign policy decisions amongst them with an eye to their hope for reelection to a second four-year term.

But this “corrupt purposes” argument would apply even outside the context of an immediate election or reelection battle. Just consider the fact, that now seems quite ironic, that back in 1997, we saw the release of a major motion picture entitled “Wag the Dog.” It starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. The entire plot line of the movie was that a presidential administration’s advisers got involved in creating a war in Albania in order to detract attention from a presidential sex scandal. Now, what makes that particularly timely is that just two days after the sex scandal broke concerning incumbent President Bill Clinton, he then initiated a missile strike on two sites in Libya.

Sometimes art mimics life, sometimes life mimics art, but in any case, every single president of the United States could at some point be found guilty of the “corrupt purposes” standard that the House impeachment managers have now brought forward, or for that matter, the House of Representatives as forward even in the context of the two articles of impeachment, particularly the first article.

But the second issue I want to raise here has to do with an opinion piece that ran in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times by veteran columnist Thomas L. Friedman. Now, the thing to know is that Friedman is by no means the left wing of the New York Times opinion page. It is in the left column at this point, but he is certainly not the most liberal of the regular commentators and columnists for the New York Times. Instead, he is primarily understood to be a defender of international globalism and he has been a trendsetter and a trend-watcher when it comes to those developments over the course of the last several decades.

But in this particular editorial column entitled “Trump, Impeachment, and Frisbees,” what we see here is actually the fact that the impeachment trial of the president of the United States is, even by a columnist of the nature of Thomas L. Friedman, reduced to an entirely partisan affair in its importance. He actually addresses Democrats as they’re making their case against the president, but primarily what Thomas L. Friedman has in mind is not the impeachment trial itself or its anticipated outcome, but rather the 2020 presidential election. That becomes abundantly clear. By the way, we’ll get to the frisbee part in just a moment.

He says, “Democrats just need to keep repeating over and over one question.” The question he says they need to ask is, “Why would an innocent man, and a jury interested in the truth, not want all the evidence out and all the witnesses to testify? Wouldn’t you if you were innocent?” Well, that’s a rather complicated question and the answer would be complicated, but the reality is that, no, you would not necessarily want all the evidence to be hashed out in public, and furthermore, there are national interests and all kinds of issues at stake here. But the point is that Thomas Friedman is not really concerned about the evidence or the testimony, he is talking about the opportunity that Democrats now have to gain a political advantage by means of the impeachment trial, and that’s really the point that he offers in this column over and over again.

He says, “There is a winnable goal for Democrats in the trial that just opened.” That’s actually the scare quote taken out of his column that is given prominence in the New York Times. Well, a winnable goal for Democrats? Is that actually what this is about? The context of the election becomes clear with these words, “Democrats need to keep it simple. The goal in this trial is not a conviction by the Senate.” Friedman simply dismisses that, “That is simply impossible with this Republican Party intimidated by this president using this Fox News-led noise machine.” Instead, he says, “The most that can be achieved, and it’s a lot, actually, is to convey to the swing voters—the independents, suburban women and moderate Republicans who delivered the House to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms—just how much this president is ready to put himself above the law.”

Later in his column, he writes, “This impeachment trial is another opportunity to show those swing voters just how bad it could be.” Then he continues to make his point all over again. Now, as I have said repeatedly on The Briefing and from the beginning of this controversy, there can be no doubt that President Trump has violated democratic norms. There can be no doubt that he has behaved badly in many occasions. There is no doubt that it is, at the very least, unseemly that a president of the United States would directly ask a foreign power to do as President Trump did ask the Ukrainian president. But that’s not to say that other presidents wouldn’t have effectively asked for the same, they would have found a more indirect way of doing it.

But the bigger issue here, the far larger issue is understanding that in our constitutional order, respect for the Constitution and respect for that order means that the impeachment of a president and the attempt to remove a president from office must be undertaken only when there is vast bipartisan support, when it is not and cannot be accused of being a partisan affair. But as you note in this New York Times article and in other coverage, it is now acknowledged to such an extent to be a partisan affair that the two different sides are now referred to in the Senate as Democrats and Republicans, and the larger context that Thomas Friedman is concerned about is Democrats and Republicans, but that is proof positive even at this point that this is a partisan affair and that the entire enterprise is broken.

But nonetheless, respect for our constitutional order means that this process must continue as the rules of the Senate dictate and as the Senate has given this responsibility in the Constitution. But the further we go in this process, the more likely it is that we’re going to understand evermore clearly, day by day, just how partisan this entire process turns out to be.

Part II

47 Years after Roe v. Wade: A Sobering Look at the Deadly and Contagious Logic of the Central Sacrament of the Sexual Revolution

But next, we turn to the fact that yesterday, January 22, 2020, represented the 47th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history—the day the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the abortion decision known as Roe v. Wade. The impact of Roe has to be coupled with the similar case known as Doe v. Bolton, but the reality is that Roe is now the infamous symbol of the abortion culture and the culture of death in the United States. But in order to understand what this anniversary means, we need to step back and understand where the issue of abortion was in America when the Supreme Court first received this case in 1970.

There can be no doubt that second wave feminism during the 1960s had been advocating loudly for what they styled as a woman’s right to abortion. One of the central issues made in the feminist argument is that women must be able to be equal with men, in that, men cannot be coerced into carrying a pregnancy to term, so women must not either. Now, if you just understand that that argument places not only civilization but biology on its head, you come to understand how the equality argument became so dangerous, especially during the period of the ’60s, giving birth to the tumultuous social transformations that we are still experiencing today.

Now, of course, an elementary understanding of biology, tied to an objective understanding of male and female, reminds us that men are not equal with women in the ability to get pregnant or, for that matter, to deliver a baby. But the reality is that that entire world was turned on its head in favor of the second wave feminist argument and demand for equality with abortion becoming not only the central right that was claimed on behalf of women at the time, but the great political achievement for which they were working, and the reality is that they had been making progress state by state. There was no federal law, one way or the other, when it came to abortion at the time. But the states were understood to be not only the laboratories of democracy, but the states were understood to be the rightful place where laws, including laws restricting or defining abortion should be located.

But all that changed when it became very clear to those feminists that they were never going to be able to pass nationwide an absolute right to abortion by legislation. They weren’t going to be able to do so because states represent very different worldviews then as well as now. The state of Massachusetts is, let’s just understand, very different than the state of Mississippi then and now. And thus the feminists decided to go to the courts because there was no way they were going to be able to get national legislation through the United States Congress. There simply wasn’t the will on the part of the people of the United States to support Congress in taking that action. Keep that in mind.

So instead, what we saw in the case of abortion is what we have seen in the case of so many other issues, including the legalization of same sex marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015, was the fact that social progressives or liberals in this country decided to go to the federal courts to win there what they could not win through the legislative process. That’s exactly why they began to look for just the right case when it came to abortion rights, and that case appeared to have been delivered to the pro-abortion movement when a woman named Norma McCorvey entered into a lawsuit under the name, it’s a pseudonym, Jane Roe. The federal case was entered as Roe v. Wade. Wade, in this case, was Henry Wade, who was the district attorney there in Dallas, Texas. The case, thus, Roe v. Wade, and thus it is known even today.

It took a very long time for this case to work its way through the United States Supreme Court. It had to be heard twice in oral arguments. But on January the 22, 1973, a 7-2 majority of the Supreme Court handed down that decision that declared that in the Constitution of the United States, unknown to the framers of the Constitution, but by extension of their logic, there was a woman’s right to privacy, which included a woman’s right to abortion. And this was grounded in argumentation from the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the equal protection clause. Now, once again, there are even bigger worldview issues at stake here because the reading of the Constitution had, by this point, divided into two opposing camps. And those who are holding to a progressive understanding of the Constitution, arguing that the court should not be bound to the text and words of the Constitution but rather was free to see the document as a living Constitution, that argument had been in the ascendancy.

The conservative argument for textualism or original intent or strict constructionism, it had not gained much of a foothold at the time, but of course it would later. The only two dissenting justices in the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade were William Rehnquist, who was a strict constructionist, he would later become chief justice of the United States, and Byron White, who was not as conservative as Rehnquist, but nonetheless, was very much unconvinced by the liberal majority on the court in the case Roe v. Wade. Justice White in his dissent argued that the court was exceeding its authority. He wrote, “As an exercise of raw judicial power, the court perhaps has the authority to do what it does today, but in my view,” said Justice White, “its judgment is an improvident and extravagant exercise of the power of judicial review that the Constitution extends to this court.”

Justice Rehnquist in his dissent went on to argue that the case was itself decided illogically and with intellectual dishonesty because even as justice Blackmun, writing for the majority, said that there was, in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, a logic that would preclude states criminalizing abortion, justice Rehnquist pointed out that there were many states that had done just that—at least 36 states or at least 36 laws, he says, in the states at the time, the 14th Amendment was ratified. Thus, those who were writing the amendment then clearly did not understand that abortion was certainly not even envisioned within the 14th Amendment, but thus we see what happens when a court decides that it will deal with the text according to its own logic and authority, that very authority that was lambasted by Justice White as exaggerated and improvident as raw judicial power rather than to be restrained by the actual text of the Constitution.

Our constitutional order, we returned to that issue again, is only intact and can only survive if the constitutional order is dictated by the Constitution, by words, sentences, by propositions, by grammar. If instead the Constitution is whatever federal judges and the Supreme Court majority will say that it is at any point, then we are not actually a people governed by a constitutional order, but rather governed by judicial fiat and the great horrifying example of that is Roe v. Wade, and deadly consequences were the result.

Let’s just consider the fact that probably the best estimate is that since 1973, since January of that year when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, there had been about—just consider this—61 million babies aborted in American wombs, 61 million.

Consider the fact also that abortion has become the central sacrament of the modern progressivist movement and that the argument is moved in evermore radical directions. Roe v. Wade, after all, acknowledged that the state government had the right to protect unborn life in the third trimester. That was problematic enough, but the point is that we have seen several states actually move to legalize and decriminalize abortion, all the way right up until the moment of birth.

The logic of Roe v. Wade is not only deadly, it is contagious, and that contagion continues to spread. The pro-abortion movement in 2020 is not even satisfied with Roe v. Wade. It wants to press forward demanding federal funding for abortion and the fact that the right to abortion should be covered by federal programs such as Medicaid. And it goes on to argue that there should be no restrictions whatsoever that would be acknowledged as lawful or constitutional in any of the 50 states of the United States of America. And, of course, you not only have the legal liberals making this case, but you have a good many on the theological left also making this case. And thus, it’s not just a statement of metaphor that abortion has become something of the central sacrament of moral progressivism in the United States today.

Part III

Surrender Isn’t Enough for the Moral Revolution: In the Wake of an Advertising Controversy, CEO of Hallmark Channel Is Out

But finally today, as we think about how moral change takes place in the United States—of all things, we ended up looking at a ballroom dancing competition at Brigham Young University already this week—we have to go back to the Hallmark Channel. Now back on December the 17 of 2019, Suzanne Vranica, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, reported the story that just about had the story right in the headline, “In Three Days, the Hallmark Channel Managed to Upset Pretty Much Everyone.”

Now, that controversy goes back to the fact that the Hallmark Channel is nearly iconic in American popular culture for its very predictable set piece Christmas movies that have a very large audience in the United States and they avoid controversy and any kind of serious thought. Actually, they follow a formula that’s pretty much predictable in every single case, but nonetheless, the Hallmark Channel found itself in a great deal of controversy when it began to involve itself in advertising related to LGBTQ issues, most importantly, advertisements from Zola Incorporated, a wedding-planning firm. The commercial in particular, it featured a same-sex marriage and two women embracing and kissing.

Well, that led to a response from conservatives who demanded that the Hallmark Channel no longer present this kind of moral teaching, and that’s what this commercial is when it comes to a family audience. And the Hallmark Channel, a few days later, announced that it would not accept this kind of advertising, basically apologizing for the fact that it had made a bad decision in running the ad, but of course, that led to an overwhelming push from the LGBTQ activist community, and from the powers that be in Hollywood and elsewhere, that led to the fact that after making the decision, that they would withdraw the ad because it had been wrong to air it, they then came back and said they were wrong to have made that decision. And they did what we’ve seen in the case of so many American corporations, they basically offered a public apology and humiliated themselves before LGBTQ authorities.

The Wall Street Journal article is really helpful in making the point of how this kind of moral and political pressure is brought. We are told that GLAAD, a major LGBTQ organization, actually had people watch the Hallmark Channel for days in order to make a list of all the advertisers in order to go to those advertisers demanding that they withdraw their advertising from Hallmark. The article says, “GLAAD kept pressing its case. The group called Hallmark with examples of brands such as Procter and Gamble’s Pantene that supported the LGBTQ community with advertising,” and according to others, “It also emailed hallmark a case study of Delta Air Lines Incorporated, which had faced a public outcry last month,” that would have been November of 2019, “over two of its in-flight films that were edited by a third party to remove love scenes involving same-sex couples. Delta said it ordered a new version of the films that included LGBTQ loves scenes.”

GLAAD warned Hallmark that it was about to set loose what the journal called a planned media blitz, with CEO Sarah Kate Ellis scheduled to appear on CNN, NBC Nightly News, and CBS This Morning. Faced with this kind of onslaught, Hallmark basically caved and reversed itself saying, “The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused.” That came from the CEO of Hallmark Cards. He said, “Said simply, they believed this was the wrong decision.”

It is interesting that the journal reported that a spokesperson for Hallmark said that the company did not reverse itself because of the threat of a boycott. No. Who would have thought that? It’s just a coincidence. But this is how the game is played. This is how moral pressure is brought, and of course, it’s not just moral, it’s economic and it’s political, but it is moral. Here’s a company that was forced to basically apologize to confess that it had committed the great sin of not being enthusiastic about offending part of its constituency by offering commercials in which two women are kissing.

One other point to understand in the rules of this game is that the LGBTQ activist community will never be satisfied. I said that back when this story broke, and when we discussed it on The Briefing, back in December of 2019, but I just want to come back because what was just released in recent days by the Wall Street Journal is the headline that the CEO of the Hallmark Channel is now going to depart. Why? Well, one of the steps that you can count on that Hallmark decided it had to take was getting rid of someone in senior management as something, at least, of a sacrificial lamb.

Patience Haggin reports for the journal, “The CEO of the Hallmark Channel’s parent is leaving weeks after the channel found itself in a firestorm of controversy over commercials featuring a same-sex wedding ceremony.” As the Journal tells us, this particular executive’s departure will be effective Friday. That’s the way this game is played. In a moral revolution, it’s not enough even to surrender. No. Instead, you’ve got to go.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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