The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, October 16, 2020

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

It’s Friday, October 16, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Undercutting the Legitimacy of the Democratic Process: Both Major Candidates Have Spoken Irresponsibly about the Legitimacy of the 2020 Election

It’s Friday, October 16, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Our constitutional system of government requires elections, and it also requires the legitimacy of elections. This becomes very crucial as we consider politics in the modern American age and in particular, as we think about the 2020 general election in the United States. But this is not an issue that has just immediately arrived. But there are complications in 2020 that Americans have not confronted before. The most important of which is the COVID-19 pandemic, which is leading to the fact that many, if not, almost all of the states are now providing some kind of alternative system of voting rather than having to go into the voting booth on election day and vote in-person. All of that is adding up to a great deal of consternation, and there are at least some who predict it could be a constitutional crisis.

Christians need to think about these issues in advance. For one thing, we start with the premise that voting, the franchise, the constitutional right of citizens to express a vote is very important. And thus we take this stewardship with great seriousness. As we understand this, we understand that we’re not the only one voting. We’re not only the only state voting. We are looking at a general election in the United States. We’re looking at a constitutional system, which means that we cast our vote for president and then for other offices, the United States Senate’s on the line. The entire United States Congress will be elected in this general election.

There are other issues on the ballot and certainly state by state. There are governorships, there are all kinds of issues, all kinds of offices at stake, but there’s also no question that the key issue when it comes to the legitimacy of the election in 2020, has to do with the presidential election, but then coming pretty quickly in the back seat is the destiny of the United States Senate in terms of party control with crucial elections, even special elections that might prove to be absolutely crucial.

There are some huge questions unique to 2020. One of them is the background that we just might not know on election night or even in the early morning hours of November the 4th, who’s been elected president of the United States. Given the focus on that office in our constitution and in our political culture, that’s an absolutely enormous question. And already there are those on both sides who are saying that they are not prepared to accept the legitimacy of the vote if it goes against them. Now, in one sense, this is a violation of American political norms, going back through generations in American public life the legitimacy of elections and of the entire electoral process has been fundamental to our stability as a constitutional republic, as a form of citizen government.

And yet at the same time, there have been electoral controversies before most importantly, you can look to the 1960 presidential election when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated the then incumbent vice president, Richard Nixon, in an election that both sides basically acknowledged now was rigged, at least in part, if not crucially in the area of Illinois, near Chicago on the day of the election. But nonetheless Richard Nixon in an act of unquestioned statesmanship at the time and thereafter conceded the legitimacy of the election even before going to bed on election night, saying that if the polls continue in their current direction, John F. Kennedy would be elected president of the United States.

But then you fast forward to the year 2000 and many Americans are still very much alive now to remember what happened and didn’t happen on election day in 2000. We know only in retrospect that George W. Bush won the election against the again, incumbent vice president of the United States at the time Albert Gore. We know that he won the election in the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote, but Americans didn’t know that for an excruciatingly long period of weeks. Now, one of the statements that was made back in the year 2000 is that our system of electoral democracy really can’t work very well if there is not almost immediate recognition of the fact across the culture that the election was legitimate, and we know the legitimate outcome and thus the American people and the American government can move on. The American government did not move on.

In the year 2000, Bill Clinton was the incumbent president of the United States living out the last few weeks and days of his term and it wasn’t certain for a horrifyingly long period of time who would be his successor. And that would mean whether or not there’s a shift and not only between presidents, but between parties. It turns out that there was, but that took an enormous controversy that eventually was settled only by the United States Supreme Court and even then the controversy continued. But here’s something else to note, even as George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of the election in an ongoing way, but those were relatively minor voices.

That changed in the year 2016. In the 2016 presidential election with Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton, the fact is that even as Hillary Clinton conceded the election on election night, and even as it was clear that President Trump was winning the election, there were many people on the left who denied the legitimacy of the election. Their argument came down to the fact that like George W. Bush, Donald Trump won the presidency by winning in the Electoral college and there, it wasn’t really even close, but he lost the popular vote. So the argument was that it was an illegitimate election and Donald Trump held an illegitimate presidency because he lost the popular vote. Now that’s a huge problem because after all the Electoral College is the constitutional means whereby a president of the United States is elected. The American people do not directly elect the president of the United States. We elect electors state-by-state who then cast the vote for the president. The Electoral College is vital.

And by the way, the left hates the Electoral College because the left wants direct democracy or the closest thing to it. But the problem with direct democracy is that it violates the federal system we have in which we are a union of states, not just a nation of citizens. As a union of states, the only way to prevent the smaller states from being completely ignored and irrelevant in a presidential election is to honor the system of the Electoral College and that was clear back during the time of the framing of the constitution and eventually its ratification in 1789 it was clear that in order to get the smaller states to agree to the constitution, there had to be an electoral college and thus the states have to matter.

To explain the situation another way, if you eliminate the Electoral College, then candidates can give primary attention just to the highly populated states, especially the coastal states, that would be the East Coast and the West Coast. States like California in the West and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and others in the East. You could also add the Southeast to that, but the reality is that by privileging those coastal states with enormous populations, you would actually be shifting the United States further left. Looking at a map of red and blue you would then be tilting the power to the highly populated blue at the expense of the less populated red.

Now clearly for the past four years, President Trump has been resentful about the fact that so many in the left have openly denied the legitimacy of his election and I’ll argue he has good cause in order to have that resentment. But on the other hand, President Trump has made reckless statements for which he’s also accountable. Statements in which he has refused to state that he would acknowledge the outcome of an election if it goes against him. Now there’s more here than just constitutionalism. For one thing, there’s politics in the midst of an election. And here’s something that you’ll see in both the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign. Reporters are going to try to get each to say, “Yes, I’ll recognize the legitimacy of the election if I lose.” But in reality, there’s just a political principle here. It’s almost a political law. Maybe it’s based in reality, maybe it’s based in a little bit of superstition or just public relations, but the fact is no major candidate for the presidency is ever going to concede in public before the election that he or she might lose.

They’ll find some other way to make some kind of statement. They’re not about to say, “Well, if I lose, I lose. I’ll just take that as the voice of the American people.” No, they’re not going to say that. You’re never going to hear that candidate say, “If I lose.” Or if they do say it, they forgot their script and are violating the hopes of their handlers, their public relations and campaign personnel. The fact is candidates aren’t supposed to publicly acknowledge that there is even the remotest possibility that they might lose. But just consider the two major party candidates for the presidency this year. One of them is going to win. The other one is going to lose. So it’s at least a hypothetical possibility for either. Now, considering just that fact, President Trump has refused to state that he would agree to the peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose the election.

Now there could be any number of things going on there for one thing, the president isn’t going to concede that he might lose. As a matter of fact, he tried to correct the question at one point and to deflect it by saying, there’s not going to be a change of power in the first place, there’s going to be a continuation of power because I’m going to be reelected. But the press has jumped on President Trump repeatedly for stating that if he loses, it’s going to be because of fraud. If he loses the election is going to be because it was a stolen election, but at the very same time, former Vice President Biden said recently that if he were to lose the election, it would be because of chicanery at the polls. So looking at this, it’s interesting that both of these candidates has spoken recklessly when it comes to insinuating, if not stating outright, that the only way they could lose is if the election is stolen from them one way or the other.

And again, you have the fact that so many Democrats have been making that argument first about George W. Bush, who clearly won in the Electoral College and Donald Trump, who in 2016, clearly won in the Electoral College. You see many people on the left arguing that the entire American system is now illegitimate because of the nature of the Senate and of the filibuster in the Senate and of the Electoral College and of the Supreme Court. Well, the beat goes on. Let’s at least face honestly what we’re dealing with here. So President Trump has spoken irresponsibly. He has broken some of the norms of the presidency by not stating clearly that he will honor the constitution, he will honor an election. He doesn’t have to say that he’s not going to lose. He can simply say, “I’m going to honor the voice of the people.” I’ve suggested that both candidates could safely and rightly say, and this is not unique to me. This has been something rather traditional in American politics.

They could both say something along these lines. “When we know that the American people have spoken, I will respect their decision.” That’s a very simple thing that both candidates could say. It doesn’t require them to acknowledge that they might lose. All they have to say is that when we know that the American people have spoken, they would respect the decision. Now that also by saying, when we know that the American people have spoken means that might not be on election night. And that’s another issue that simply has to be confronted here. By the way, Hillary Clinton also as was reported by Politico and by mainstream media has advised Biden that he should not concede if the election is close. Now behind that are some very bitter Democratic memories, including 2000 and 2016. But that’s not the kind of advice that also follows the democratic norms that the Democrats accused Donald Trump of violating.

Has Donald Trump violated them? Yes, but so the Democrats, going back to 2000, repeatedly after 2016, and even now. If you’re going to talk about chicanery, if you’re going to say don’t concede if the election is close, well, then you’re basically saying, “I’m not going to accept the voice of the people on those terms until I decide I’m going to accept it.” Both ways it undercuts the legitimacy of the democratic process.

Part II

The Challenges of the Voting Process in a COVID-19 Reality: Why a Delay in Election Results Could Undermine American Confidence in the Vote

But there is another issue and this is very much tied to COVID-19 and to the special conditions of the 2020 general election. Scott Rasmussen, a very prominent pollster and political observer writes, “The disconnect between when votes are cast and when they are counted could create a crisis of legitimacy in the United States.” Now he points to the fact that millions of votes have already been cast in the 2020 elections. He goes on to say, “Tens of millions more will cast their ballots in person between now and November 3.” That’s 18 days away from now. “On top of that untold millions,” he writes, “will send in a ballot by mail then on what America still thinks of as election day, roughly half of all votes will be cast.” That’s a helpful breakdown. On election day in-person, about 50% of the votes are going to be cast. That’s lower than at any point in any previous United States election. That’s beyond doubt, but when you’re looking at 50, 50 and one half, you’re looking at a very sizable question mark thrown into the 2020 presidential equation. As Rasmussen points out, the voting is complicated. The counting could be even more complicated.

He says, “Broadly speaking, there are two scenarios for what will happen next. The first scenario is fairly easy. If Joe Biden maintains his current lead, he will be declared the winner on election night. That’s the way it’s usually worked in the television era.” Rasmussen continues, “However, if the race tightens things will be much different and much more dangerous.” He continues, “If President Donald Trump makes a comeback and polls to within a few points in the national popular vote, we could again be watching just a few key states to determine who will win the electoral college. The states will be similar to 2016–Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, perhaps with Arizona and Minnesota added to the mix.” Now that’s a very crucial point of analysis. Now, just a little more than two weeks before the election. If the election’s close, it’s not going to be close so much nationwide as it’s going to be close for the Electoral College in specific states, which are likely to be very close and very closely contested. And some of those states are the states in which the counting just might be extremely complicated.

A lot of eyes right now are on states like Florida, where the eyes have been before. Just to remember the hanging chads of the year 2000, but beyond Florida, the big question has to be Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania is one of those states that President Trump needs to win if he’s going to win re-election and it’s one of the states that has very little experience with mail-in balloting before, but is going to have to deal with it now. So Pennsylvania is one of those places we’re going to have to watch very carefully and it may be very frustrating on election night. Now here’s another issue. It comes down to this. If you’re looking at any election, at least one dimension of the credibility of the election is that the people who are doing the voting have the satisfaction. I’m not going to say the gratification, but the satisfaction of knowing that their vote was so solidly cast, that it can be legitimately counted expeditiously without delay.

Let me put it another way. The more delay there is the more voters suspect somebody is doing something wrong with the votes. Somebody is counting ballots, wrongly. Some ballots are not being counted. Some ballots are being counted twice. I’ll use Vice President Biden’s word is the opportunity for chicanery. So as we’re thinking about the legitimacy and the confidence of the American people in the election that will take place on November the 3rd, the further we get from November the 3rd to the clear declaration of a winner, the more there will be the opportunity for Americans to lose confidence in the system. But there may be no way around that delay in the 2020 race, because you’re looking at the fact that many of the states in their electoral rules are either way behind or simply not in a good place when it comes to how much voting takes place.

So for example, consider the fact that you have a delay of far too long a time for some states in how long an absentee ballot or a mail-in ballot can come in after election day. I would argue that the legitimacy of the election means that if you’re going to have a process of mail-in balloting, that has to be postmarked at least by election day in order that it can be expeditiously, harvested, and collected in such a way that it can be rightly counted. Holding this out for a matter of more than a week is almost certain to instill uncertainty in the American political confidence.

So, as we’re thinking about the election with all of this in mind, with the legitimacy of the democratic process of elections, absolutely important. We have to understand that we’re looking at a complicated situation, a situation under duress in the year 2020 and that must make us on the one hand, all the more appreciative of our constitutional system of government, all the more invested in the process of voting and all the more hopeful and prayerful that on the other side of this election, we will indeed know that the American people have spoken. And then given our commitment to constitutional self-government we have to say the American people have spoken.

Part III

Plot to Kidnap Governors Northam and Whitmer Is Immoral, Illegal, and Illegitimate: A Republic Cannot Withstand Terrorism From Within

But next, as we’re thinking about political legitimacy, we also have to look at other headline news that the American people have had to confront in the last several days. And this has to do with the fact that federal authorities have arrested 13 men who are charged with terrorism and conspiracy because of at least plans to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan and we now know similar plans perhaps to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Virginia in order to assail the state governments in those states saying that they are now guilty of tyranny. Now, by the way, why those two governors? Well, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Ralph Northam there in Virginia have both been democratic governors who have held very controversial positions during COVID-19. And in particular, Governor Whitmer has held positions that are in the view of many of her own citizens who are not political extremists to be both irrational and unconstitutional.

There have been limitations upon businesses, which seem to make no sense. At one point you could go into the same store and you could buy from this aisle, but not from another aisle as she was making the most arbitrary decisions about which of the products are essential and which are not. There’ve been other restrictions, including restrictions on churches that have been very controversial and public assemblies. And the situation in the United states is right now so politically polarized and politically volatile that there have been all kinds of calls for her removal and opposition. And of course there are a lot of very reasonable citizens who are entirely opposed in Michigan to Governor Whitmer’s policies and the same thing in Virginia to Governor Northam’s policies. But the fact is that it is not legitimate in the United States to simply declare a state to have committed tyranny, and then try to bring about some kind of revolution by force. In any orderly system of government, including a constitutional republic that is known as treason.

Now let’s just think about this. The American founders were charged with treason and in one sense, they did commit treason legally defined by the British government and the British Crown. The fact is that had Americans lost the Revolutionary War, the leaders of the Revolution would have been hung, but they didn’t lose and we have a republic and we are the inheritors of that republic, but this republic cannot stand treason from within that’s why treason remains a very serious federal crime. It’s why we can’t allow terrorism or conspiracy. No responsible government can. But as we’re looking at this, Christians need to understand the fact that as much as we may politically disagree with any elected leader, treason is not an option. Not unless we are willing to say that the entire government of the United States is now a illegitimate and is to be considered of authority, null and void.

But just consider what’s being said when you make that claim. Anything short of that claim, then you are basically acting in a way that must be admitted to be absolutely irresponsible and it does amount to terrorism rather than political honor. But there’s something else to note here. Sometimes you see this kind of militia or violence identified with the left or the right. And in some periods of American history, it’s been on both sides in some periods, more one side than the other. During the period of the 1960s, a lot of the violence was coming from the self-declared left. You had all kinds of organizations putting bombs all across the United States and doing other things and also kidnappings by the way. But now the FBI and federal authorities are saying much of this is coming on the right, but here’s where Christians need to understand that at this point, when you reach the use of this kind of violence, once you enter into terrorism and you enter into conspiracy, it’s really not very applicable to talk about the left or the right.

Let’s just consider something, for example, you want people who will often categorize the fascist movement in Nazi Germany as of the right. Now, there is some reason for that when you’re thinking about the calls for order and the fascist arguments that were made by the Nazi leadership, but remember Nazis stood for national socialism. So on the other hand, when it came to its affirmation of socialism, it was also of the left that’s to say, it’s not neat and clean. What is very clear is that this kind of terrorism and conspiracy is absolutely wrong, immoral, illegal, and illegitimate. And whether it is categorized of the right or of the left, it is completely out of bounds.

Given their political positions in the way they’ve exercised their office, Gretchen Whitmer on a number of issues, Ralph Northam, also in a number of issues, but most importantly to me, the abortion issue, I want to see both governors Whitmer and Northam removed from office, but by the ballot box, not by force.

Part IV

A Sign of the Imago Dei: Our Actions in the Present Have Consequences in the Future, Even if That Action Is Casting Your Ballot

But finally, as the week comes to an end, a fascinating article in the New York Times about older Americans who may be casting by their own acknowledgement their last vote. Who knows? They may vote again, but this may be their last presidential election. The article is by Katie Hafner. The headline, “This Could be Their Last Vote. They Won’t Skip It.” There are many older Americans, even very old Americans who are determined once again to vote, whether they can go to the polling place or whether they’re going to vote by some other means, they are determined to vote.

In worldview analysis there’s a very interesting comment made in this article by a physician who specializes in the treatment of the agent. He says that even as people in their eighties and nineties belong to, what’s been called the “Greatest Generation.” He points out that this is a species issue. That only the human species possesses, what he described as a transcendent dimension. “There’s an awareness that life goes on after we’re gone and that we can do things that will be remembered. Voting is one of those things,” said Dr. Banes. “The idea is, ‘I might not be around for what happens after the votes are counted, but at least I know that I put a footprint in the future,'” Now here you have this physician referring to humanity as the only species that possesses a transcendent dimension that understands the future. By the way, he’s onto something there. But this has to do as Christians understand with the Imago Dei, the image of God. We are indeed the only species, the only being more rightly put, who looks to the future and understands that our actions in the present have importance in the future.

The first person quoted in this article is a woman by the name of Annamarie Eggert, who we are told has voted in every presidential election since 1948 when she cast her first ballot for Harry S. Truman. Now she’s 94, but she is determined to vote in this election too. So she’s voted in every election since 1948, and she cast her ballot then for Harry S. Truman. Now, yesterday, Mary’s mom, my wife’s mom, Mary Kaylor here in Louisville, Kentucky celebrated her 96th birthday. And I asked her which election was her first election when she voted for a president of the United States. And like Ms. Eggert described in this article, she said it was in 1948. She was a newly minted citizen of the United States. Then a young Mary Trott who had come from Canada and was now a naturalized American citizen voting in her very first presidential election.

I asked her when the election took place and for whom she voted, she said it was in 1948 and she voted for the Republican candidate and she’s become a very staunch Republican voter. She voted for the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey. And that’s when I noticed that Mary Trott and Annamarie Eggert canceled each other out in the 1948 election with Ms. Eggert voting for Harry Truman and Ms. Trott, now Mary Kaylor, having voted for Thomas E. Dewey. But then again, remember the Electoral College Ms. Eggert voted for Harry S. Truman in Maine, but Maine still went for Thomas E. Dewey. And Dewey also carried Michigan. So both Maine and Michigan were in the Dewey column, but then you’ll remember that even as one major newspaper in Chicago rushed with the story declaring in a headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” actually Truman defeated Dewey.

So I’ll simply end by saying happy voting, Nana. We love you, now Great Nana, and happy 96th birthday. How many of us will ever hear those words?

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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