The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 25, 2020

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

It’s Friday, September 25, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

We’re All Pauline Kael Now? America’s Deep Political Divide Is Also a Personal Divide

This has been a phenomenal week in terms of news and issues over the last several days. Some of it datelined right here in Louisville, Kentucky. That story continues. And of course, the stage is set with high drama for tomorrow’s announcement by the White House. As the president of the United States has said that he will on Saturday nominate the newest justice to the United States Supreme Court to fill the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is going to be a very interesting day. I’ve talked a good deal about the process and where we are right now. At this point, the best thing to do is to wait for the president to make his announcement. And then we will look to a full analysis on Monday morning’s edition of The Briefing.

But right now, at the end of this week, I want to step back and look at some big issues that don’t make the headlines as often as some others. And one of the things we’re looking at is the fact that as we are at this point in the 2020 American Presidential Election, there are some fascinating patterns out there to which we ought to give some attention. Here’s one of them. Philip Bump writing for The Washington Post offers a headline story called, “Three-quarters of Americans know only a few people who support the candidate they themselves oppose.” Now it might be that that headline could have been written more economically, but we get the point. According to this particular article, based upon a study, three-quarters of Americans, roughly 75% of all Americans really don’t know many people who are going to vote for the opposing candidate to the one of the citizens choice.

Now this is news. It really is news. And it’s interesting. I think it’s interesting. It’s interesting that Americans have sorted themselves to this extent that even in our friends and acquaintances, we’re not looking at a pattern that is politically predictable. That’s very interesting. Why is it that we would choose friends or at least no friends in the main who have the same political views as we do, at least are voting for the same presidential candidate. To phrase the question the other way, why do so few of us have close friendships with people who hold diametrically opposing political views? Now there’s an interesting presumption in this headline or even imposing those questions. And that is that we would in a normal state of affairs, have friends and acquaintances that we are close to and regularly see and converse with, who would differ from us on fundamental issues.

Now, I think that’s a premise that was probably flawed from the beginning. Certainly when it comes to the workplace, you’re going to find at least in many workplaces, a mixed environment, when it comes to neighborhoods, at least in many neighborhoods, you’re going to find a mixed environment. The same might be true for the local PTA meeting or other kinds of assembly. But in the main we have to admit for a very long time, there are some very predictable patterns when it comes to even where people live. And the kinds of jobs they hold and the kinds of political views that are demonstrated in their vote in a Presidential Election. But let’s look to the article by Phillip Bump. He says this: “With only about 45 days until the 2020 presidential election, we might as well offer our quadrennial explanation of what Pauline Kael actually said in 1972.”

Now you’ve got to be pretty interested in politics to know the name Pauline Kael, pretty interested in politics or in the theater. Because back in the 1970s, Pauline Kael was a theater critic for the New York Times. Why in the world are we talking about are here because she either said, or was said to have said, one of the most interesting political statements of the 20th century. It was this, when Richard Nixon was elected president, reelected on the scale of his reelection by a landslide in 1972, Pauline Kael was said to have said that it could not have happened. Why could it not have happened? Because Pauline Kael said she didn’t know anyone who voted for Richard Nixon. Now that particular quotation, whether it actually happened in those words or not, well, it’s entered America’s political imagination. Because it tells us that as far back as 1972, the theater critic for the New York Times didn’t know anyone who voted for Richard Nixon.

And Richard Nixon didn’t squeak by in that election, he won by an overwhelming landslide, which means that that quotation actually says more about the person who said it than about the people of whom it was said. But Pauline Kael was also not speaking from say, Wichita, Kansas. She was speaking from Manhattan. And it’s safe to say that Manhattan in 1972 overwhelmingly democratic did not vote overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate incumbent President Richard Nixon. No, the fact that Pauline Kael worked for the New York Times, that tells you something already politically significant, even in 1972. The fact that she didn’t just work for the New York Times, but was a theater critic, the artistic community, wow, that tells you something very significant even in 1972. The fact that she thus lived in Manhattan tells you more. And the fact that she is quoted in this sense tells you something else.

People cared what Pauline Kael thought and what she evidently thought was Richard Nixon could not have been elected because I don’t know anyone who voted for him. But Phillip Bump raised that anecdote in order to point to new research in the Pew Research Center, the pollsters ask Americans were told, who they supported in the upcoming Presidential Election, President Trump or former vice president, Joe Biden. And then they were asked how many of their friends supported the same candidate or the other, “Nearly 9-in-10 Trump and Biden supporters said that a lot or some of their friends supported the same candidate as they did. About three-quarters said that they knew at most a few people who supported the candidate that they didn’t — and about 40 percent of each group knew no one at all who supported the other candidate.”

Now The Washington Post thinks this is a big story. And honestly, I think it’s a big story too. I don’t think it’s a particularly new story, but it is probably the case that the trends that we’ve seen in American society over the last several decades have become even more acute. Now, this has been referred to by some economists as “the big sort,” Americans sorting themselves out. Now, sorting themselves out how? Well by where we live for one thing, as you’re looking at the map of the United States, an awful lot of the United States and land territory is deep red, politically, it is solidly Republican. The two coasts and many academic centers, and for that matter, many centers of the cultural creatives, they are deep blue. You can also have a deep red state historically, and historically is a key word there like Texas. But then you can have very blue places in Texas, like say Austin, the state Capitol and home of the University of Texas. Neither is an accident.

You can also look at some blue states that are trending a bit red suburb by suburb and rural areas, and by the way, rural areas are redder than more urban areas. The map shifts from red to blue and to points in between, as you go from more clearly rural to more clearly metropolitan or urban America, you could sort Americans by another sense, education. Americans are highly sorted up by education. And that shows up in one thing more than anything else. And that would be marriage patterns. People tend to marry in a way that fits their respective educational levels. When you look at economics again, Americans are sorted out. Some of that is simply by virtue of the fact that over here is a neighborhood with $600,000 houses and over here’s a neighborhood with a very different real estate profile. And because of that, Americans are sorted out.

American sort themselves out educationally when it comes to where they send their children to school. They used to be that the public schools were the great common schools gathering all the kids together, it’s really not that case so much anymore. American sort themselves out on one day, more than any other, what would that day be? It would be Sunday. And what you’re looking at is that American sort themselves out on the basis of which Americans go to church and which Americans do not. And as Robert Putnam and his team, working at Harvard, years ago demonstrated one of the most crucial questions in predicting how a presidential vote will go is whether or not the voter attended church services the very previous Sunday. That is a very clear issue of sorting. But we sort ourselves out in what are called mediating institutions, free associations.

We sort ourselves out in clubs. We also sort ourselves out in jobs. You’re looking at the fact that as you look at certain job types, they tend to vote more blue or red. It’s not universal. But nonetheless it’s a generalized pattern, American sort themselves out by other means, and of course you add to that identity politics, and yet the bottom line is this, that sorting has been going on for a long time, but it’s becoming more and more acute with every passing year. Every four years when a general election comes up, well, it turns out more and more of us are Pauline Kael. But as a Christian, thinking about this in worldview terms and explicitly in worldview terms, we understand there’s more to it than that. And we understand that many of our friendships and deep affinities are indeed based upon sharing a worldview. We share a basic understanding of the world. We share a basic set of presuppositions and more and more in America, we are sorted out by the moral positions that we hold.

And again, that has a deep worldview foundation. We understand that. Now that’s not to say that most of us don’t know anyone who’s going to vote for the opposing candidate in the upcoming election. But the fact is, even as you look inside families, as you look inside kinship structures, as you look inside voluntary associations and even neighborhood by neighborhood, there’s increasing predictability.

And so in some, I think The Washington Post article is news. I just don’t think it’s new news. I think it’s giving us an update on a picture that we’ve been following for some time now. I think that the key issue here about 75% is rather interesting that about 75% of us really don’t have many deep relationships with people who are going to vote the opposite way. But that just underlines the fact that the Presidential Election choice is actually a part of a larger set of issues and convictions, political positions, ideological points. The presidential election just focuses all of those issues, but let’s face it, focus those issues it does.

Part II

From Deep Red to Purple to Deep Blue: Why Neither Biden or Trump is Spending Campaign Cash or Calendar in Virginia

But next also trying to understand the world around us in worldview terms, I want us to look to a particular state, the state of Virginia. The newspaper is the same. The Washington Post in this case, Laura Vozzella is the reporter. The headline, “No TV ads, no presidential visits: Virginia’s era as a swing state appears to be over.” Now, here’s the basic fact of politics, how do you know that you are in a swing state? Well, you see a lot of political commercials, presidential candidates come and make visits. The media are there talking about how people in your state are going to vote. But if you’re in a deeply red state, you’re actually seeing fewer political commercials than you would otherwise. If you’re in a deeply blue state exactly the same.

There is no reason, no reason at all for Joe Biden to spend one more dollar as he is extending campaign funds for voters in the state of Massachusetts. Massachusetts is going to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. All he can do is run up numbers that won’t matter. The same thing is true for Donald Trump in Alabama. If you’re in Alabama, you are not seeing as many political commercials as you would be seeing if you lived in Wisconsin. Why? Because Alabama, deep red, there’s no reason for the Trump campaign to spend another dime in the state of Alabama. It needs to marshal its resources and it needs to spend those funds in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, not Alabama. So the Biden campaign doesn’t need to spend anything in Massachusetts. The Trump campaign doesn’t need to spend anything in Alabama and evidently neither one is spending much of anything in Virginia. What does that tell us?

Well, it tells us about big changes in the United States. From 1968 until just very recently, Virginia was deep red, nearly universally red, when it came to presidential elections. It voted Republican consistently from 1968 until the present. But then people began to know that Virginia was turning purple. Now what’s purple in politics? Well, that’s the red of the Republicans and the blue of the Democrats mixing together for some time. A swing state or a transitional area is purple. And so people have been saying for some time, Virginia is trending purple. But it’s not purple anymore. It actually was never purple for long. It has shifted from red to blue. Clearly red to clearly blue in one single decade, maybe even less. This is a big shift just in the last 12 years. 12 years ago in 2008, Barack Obama ended his presidential campaign for office for his first term in Virginia.

His last campaign stop in Virginia. Four years later, both President Obama and his challenger, former Massachusetts governor, currently senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, “made more visits and aired more television ads here,” meaning Virginia, “than nearly anywhere else.” And even in 2016, just the last presidential election, President Trump staged rally after rally in Virginia. And in order to try to reach Virginia, Hillary Clinton chose a Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. That’s how crucial Virginia was not 40 years ago, four years ago. But even as the Democrats claimed to Virginia in 2016, the fact is they don’t even have to work for it in 2020. How in the world, can you explain that much political change in four years? Is it that a lot of Virginians have been persuaded to switch their vote from red to blue, from Republican to Democrat? No, there’s not much of that at all.

Instead, it is people now living in Virginia and thus voting in Virginia, who did not live in Virginia back in 2016 or 2012 or 2008, Virginia has been changing. But it’s been changing by migration into the state from other areas. And this is where the pattern gets even more interesting. People are not really migrating into Western Virginia. They’re not migrating into the Virginia mountains by enlarge, they are migrating into the areas of Virginia around Washington, DC. It is the DC suburbs that have become the great magnet. And here’s another issue that comes down to The Big Sort. When you look at an area of burgeoning population around Washington DC, what do you see? You see an inordinate amount of the economy tied to federal spending, which means you’ve got a lot to local economic momentum and house prices and all the rest built upon continually expanding government spending. Which is to say, you’re looking at an area that is likely to be blue and getting bluer rather than red and getting redder.

And furthermore, you’re also looking at the influx of two other issues that are interesting. One is those who are rather highly educated and they’re moving into this area of Virginia, the crucial in this case, because they’re joining a part of the knowledge economy there. There’s a specific level of educational attainment that is required to enter into that knowledge economy. The second thing is the technology sector, which is now growing fast in Northern Virginia, not accidentally because of the government spending and the proximity to Washington DC. But even as when we discuss that first story about The Big Sort, the reality is that the technology sector also tends to be blue. And in many cases, extremely blue, very liberal.

One final issue to add to the mix of northern Virginia is that as you’re looking at the technology sector and the knowledge economy is you’re looking at this rapid expansion of the population there, much of the population is also young. And as you look at political sorting, right now in America, the young are more likely to be blue. And many of them are likely to be very blue, blue. Here’s another factor that ought to be easy to figure out, you don’t care much about the stock market, unless you own stocks. As a young person if you don’t have any investment in that part of the economy, you’re not really very worried about it. Which is to say, that the closer you get to your own retirement plan, the more conservative you tend to become politically. But there’s more to it than that. And for Christians, this is even more interesting. And for that matter, concerning because this kind of sorting also comes down, as we said to marriage and to marital status.

And here’s a factor that the biblical worldview helps us to understand. When one gets married and I mean, really married, biblically married, then one tends to become more conservative than when one was single. Now, why would that be so? It is because marriage is a part of adulthood. It is a part of taking on adult responsibility and it means I can no longer just think for myself, I have to think for another.

But then even more significant than marriage is parenthood. Once you add parenthood to the equation, people turn out to be quite a bit more conservative than if they didn’t have children. And furthermore, and this is a chicken or egg question, which comes first, the more children people have, the more conservative they tend to be. Which is to say the larger your sphere of personal concern, the more you care about the larger society, the kind of economy that it’s going to have, whether your children are going to be well taken care of, whether they’re going to grow up to be responsible adults.

You’re going to care about their education, you’re going to care about their clothing, you’re going to care about your children. And that’s going to affect your political votes. So when you get closer to a place with a lot of young adults who are single and childless expect the area to get blue and the bluer. Where you get to an area where you see a lot of swing sets in the backyard, basketball goals by the driveway, where you see a lot of minivans and you know there are a lot of children, you’re looking at what is predictably a lot redder and perhaps getting more red.

So Virginia has gone from real red to real blue in what politically is just the twinkling of an eye. Between 2016 and 2020 people in Virginia see it because of what they’re not seeing. They’re not seeing presidential candidates. Neither one needs to spend any time in Virginia. Biden doesn’t need to spend any time there because he can count on it. President Trump doesn’t need to spend any time there because there’s very little likelihood he could get it. He’ll spend his time elsewhere. And both are spending their campaign money for advertising elsewhere.

Part III

What Happened? After 90 Years of Endorsing Republican Presidential Candidates, The Los Angeles Times Only Endorses Democratic Presidential Candidates Now

But next we’re going to shift coasts. We’re going to go from Virginia to Los Angeles in particular, in the state of California, one newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. And what’s made news there in Los Angeles that deserves our attention is not the fact that the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board has endorsed Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, no brainer there. You figured that out. But the point is this for most of its history and especially over the course of the last several decades, the Los Angeles Times had endorsed only Republican candidates for a very, very long time. And just recently, after the Editorial Board endorsed Joe Biden, well, the Editorial Board put out a statement on the fact that the Los Angeles Times used to endorse only Republicans for president.

And the Editorial Board asked the question, “What changed?” The editors wrote this, “For 90 years….” Let me just pause there, 90 years, that’s a long time in American history. “For 90 years — from its founding in 1881 until Richard M. Nixon’s reelection in 1972 — the Los Angeles Times was unwavering in backing Republican nominees for president. Since it resumed endorsements in 2008, it has backed Democratic nominees: Barack Obama (twice), Hillary Clinton and now Joe Biden.” The editors asked the question, “What changed? What happened in between? And what is a newspaper editorial anyway?” Well, you know what an editorial is, and it’s a statement of the editorial position of the Editorial Board. So that’s what we understand to be the modern newspaper format. And the claim is made that the editorial team is separate from the reporting team.

I’ve raised issues about just how separate they can be. But nonetheless, the issue here is that in a very liberal state, the nation’s most populous state, the most influential newspaper, the Los Angeles Times for 90 years endorsed only Republicans, but it’s a far cry from the imagination to figure out how that newspaper would ever endorse a Republican again. And the editors asked the question, what happened? Will they answer the question that from the end of the Civil War onward in California, Republicans were the dominant party. And they were for a very, very long time. So much so, that many conservatives forget the fact that the two waves of conservatism that shaped the last part of the 20th century, both came out of California. In particular out of places like Orange County, California. That will be the wave that produced California Senator Richard Nixon onto the world stage and former California Governor Ronald Reagan to two terms in the United States presidency.

There’s an historic reason for the Los Angeles Times. As the Board tells us from 1882, until 2000, the Los Angeles Times was controlled by the Otis Chandler family. They go on to tell us that Patriarch Harrison Gray Otis was a former Civil War commander. And that would mean Union commander and the following leaders of the newspaper were the male heirs of Mr. Otis. Mr. Otis was a Republican. The newspaper was Republican, solidly Republican.

The newspaper, the Los Angeles Times was so Republican that it endorsed every challenger to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, period. It endorsed Thomas Dewey against Harry Truman, twice. It endorsed President Eisenhower twice. And perhaps most stunningly to people reading the Los Angeles Times today in 1964, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board endorsed Barry Goldwater for president of the United States. The paper also endorsed Richard Nixon for president twice. And of course, Nixon was elected to that office twice.

But thereafter the paper took a hiatus from making any endorsements, either for California Governor or for the office of President of the United States. But it changed all that when it endorsed Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee twice. And then Hillary Clinton in 2016. And now as we know, Joe Biden in 2020. So a paper that was exceedingly red for nine decades is now solidly blue. The paper asked what happened? Now, here’s what happened that isn’t really in the article by the Los Angeles Times. And that is California changed, overwhelmingly. Over a longer period time, what we see in California, isn’t even bigger story than what we saw in Virginia. California is now such a liberal state, that it is virtually inconceivable that a Republican could win statewide office in the state, much less that the Republican would win the presidential election.

But before leaving this editorial in Los Angeles Times that now endorses Joe Biden as president in the 2020 Election, I just want to that it endorsed him rather awkwardly. If you have to run a headline, “Joe Biden isn’t just ‘Anybody but Trump.’ He’s the right fit for our polarized time.” Well, that doesn’t sound like it’s exuding an enormous amount of confidence. And let me put it this way, I’ll call this Mohler’s law of politics for this week. If you have to say, we’re not endorsing this person because he is anyone but Trump, it just might be that in essence, you are endorsing him because he’s anyone but Trump. Or to put it another way, if you want to be taken seriously, don’t tell us what you’re not doing as you go on to do it.

Part IV

“Polyamorous” Frogs in the Amazon—Who Knew? There’s More to This Headline Than the Science Of Frogs

But finally, we’re going to leave “the big sort.” We’re going to leave Virginia. We’re going to leave Los Angeles and go to polyamorous frogs.

How in the world do we get there? Well, some science websites have been running a news story in recent days. I’ll go to the one from “PopSci” that is Popular Science. Here’s the headline, “Longterm polyamory seems to work just fine for these frogs.” And yes, as this edition of The Briefing and this week of The Briefing comes to an end, we’re down to this, talking about polyamorous frogs. Kate Bagley is the reporter for the story. And she tells us, “For male members of the tropical frog species Thoropa taophora, also known as goat frogs, the breeding season is filled with responsibilities. During this ten-month long period, males must do typical frog duties like stake out and defend their territories but they must also navigate an unusually complicated romantic arrangement.” Now, what would that unusually complicated frog romantic arrangement be? Well, it turns out that there is one male frog with numerous female frogs.

This made news, according to the journal Science Advances because, “These frogs, which are native to Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, are the first known case of an amphibian species in which males maintain lasting relationships with more than one female mate.” Later, we’re told that scientists were surprised because “people don’t think of frogs as being like this.” That said by a biologist at Cornell University, we also have this line in the article, “Fidelity is not unheard of in the amphibian world; mimic poison frogs form monogamous partnerships and share parental duties.” Now, you might wonder how do human beings actually know this? The next paragraph answers the question. Stay tuned: “To better understand the sex lives of these unusual frogs, she and her colleagues”–that means the researcher from Cornell, Kelly Zamudio, she and her colleagues–“recorded the amphibians at 10 breeding sites, Thoropa taophora tadpoles hatch and spend their early lives in freshwater seeps trickling over the surfaces of rocky outcrops using their muscular tails to glide over the human stones.”

The male frogs, in this case, aren’t merely responsible for reproduction. They’re also responsible for overseeing the eggs. They have to chase off intruders “including other males intending to gobble up the eggs or tadpoles.” But it’s not just intruding males that you have to watch out for with this species, it is also females, other than the female who laid the eggs. They sometimes come and begin, “To snack on eggs.” But the whole point of the article is that in this Brazilian rain forest, there are found frogs that have a polyamorous polygamous, that is you have a male in this case with several different female partners and they’re involved in reproduction. They are polyamorous and they’re doing just fine, says this headline as frogs in the Amazonian rain forest. The conclusion of the article goes back to the Cornell University researcher who said, “I bet it’s been underappreciated and it’s out there in some of the species that have more specialized reproductive needs. We just haven’t found it yet.”

Okay. I guess it makes sense that you would have human researchers looking at the sex lives of Amazonian frogs. I get that. And I also get when they would note when there are unusual reproductive patterns among these frogs. Okay. I understand that. That’s science. But that doesn’t explain why there’s so much interest in a headline about long-term polyamory seeming to work just fine for these frogs. And that’s the world viewpoint I want to make. The interest in the polyamory is not really so much about the frogs as it is about the sexual revolution taking place around us. Polyamory is the next frontier. And one of the ways that those who’ve been trying to push for these revolutions in sexual morality, one of the things they’ve tried to use as the argument, “Hey, we just found it in nature. If it’s found in nature, it’s natural.” Well, number one, Christians understand that nature does reveal God’s intention, but we’re looking at fallen creation, and that has to be taken into account.

But the other thing is frogs don’t have to live by the 10 Commandments. Frogs are not made in the image of God and frogs will not face the final judgment seat of Christ and answer for their polyamorous behavior. Human beings aren’t frogs and frogs aren’t human beings. But that tells us a lot about our species, not this Brazilian frog species. That polyamory is almost certain these days to make the headlines. And that’s where this week ends.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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