The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Americans Are Going to the Polls Today—Well, At Least Some Americans Still Are: The Erosion of Election Day in the United States

We have seen this coming for a very long time, and we have known even from the start that it would turn out to be historic and urgently important. We’re talking about the arrival of Election Day 2020 in the United States of America with importance to all 50 of our states and with dramatic importance concerning the future of our nation.

By the time we arrive at this general election in the year of our Lord 2020, it is clear that the American people will face a very stark choice, a choice between not only two candidates, the incumbent President of the United States, Republican Donald J. Trump, or the former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, who is the Democratic nominee. One of them and only one of them will be inaugurated on the 20th of January of the year 2021. One and only one of them will be president of the United States, then for the next four years, or at least to have been elected to a four year term.

Between now and then there are several different milestones, but the most important milestone is actually today. And as the day dawns and unprecedented, 19 million plus Americans have already voted. Nothing like this has ever happened in the United States, and it’s at least largely explicable in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not entirely. Over the course of the last several decades, there has been in erosion of sorts and the idea of an election day with people voting in person at polling places in all 50 states. There is a real loss in not having Americans physically going to the polls on the same day. That’s a big exercise in the visible process of democratic self-government.

The loss of that means that the actual experience of voting is now being redefined. Most important of course, is the vote itself and having the vote accurately counted. But we’re looking at the fact that as Americans have eroded the idea of voting day and as American state by state have adopted new and sometimes rather controversial alternative forms of voting, the reality is that in the digital age, it’s unlikely that America will ever revert to the old election day pattern. But with election day upon us, and with all those alternative forms of voting in place in so many jurisdictions, the fact is that there are two huge questions now looming over the process.

Number one, how long will it take for the votes to be counted, and when counted to be reported. And secondly, how much confidence will the American people have that every vote was counted, rightly counted and counted in a way that builds confidence in the American electoral process. Now those are big questions and we’re going to have to be watching very, very closely. It is an ominous sign that both sides have basically lawyered up months ago to be able to fight jurisdiction by jurisdiction and state by state, if necessary, over the election results. That’s not a very pretty picture, but it’s actually what we are likely to be looking at over very tense days to follow the general election today.

There is also that second question and that has to do with whether or not long-term, we’re going to see a further erosion of voting day and a near comprehensive embrace in a digital age of alternative forms of voting. But of course, there are just huge questions about all of this, the experience of voting, the credibility of the election, the integrity of our system of government. There are also some other big issues we just need to consider. For one thing, Americans are absolutely exhausted by the 2020 election.

This has been building election by election in the United States for a matter of decades. These elections are now consuming so much of the cultural attention, so much of the national oxygen, that other issues are simply being pressed to the margins, and furthermore, we have turned our system into a situation in which you have candidates who are running, and the running becomes in many cases, even more consuming than the governing or the legislating once a winner is elected.

As we stated yesterday on The Briefing, the next election begins even before this election is over, and so does the fundraising, and so do the political strategies, and all the rest. Left behind sadly is much of the responsibility of government itself. But we’re going to have to take some time in weeks and months ahead to review how these issues unfold in the 2020 election. For now, we’ve got to get through this day and we have to hope that Americans will in an orderly and respectful way go to the polls and conduct the election process, and on the other end, count the votes accurately and report them in a timely manner and help to build confidence in the entire American electoral system.

By late last night, the campaigning is supposed to be over, the overt politicking. The reason for that is that by tradition and by law, overt political campaigning activity is not to take place on election day. So last night Air Force One landed, the Biden presidential campaign plane landed, and in the landing of those two planes was the landing of two contentious campaigns, and that is because in our electoral system, which does present what comes down to a binary, that’s especially true in the electoral college where the winner will eventually be a Democrat or a Republican.

In our political system, this means oppositional politics. Now you can look at this, and on the one hand, you can say that oppositional politics is simply very fractious, it becomes very argumentative, it can be deeply divisive and therefore is unhealthy, but we do as Christians need to understand in worldview analysis that the lack of contentious politics can be an even bigger problem. What do I mean? I mean that it is even more dangerous if this kind of collision of political worldviews, policies and personalities, candidates and parties is not allowed.

We can put it another way. We could come up with a political system that would not allow this kind of partisan divide, this kind of oppositional politics, but that would not be any kind of form of electoral politics consistent with not only our constitution, but with the founding vision of this country. Now, there are limitations on that, and those limitations were expressed most eloquently by the nation’s first president, George Washington, who had warned the nation against the fractious development of partisan politics, the rise of political parties.

But by the time President Washington had offered that warning, it was already too late and President Washington had to know it. He was himself, even as he was going out of office effectively, the head of the party that would become known as the Federalist Party. It wouldn’t have existed without him and his administration was marked by Federalist arguments and largely Federalist appointees. And so even by the time he warned against the development of parties, the reality is that the parties had already developed, but the downside was also very clear and that is, that when you do have partisan politics, it can be something of a winner-take-all situation, and the stakes are extremely high.

Now, as Christians let’s think about an analogy that is also very important. When we talk about denominations in the United States or the American system of religious denominations, just think of Protestant Christianity, all the very many different denominations. There are people who will say, well, all that division is unhealthy. It’s a slight or a sin against the unity of the church as Christ had proclaimed it. But at the same time, we understand that denominations are the result of a simple mathematical formula, religious conviction, plus religious liberty equals denomination, because that means that believers who hold the same beliefs, and let’s face it.

If you have a biblical Presbyterian and a biblical Lutheran and a biblical Baptist, they’re not going to deny each other the integrity and power and authenticity of the gospel, but they are going to establish their congregations at different terms on issues as important as whether or not you’re going to have a Bishop when it comes to the Lutherans, whether or not you’re going to baptize babies, Lutherans and Presbyterians over against the Baptist. When you look at that, you recognize that if you do have a legitimate difference of conviction, doctrinal conviction, and you do have the gift of religious liberty, then congregations can establish themselves.

They don’t need permission. They need no licensure from the state. You can have honest doctrinal disagreements and churches can share a block and a city square that can be right next to each other. They can choose to cooperate or not to cooperate, because in a situation of religious freedom, that is simply the unprecedented opportunity. The same thing is true when it comes to politics. If you have true political liberty and you have a constitutional system of government in which you have citizens with the power to vote, those citizens have an undeniable right to associate themselves together.

There’s the freedom of association right there in the bill of rights, and a political party comes down to an association of like-minded voters who joined together to affirm certain common principles and then to support certain common candidates. That’s the very definition of a political party. Now, by the time you get to the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States at the national state or local level in 2020, you’re talking about massive networks, but it all comes down to that freedom of association in the context of political liberty.

And as we’re seeing in the 2020 presidential election, we’re looking at a very honest disagreement on basic principles, not dimension, just assorted policies. So in this light, the two political parties are basically the two most significant political denominations in the United States.

Part II

Political Denominations? A Look at the Two-Party Political System in America

The presidential election is of course the most important issue on the ballot, and it is going to be the primary, indeed the nearly solitary, preoccupation of many as they watch the election returns come in. And of course, they may come in well into the night tonight. They will, in some cases, assuredly now, take days.

Again, I believe that, that represents a real challenge to the integrity of public confidence in the election process, but nonetheless, that’s where we are. And as the presidential results come in tonight, insofar as they do come in tonight, and I hope that most of the election is clear as of tonight, but that’s not a clear expectation at this point, Americans are going to be looking particularly at certain states early in the process. The most important of those states to be watched is the state of Florida. Because looking at the electoral map, it’s not just the number of electors represented by Florida, it’s the fact that Florida is going to be the great indicator state.

Most of Florida’s citizens will have voted by 7:00 Eastern time. Portions of the panhandle will close the polls an hour later, but that means that sometime, well, before say 11:00 or 12:00, we could have a pretty good idea of how the election is going to turn out in Florida, and Florida, which remember was notoriously the site of election confusion 20 years ago in the 2000 election. It is expected that, that will not be the case in 2020. So what will we learn?

Well, looking at Florida, it comes down to this. It’s hard to overestimate how important winning Florida is to president Trump’s plan to reach 270 plus votes in the electoral college. If Florida does not go to president Trump and instead goes to Joe Biden, that makes Biden’s effort to challenge president Trump and win election more likely, and makes president Trump’s reelection less likely. That raises the tension. Two other states to watch are North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Again, extremely important, especially to the Trump campaign.

But on the other hand, those are two states that we already know will not have all their votes counted anytime close to tonight. It is going to be extended for a number of days. In the case of one of those states up to 12 days after the polls closed today. We’re looking at a situation in which clarity from North Carolina and Pennsylvania will be unlikely except based on exit polling. For whatever value, it’s determined that, that will turn out to be. But a surprising state moved into this list of early states to watch is going to be the state of Georgia. Now, even a couple of weeks ago, we wouldn’t have expected to be saying that, and it’s not at all clear that Georgia really is in play, but it is clear that at least some of the polling is indicating that it is at least possible that Georgia could fall back into the Democratic column in the 2020 election.

If that happens, the path to victory for president Trump becomes all the more difficult. If president Trump holds onto Georgia, it means that the night is going to continue, the election goes on, and we’ll be looking at successive states, including strategically as we go from east to west, states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, well, as you know, every single state is important, but some of them are so solidly blue or so solidly red that there’s actually not a great deal of suspense. Where there is suspense, well, folks, tonight there might be a lot of suspense and that suspense may continue for days ahead. Let’s hope we’re only talking about days ahead.

But another thing to watch is that prognostications in polls sometimes turn out to be flat wrong. They certainly did in 2016 and no amount of explanation from the pollsters is likely to overcome the public’s recognition that they had aired so badly in 2016. But looking at this, we need to recognize that no one actually knows. There is a path to victory for Joe Biden? Yes. There’s a path to victory for Donald Trump? Yes. And here’s something else to consider, and this is just vitally important in both campaigns, know it, but especially the Trump campaign.

The turnout in the election today, the actual in-person turnout of the elections and polling places today could turn out to be absolutely decisive, not only state by state, but eventually at the national level. Even as more than 19 million Americans have voted, that means that tens of millions of Americans have not yet voted. And given the campaign strategy of the Republican nominee, president Donald Trump, he is clearly hoping for a massive in-person vote, which he thinks will represent the possibility of a Republican wave.

Part III

The Vitally Important Future of the U.S. Senate: Will There Be a One-Party Juggernaut Controlling the White House, Senate, and House?

But as Christians think about the election, we need to recognize that second only to the election of the president is the future of the United States Senate, which party has the majority of those Senate seats, and thus will be in the leadership position in the majority, and will be able to set the legislative agenda for the United States Senate, the upper house of the United States Congress. This in historical terms may turn out to be almost as important as the presidential election.

The easiest way to think about this as just mathematical. You have on the one hand the presidency, which party has it? Is it Democrat or Republican? Is it Joe Biden or is it Donald Trump? And if either of them is elected, which party has the majority in the Senate? Is it the Democrats, or is it the Republicans? If you have a Republican president reelected, and president Trump, it will be incredibly significant to find out whether or not president Trump has a Republican majority in the Senate upon which he can depend, or whether he’s facing a Democratic majority, which will mean an almost certain political deadlock in Washington, but it’s even more ominous looking at it the other way.

If Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee is elected, will he have a Senate under Republican or under Democratic leadership? Well, it comes down to this. If Joe Biden is elected president as the Democrat and the Democrats already have rather conclusive power in the United States House of Representatives, if they also gain control of the United States Senate, then you’re going to be looking at a one party government with the party moving far to the left as fast as it can with a very ambitious legislative and policy agenda that it will then force through with a level of unprecedented change in the United States.

I would argue that conservative Christians must care deeply about the future of the United States Senate, maintaining not only a Republican majority, but a very clear pro-life religious liberty committed Republican majority in the United States Senate. If that majority is lost, and if indeed what would be at the same time likely, and that would be the election of Joe Biden as president, then we would be looking at a political juggernaut. So what to watch tonight, well, look to the state of Maine, where it is expected that Republican Susan Collins is likely to lose her effort for another six year term.

The same thing is true for Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, another Republican, and Martha McSally, Republican Senator of Arizona, all three of them gravely endangered, but there’s another Senator who is the most endangered member of the United States Senate. And he’s not a Republican, he’s a Democrat. That would be Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama who is a Democratic Senator in a deep red state, only by what amounts to a political accident. That accident is likely to be corrected very quickly today.

So in the current United States Senate, the Republicans have 53 seats, the Democrats have 47 seats, technically it’s 45, but there are two independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine who caucus with them. So what they need is a net gain of 4, but as you look at the 3 on the Republican list and the one on the Democratic list that are assumed by most to be the most extremely endangered, at that point, there would still be the need for the Democrats to pick up at least one more seat to get to 50/50, which would mean that if Joe Biden is elected president and Kamala Harris is elected vice president, then the Democrats would have 51 votes, but they’re looking for another switch.

In fact, they’re looking for a Democratic victory that would give their party solid control of the United States Senate. Again, understand what’s at stake. If they were to gain that, it would become effectively a Democratic political engine. When it comes to the house under Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and in the house, by the way, in the 116th Congress, you’re looking at a basic breakdown of 232 Democrats and 197 Republicans.

That’s not likely to change a great deal in a Republican direction, certainly in the election today, at least by most estimations, but as you’re looking at other Senate seats, consider Thom Tillis running for reelection in North Carolina, Joni Ernst running for reelection in Iowa–she’s considered to be more likely now to be reelected–Steve Danes in Montana. You’re also looking at Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee facing an unexpectedly tight race against Jamie Harrison in which national forces have put tens of millions of dollars into the Harrison campaign in an effort to unseat Lindsay Graham.

On the Senate side, there could be other tight races revealed over the course of the next several hours or days. You’re looking at the situation in Michigan being interesting with Democratic Senator, Gary Peters facing what might be in an unexpectedly strong challenge from John James.

But the weirdest situation when it comes to the United States Senate is in the State of Georgia where Republican incumbent David Purdue is running against Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff. It’s unclear exactly how close that race is. Georgia has been considered rather safe for Republican senatorial or statewide candidates. Is it in this case? We don’t know, but the polls are indicating that Purdue may be in trouble. Now that’s the situation, this rather normal in Georgia. There you have Purdue up for reelection to a six-year term, but the stranger issue in Georgia is a special election that doesn’t have two candidates, but has at least three major candidates, and it’s unlikely to be resolved by tonight, even if all the votes are in. Why?

It is because in this special election, to fill the remaining term, our former Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired for health reasons, the United States Senator appointed to that role by Georgia governor Brian Kemp, Kelly Loeffler is facing not only a Republican challenger in representative, Doug Collins, but also a major Democratic challenger in Dr. Raphael Warnock. The pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr., and for that matter, Martin Luther King Sr. had been pastor.

But the interesting thing is that Raphael Warnock is a far more liberal candidate for the United States Senate that would have been imaginable in the state of Georgia, just even say a few months or a year ago, but he at least appears to be now a major factor and sense the winner of that race must win 50%, and there are three major candidates in the race. The likelihood is that this will go into a runoff in January. The interesting question is, who will be in the runoff? Will be two Republicans or a Republican and a Democrat?

But time’s out on the campaign and time’s out for discussion of some issues before we know the result, and that includes a multiplicity of propositions in various States, most importantly, California, we’ll discuss them when we find out if they passed or did not pass. Many of them very, very important.

Part IV

May God Shed His Grace on This Nation Once Again: Christians Are Called Both to Pray for Our Country and to Exercise Our Stewardship to Vote

But as the polls are now opening, and as Americans have their final opportunity to go to vote, and as we encourage one another as Christians in the United States to do just that, to fulfill the stewardship of our opportunity and responsibility as voting citizens, we need to recognize in wonder the fact that the United States and its constitutional order are the marvel of the world. Our enduring experiment in Democratic self-government.

All of this lived out not only before our fellow citizens, but before the world underscores the very, very rare achievement in the entire span of human history of electoral stability. Remember that the first general election in the United States was conducted in weeks. That would include 1788 and 1789. That was the election that would eventually produce George Washington as the nation’s first president. Think about that. An unbroken line of general elections in the United States from 1788 to 2020, there is nothing like it in the world. That means that Americans have gone to the polls, we have conducted general elections every four years, including 1812 during, well, you’ve guessed it, the war of 1812.

In 1860 and in 1864 with the civil war looming and the civil war underway, in 1916 with World War I underway in Europe, in 1932 in the depths of The Great Depression, in 1942 and in 1944 with the entire world at war, and what we now know as World War II, the story goes on and on. It’s now up to this generation of Americans, and today I’m speaking particularly to American Christians who are citizens and have the right and responsibility to vote.

As you go to the polls, understand that this marvel of the world demands our own faithfulness, and for Christians it means that we learn to translate our own Christian worldview into the tangible evidence of a vote. A biblical worldview reminds us that we can sin by making politics ultimate, but we can also sin, and this might be more likely in the case of many Americans by treating politics with Christian neglect. In a situation in which citizens are given the stewardship of the vote, not voting is itself a political act with political consequences.

American citizens exercise a rare privilege in voting to participate in choosing our own national leaders, charting our own national future, planting the flag of liberty in the soil of America once again. So much is at stake. We know it. Feelings run high because the issues are real, and so we vote, and so we pray. And yes, we should pray. Pray for our nation, pray for our fellow citizens, pray for election day, pray for the preservation of liberty and for the principles that we hold most precious. Thanks be to God. The kingdom of Christ is not up for a vote.

And as Americans go to the polls on Election Day 2020, our prayer simply comes down to those words that we all remember. May God shed his grace on the United States of America on Election Day 2020.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Asheville, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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