briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, March 12, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, March 12, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

For the Second Straight Tuesday, Biden Wins Big: Where Does Bernie Sanders’s Revolution Now Stand?

The so-called second Super Tuesday ended rather conclusively for the Democratic party. Former vice president Joe Biden is now the commanding front runner, having won four of the six contests on Tuesday. He won in the states of Michigan and Missouri and Mississippi and Idaho, and Bernie Sanders won in the state of North Dakota. Bernie Sanders may or may not win the state of Washington. He was slightly ahead as of the figures coming in from Washington state last night. But at the end of the day, Washington state is too close to call. At the very least, Joe Biden won four of the primaries convincingly and the most important of all was Michigan.

Now as we look deeper, there are some very important lessons to be learned from the primaries on Tuesday and in particular from the primary that took place in Michigan. Michigan is one of those crucial states in the Midwest that is likely to determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. It was in 2016 when unexpectedly turning back the conventional wisdom, Donald Trump won the state of Michigan. He did not win by a wide margin, but that didn’t matter. He won all of Michigan’s votes in the electoral college and those turned out to be absolutely crucial.

But Michigan is a very interesting state, a bellwether state, when it comes to presidential elections. It was in Michigan that so many of the labor unions had their great strength at the high water mark of American labor, and it was also, however, in Michigan that in 1980 it became clear that there was some kind of transformation happening in American politics. The coalition put together by Ronald Reagan in 1980 included for the first time in recent election cycles, a considerable number of votes from those involved in labor in what were then defined as blue collar jobs, not for the Democrat, but rather for the Republican.

All of that was an indication of change in the year 1980 but it was even more astounding when Donald Trump won in the year 2016. Democrats had considered for years that Michigan was behind their so called blue wall, an impenetrable wall where Republicans could not gain major victories precisely because of the level of labor involvement in the electorate, but also because of the generally Democratic voting habits of the people there.

But what was also interesting and makes the case of Michigan so important this year is that it might have served as a firewall in the Democratic race in 2020 but it was a firewall that fell when it came to Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders had been running with great momentum in the Democratic race so much so that just 14 days ago, people were speaking as if Bernie Sanders was the almost assured Democratic nominee. But at this point, just two weeks, even less than two weeks later, it is almost mathematically impossible for Bernie Sanders to gain a plurality of the delegates, much less an adequate number of delegates to lead to the nomination.

When you’re looking at Bernie Sanders, you are looking at the fact that in the Sanders/Biden race in Michigan in 2020 there was a big question, how will labor vote and how will voters in a crucial swing state like Michigan vote when they have a chance as Democrats to decide what will be their message and who would be the standard bearer of their party? It was an overwhelming win for Joe Biden.

Interestingly, as of Tuesday night, Joe Biden was seen to be winning in every single county in the Democratic primary in Michigan, every single county. The same thing turned out to be true in the state of Mississippi. Now, the state of Mississippi is quite different than the state of Michigan. In recent presidential election cycles, the state of Mississippi has been decidedly red, very Republican. But the Democrats voting in the primary were voting for Joe Biden as the man they wanted to be at the top of their ticket.

It is so interesting that in the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the cast of candidates which the Democrats had declared to be unprecedented in diversity and in inclusion, it now comes down to two white-haired white men, both in their late seventies and both of them, according to the intersectional logic and vocabulary of the Democratic party, cisgendered white males.

But this was a true battle. It still is a true battle ideologically because Bernie Sanders has indicated that he is not withdrawing from the race but continues to run, especially to run on his ideas. And this reminds us of the fact that the basic divide right now amongst the Democrats is not between the left and the right, not even between the left and the center, it is the left versus the left, the revolutionary left versus the more incremental left.

Bernie Sanders represents the revolutionary left and he does so with gusto. Joe Biden represents the incremental left, less revolutionary, but in the end, no less progressive. As we said earlier this week, Bernie Sanders has ideologically won the Democratic primaries. The party has come to him since the year 2016 and the unprecedented strength he demonstrated in the 2016 election. But if his strength was remarkable in 2016, his weakness is very apparent and newsworthy in the year 2020.

The entire premise of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that he was going to bring a revolution and that in so doing, he would break all of the partisan molds of previous American campaigns and would instead bring out an entirely unactivated new electorate that would be activated by his ideas, answering the call for revolution. In the Democratic party, the premise of Bernie Sanders campaign is that Democrats, most importantly Hillary Clinton, had lost because of a deficit of revolutionary fervor and the fact that younger voters had not turned out to vote for her as they had turned out interestingly for President Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012.

Now, of course, here’s something else to remember, this is humbling. When you’re talking about younger voters, you’re talking about a moving target. The younger voters in 2008 are not so young anymore. It’s the younger voters in 2020 that are now at issue. And here is the rather astounding conclusion thus far in the Democratic race. Not only has Bernie Sanders failed to turn out an unprecedented level and unprecedented increase in the participation of young voters, the actual participation of young voters in 2020 is not greater than but less than 2016. That’s astounding.

It’s actually surprising not only to Democrats, but to Republicans observing the Democratic race. And it of course, has spelled the virtual doom of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the nomination. But that doesn’t mean that he’s losing the battle for ideas. There are any number of reasons why voters vote or fail to vote for candidate A or B. Bernie Sanders is irascible, he is abrasive. He has made his reputation being abrasive, and of course, he’s been running against the Democratic establishment identifying the Democratic establishment as part of the problem, precisely because the establishment is incrementalist. It looks at making leftist change in incremental steps, not in one giant revolution. Bernie Sanders is the prophet of revolution and thus, he basically categorizes all of his fellow Democrats as being mealy mouth and overly moderate, timid, and scared. He declares himself not scared, he’s not timid, and he uses the kind of language that is, Hillary Clinton famously said, just a matter of weeks ago means that Bernie Sanders really has very few, if any, friends in the United States Senate.

Bernie Sanders isn’t about making friends, he’s about bringing a revolution. It is now really interesting to see Bernie Sanders explain why the revolution hasn’t come even amongst the younger voters that Bernie Sanders said were demanding him as their candidate. One interesting footnote here: the analysis available thus far from Michigan indicates that the younger voters that did vote in the Democratic primary split their vote almost evenly between Biden and Sanders. That’s not exactly a ground swell for revolution, but there’s also more. Michelle Goldberg writing an article in the New York Times entitled, “Sanders Can’t Count on New Voters,” points out that for the party, and make no mistake, she is of the left herself, avowedly so, she says that the Democratic party if it is going to form a majority in the electoral college is going to have to do so by reaching out to voters who haven’t voted Democratic before.

But her point is this, that largely does not mean voters who haven’t voted before who would vote now and vote Democratic, it means voters who had previously voted Republican, who need now according to her logic, to vote Democratic. She also points to something else that’s very interesting. She says that Bernie Sanders has made a mistake by offering the premise of his candidacy upon the number of people or even the polling amongst people who can vote.

That’s a very crucial term, can vote. Because, as Michelle Goldberg points out, elections are actually won, not by winning the hearts of those who can vote, but by winning the hearts of those who do vote. It’s very interesting that this writer from the left is warning Democrats that if they are going to follow the logic of Bernie Sanders, they are probably trading a vain hope of trying to find voters who could vote Democratic and losing the very voters who actually might vote Democratic. And thus she actually argues interestingly, for a less revolutionary, more incrementalist move to the left. You can put this another way. There are many more people who say they would vote for Bernie Sanders than actually do vote for Bernie Sanders. That’s the kind of polling issue we always have to wonder about in an election, but it’s also an increasingly clear pattern.

After Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders himself tried to explain why the youth vote has not turned out as he said it would and most particularly why it has not turned out for him. Senator Sanders said, “We’re making some progress, but historically everybody knows that young people do not vote in the kind of numbers that older people vote.” He went on to say, “I think that will change in the general election, but to be honest with you, we have not done as well in bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.” Now you can read that or hear that in different ways, but it is basically in its own way a statement of resignation.

And what has also become very clear, remember Bernie Sanders surprised the 2016 Democratic party by winning the Michigan primary. He lost it rather convincingly this year as the results indicate. As USA Today reported days ago, “The common theme in all those states of super Tuesday Sanders fared worse this year than he did when he faced eventual nominee Hillary Clinton four years ago.”

This article by Ledyard King also points to the fact that when polling and surveying is done amongst college students and other young adults, they decidedly say they favor the positions of Bernie Sanders and they love Bernie, but they don’t favor them enough and they evidently aren’t committed enough to him to turn out actually to vote.

But finally on this issue, the big question for the Democrats is whether or those who have voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary process will turn out to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee, now almost assuredly, former vice president Joe Biden in the general election. By one legitimate reading, Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election in the electoral college precisely because the voters who had voted for Bernie did not turn out to vote for her. Now, that’s an impossible hypothesis to prove because of the way the electoral college works, but the bottom line is it is extremely plausible. You could put it another way. The biggest threat to the election of Joe Biden may come down to whether or not the Democrats who said they would vote for Bernie Sanders actually do turn out to vote for Joe Biden.

Before Bernie Sanders is off the scene, and that’s not likely to be for a while, we’re going to look more closely at a couple of other massive worldview issues that are invoked by his candidacy, but we’ll look to those issues in coming days.

Part II

Harvey Weinstein Sentenced to 23 Years in Prison: Justice and Truth in the Aftermath of Moral Evil

But next, we need to turn to the fact that yesterday Harvey Weinstein once identified as Hollywood’s leading movie mogul, one of those influential men in Hollywood, a man who could make or break careers, he was instead yesterday sentenced to 23 years in prison for raping one woman and sexually assaulting another. The sentencing represented the next step in a massive take-down of Harvey Weinstein. For many Americans, it also dates the beginning of what is now known as the Me Too movement, but it also gave many Americans a view inside Hollywood that was not previously available. We look at Hollywood’s products and we know that behind them is a lot of unseemly behavior. That’s for one thing, fodder for the tabloids that many people read about Hollywood celebrities.

But Harvey Weinstein was not outside of Hollywood, one of those celebrities. Inside Hollywood, he was something of a czar, something of a king, and obviously he was a man whose behavior was not only atrocious but deeply sinful. And furthermore, he was demonstrating a pattern of behavior that tellingly was known to his colleagues in Hollywood who equally tellingly let him get away with it until all of a sudden they didn’t.

When Harvey Weinstein was at the top of his power, they wanted to be on his right side. They wanted him to make, not to break their careers. They were involved in this great cover up of his behavior, they didn’t challenge him and they let it go on. But all of a sudden when the Me Too movement emerged as a catalyst, Harvey Weinstein found himself standing alone. And as the New York Times makes clear, he was actually almost alone in that Manhattan courtroom when the verdict was handed down yesterday. The Times reports that behind the defendant, now the convicted felon, there were rows of empty seats. Joe Ransom reports on the 23 years sentence and writes, “The startling sentence that Mr. Weinstein, who is 67 and in poor health might spend the rest of his life in prison. Just before the sentencing, Mr. Weinstein who was sitting in a wheelchair told the court that he was remorseful, but also totally confused about what had happened to him.” Notice the kind of language about something happening to him.

Ransom goes on to say that when Weinstein was given a chance to speak, he “suggested in a rambling speech to the court that he thought his relationships with the victims were consensual.” He said this, “We may have different truths, but I have remorse for all of you and for all the men going through this crisis.” Again, notice his attempt to turn himself into a victim effectively by that statement.

But also note the rather Oprah-esque statement he made, “We may have different truths.” Let’s just remind ourselves of a basic fact of the Christian worldview. There are no truths, there is only truth. Truth is not plural, truth is singular. It is simply a matter of truthful evasion to say that I have my truth and you have your truth. We do not have personal truths. We may have different perspectives. One of us may be right as a matter of fact, and one of us may be wrong. But if we have what’s described here as different truths, then at least one of us does not have the truth. Actually both of us may not have the truth, but the law of non-contradiction reminds us that if there are people who have two contradictory claims, one of them must be wrong and both of them may be wrong, both of them cannot be right.

It is also telling that Harvey Weinstein is going to face many additional felony counts across the country in Los Angeles. That trial is likely to take two to three additional years and if he is convicted of any or all of those crimes, he is almost assuredly going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Part III

You Can’t Get Off the Back of the Tiger: Vladimir Putin Sets Himself Up to Continue Autocratic Rule in Russia

But so much now about that 67 year old man in Manhattan. Next, I want to turn to a 67 year old man in Moscow. As reporter Georgi Kantchev reports from Moscow for the Wall Street Journal, “President Vladimir Putin backed a constitutional amendment that could prolong his two decade grip on power until 2036, the clearest indication yet that the Kremlin leader intends to remain in control of Russia’s future for years to come.”

As Kantchev continues, “After months of speculation about Mr. Putin’s intentions, a proposal adopted by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament would allow Mr. Putin to run again in 2024 when his second sequential presidential term ends and he is required by the current constitution to stand down. Tuesday’s move,” writes the Journal, “was the latest step in a carefully choreographed process that began in January and has involved a change of government and Russia’s biggest constitutional overhaul since the end of the Soviet Union.”

Now there are some massive issues here in worldview analysis. I want to turn to one in particular. When you look at any long-term civilization, when you look at any civilization that has existed say for a century much less centuries, you see patterns that reveal worldviews. When you look at Russia as it is now, when you remember its existence during much of the 20th centuries, the Soviet Union, and then when you consider its existence prior to the Soviet Union as a totalitarian state under an autocratic czar well, there you come to understand why Russia was a standout from the rest of Europe even during, say the 18th and 19th centuries.

Moscow has ruled with an iron hand, and the argument is that Russia can only be held together and can only be successfully ruled by an autocrat, by an absolute despot, by a totalitarian leader who rules effectively by decree—his word and his word alone is law. If you think about Russian history, you have to understand that the Russians look to czar Peter the Great as the great symbol of their national unity of the high watermark of Russia as an empire.

And of course, they look at someone like Peter the Great, and you even had the Soviet leaders, the general secretaries of the communist party the Soviet Union patterning themselves using the language and symbolism of the czarist rulers they overthrew in the Bolshevik Revolution that of course deposed czar Nicholas the Second and the Romanov dynasty, and eventually led to the murder of Nicholas the Second and his entire family. But Vladimir Putin who has ruled in Russia in one way or another since the year 1999, he poses himself as the new Peter the Great. An absolute autocrat that is absolutely needed by Russia for its existence and national identity.

In his statement to the Russian Duma earlier this week, Putin, speaking of himself, said, “I’m sure the time will come when the highest presidential authority in Russia will not be as they say so personified, not so bound up in a single person.” Of course, he means by a single person, himself. He is the single person to whom the designation of the single person applies.

Later, he explained why he as the single person at the center of Russia must continue. He said, “But that is how all of our past history came together and we cannot of course disregard this.” How do you read that? You read that this way, just as Peter the First or Peter the Great justified his own despotism by the need of holding disparate Russia together, and he did so by expanding the Russian empire and its influence and authority deepening Russian identity in himself, so Vladimir Putin now poses as the new Peter the Great in this case, Vladimir the great, who, like Peter the Great, personifies in his person Russia and is in his person, the man Russia cannot be without—the man to whom the constitution must bend because he is too great to bend to the constitution.

Now the lower parliament there in Russia has already approved Putin’s proposed constitutional revisions. It’s likely that those revisions will be approved by every other responsible party, including the upper house and Russia’s constitutional court because they, after all, already serve Vladimir Putin. They will just continue to do the same and they treat him as if he is the personification of the nation. But we also look to Russia and to the despotism of Vladimir Putin understanding something else, and that is as Winston Churchill famously said, when you decide to ride the tiger, you can never actually decide to get off because the tiger will kill you and consume you. That’s where Vladimir Putin is right now. Anyone who claims and exercises this kind of despotic power and as just about everyone in the world recognizes who has buried so many of his enemies who were murdered in the name of his power and regime, anyone who gets on the back of this tiger can ill afford to get off. As is well documented, it’s very difficult to be a retired dictator. They turn out in most cases not to be found in retirement, but rather in a grave.

Part IV

Secularists Complain Over Bible Verse in High School Locker Room: A Reminder of the Power of Scripture

Finally, as we’re considering how moral change happens within our culture. An interesting story from the Associated Press. It comes from Whitesburg, Kentucky. The headline: “After Receiving Complaint, Kentucky School District Removes Bible Verse from Locker Room.”

The story ran in the Louisville Courier Journal and other newspapers around the country. We’re told, “A Kentucky school district has removed a Bible verse from an athletic locker room after receiving a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The decision,” we’re told, “came after the organization sent a letter to the district stating that the message violated the constitution.” That according to the Letcher County schools superintendent, Denise Yonts. And we are told that the superintendent had officials paint over the verse after consulting with the school board attorney since it wasn’t a student generated display.

That’s a crucial issue by the way. In constitutional law, there can be no limitation upon student initiated speech or at least in theory, there should not be. The footnote there has to be the fact that often there is, but nonetheless, there is a distinction between the speech that is initiated by a student as an American citizen and the speech that is offered on behalf of a school district. But make no mistake, we’re talking about just one verse that didn’t make any straightforwardly say, Christological or Trinitarian claims that was printed on a school wall in a locker room.

But that was simply too much for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That’s an organization of secularists that finds its joy in trying to find every incident in which there can be such a letter sent to a school board demanding that a change be made and warning that the United States Constitution is imperiled by even one verse or a fragment of a verse that might be printed or painted upon a school wall. If nothing else, there are at least two quick lessons in this.

One is how much you can evidently get done just by sending a letter to a school board or to some kind of governmental or quasi-governmental organization. Just say, “You’re violating the constitution. Stop.” Then we also see something else and that is that when you look at even one little verse of Scripture, one fragment, perhaps even of a verse, that is such an irritation to the secular society, or at least to the secularists who are driving so much of the energy in a secular society that they will not evidently be able to sleep until someone paints over that Bible verse. And for Christians, that actually reveals a great deal. Not only about the worldview of the secularists, but about the power of even one verse or the fragment of one verse of the Word of God.

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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