The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

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

It’s Wednesday, November 4, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Election Day Has Come and Gone and the Results Aren’t Yet Clear: The Results Will Reveal the Outcome of the Arguments Made, and Lead to Arguments About to Be Made

Well, Election Day has now come and gone, and the election results are not yet clear. And that’s at just about every level. Certain races have been called, for example, the Senate race in the state of Alabama. That one was extremely clear, but so many other races remained to be called, and hanging in the balance is the presidency and also the future composition of the United States Senate.

It was clear as of early last night that the basic composition of the United States House of Representatives will not change all that much, but in the United States Senate, there are still several huge open questions. But the biggest question of all has to do with the future of the American presidency.

As of late last night, and even into the early morning hours, there were all kinds of electoral maps that still remained possibilities. Several states had already been called, but even as they were called for, one candidate or the other and electoral numbers were placed in one column or the other, these were tentative given the fact that these are not official results, but rather are the results anticipated by the number of votes that are already tallied. There’s huge frustration in this. How can an electoral system or the sophistication of the United States of America be in such a condition that we are not yet even certain when we will know who has won the highest elected office in the land?

As of early this morning, it is effectively still close, and there is still a path to victory for either of the candidates, depending upon how the electoral map falls out. But let’s think about the integrity of the electoral process. Let’s think about the fact that there has been a huge shift, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how Americans vote. Consider just this one fact. Before Election Day, more Texans had voted in early voting than had voted in the entire 2016 election cycle. That’s massive. We are looking at a record turnout. What does that mean? It will take some time to unpack that reality.

As we have stated before the integrity and credibility of our electoral system does count upon the fact that we can have a pretty good idea shortly after an election, how Americans have decided, and that’s true state by state. That raises an interesting issue. We are indeed a federal system, which is to say that election laws in general are actually set by the states. Now in general, that’s a good thing. Federalism itself, a part of the genius of our constitutional order is a very good thing. Most of those election policies should not be set at the national level, but rather at the state level. But given the fact that we are talking about the United States Congress, the United States Senate, we’re talking about the United States presidency, it would be a very good thing if those states cooperated together in order to assure timely and accurate results. Furthermore, the states have an interest in this, of course, themselves.

But looking at this, it’s also important to recognize that fundamental shifts had taken place in how Americans vote. If as we said in the state of Texas, just to give one example, you have more Texans voting early in 2020, then voted all together in 2016, then it is unlikely that the situation is going to return to the conditions of say 2012. That means the innovations in voting are almost certain, but as you’re looking at that, there are some very important issues for us to consider. For one thing, there’s been a great deal of discussion about early voting and absentee voting. But if we do move to a system where states offer the possibility of early voting, there needs to be a system in place such that immediately after Election Day, there can be an accurate tally of those votes. If you look at it another way, there really is no reason to have both early voting and absentee voting.

But as we said, much of this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And thus, we have to acknowledge that there was no opportunity for the states to be adequately responsive to the COVID-19 challenge. There will be no such excuse in the 2024 general election. The states have four years to get their act together. And there should be no reason why in any state, there should be a delay of anything like five, six or twelve days after Election Day before there can be a credible accounting of the results of the election.

At this point in the early morning hours of Wednesday, it is already clear that Americans are tired of hearing about, and most Americans are tired of talking about the 2020 election. Enough already. We want to know how the results of the election are going to be reported and when. We want to know the results of the election, and then we want to figure out how to move forward.

The kind of frenzy that we have seen building over the last several election cycles and in particular, the elongation of the entire electoral process, it serves no one, except the news media. It’s good for the news media because it gives them if artificial still a sense of tension and drama that enables them to keep showing the same thing over and over again, talking about breaking news, when no news has actually broken, offering all kinds of prognostications and even estimations, they have to keep giving and then taking back, constantly adjusting.

And of course it’s all the talking heads and not all of them are talking nonsense, but we have simply reached the point that there is a limitation to what kind of talk can now be offered until we have the results of the election. But since we do not have those results yet with any credible way of saying who will be the next president of the United States with a bit of suspense and drama, still very much hanging over us on Wednesday, let’s consider a couple of things that the media often do not discuss.

For example, when you look at the electoral college map, remember the magic number needed for election as president of the United States is 270. So the obvious question is how does either candidate get to 270? And of course they want more than 270, but they’ll take 270 if it means they change their stationary to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But as you’re thinking about this, just put this on your own mental map. When you talk about the democratic nominee, given the current political reality in the United States, you start out with a map that offers to the Democrat, California, Oregon, and Washington, the entire West Coast, California, 55 votes, Oregon, seven votes, Washington, 12 votes. That’s 74 votes out of 270. And there’s basically no way that any Republican is going to get those votes. The Democrat doesn’t even have to work very hard to get those votes.

And then to the democratic column, add Massachusetts with 11, New York with 29, Minnesota with 10, and then in all likelihood these days add Virginia with 13, and Democrats have generally claimed Pennsylvania with 20. That adds another 83. That’s 157 electoral college votes and that’s on the way to 270. That leaves less than 100 the Democrat has to gain. Now put that in your mental calculus when you hear the Democrats continue to complain about the electoral college. We’ll be talking more about that later, but right now, just keep those numbers in mind.

But there’s another big factor we already know about the election that has massive worldview consequences. We don’t actually have to know which candidate won in order to get this point very clearly. We are talking about a deeply divided country and that divide is a continuing pattern and is also, if not equal, it certainly isn’t equal, it is at least close enough that you have competitive parties, meaning competitive arguments in the United States. Now just keep that in mind for a moment and consider how recently or how distantly you’ve had either party in control. Just think of the White House.

George W. Bush, the Republican was elected in 2000, served two terms. Then Barack Obama, the Democrat was elected in 2008, served two terms. Then the Republican Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Consider how recently the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives. It was just in the midterm elections of 2018. Consider how recently the Republicans gained the majority in the United States Senate. Most recently it was in the 2014 congressional elections. Again, just a matter of about six years ago. You’re looking at two very powerful political parties, political arguments, and at least at this point in American history, they are, if not evenly matched then at least competitive.

One of the big questions hanging over the 2020 election is whether or not that pattern will continue if the competitiveness of the two parties, when it comes to the Congress and of course the presidency continues over the course of the next season in American public life. What is interesting to note is that as the society is moving left and as the Democratic Party is itself, moving left, one of the huge questions comes down to whether or not the American public will move with the Democratic Party, to the extent that it gains what it hopes to gain, which is the upper hand in upcoming election cycles for the indefinite future.

Part II

An Unprecedented Reality: Businesses Boarded Up in Anticipation of Election Results—That Isn’t Worthy of the United States

But next we need to consider the fact that there was an unprecedented development that we can talk about even this morning when it comes to the 2020 presidential election. And that has to do with the fact that many businesses and shops and cities such as Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York City actually boarded up their windows in anticipation of the election. National Guard units were at least put on alert, if not mobilized in several states and police for the first time in American history, in some cases actually showed up to offer security and stability at some polling places. Was this necessary?

As of this morning, there does not appear to have been any violence connected with this election. And that’s a good thing, but it’s a very ominous thing that in the United States, the tension level has reached the point that at least some in law enforcement, even in the leadership of the National Guard at the state level, believe that there was a necessity of taking some kind of defensive action in the light of an anticipated response that could include protests that might turn violent.

It is not a sign of a healthy system. It’s not a sign of a healthy nation that businesses board up their windows in major cities in anticipation of a national election. That doesn’t sound like the United States. Frankly, it should be embarrassing to us. It sounds like some kind of tenuous democracy that is simply trying to have some kind of credibility and to establish some kind of electoral process in the face of incipient anarchy. That’s not the United States. It had better not become the United States. It is a part of the mission of the United States going all the way back to the self-consciousness of our founders, that we would be a lighthouse to the nations for ordered liberty, for constitutional self-government, for the fact that a people can govern themselves through a rational political order that is based upon respect.

Part III

The Whole World Is Waiting for the Results of the U.S. Presidential Election: A Reordering of World Relations Hangs in the Balance

America’s being tested in this regard, but the world is watching and the credibility of the United States in the global family of nations has a great deal to do with whether or not we can credibly undertake an election, which is supposed to be the very ideal of American politics. But that raises another question. And this was addressed in USA Today yesterday, headline story, “As America votes, the world watches with bated breath.” Kim Hjelmgaard is the reporter for USA Today. The story begins, “As Americans contemplate the possibility of a nail-biter of a U.S. presidential vote Tuesday, another cohort of people watch closely with nerves on edge as the race enters its final stretch: the rest of the world.” The next sentence, “U.S. elections have long been the subject of intense international focus because of the outsize influence of America’s economy, culture and military.”

Well, it’s good that we should be reminded of that, even if the story came out on Election Day itself. The nations are watching the United States and totalitarian governments gain encouragement whenever America seems to fumble, and the friends of liberty gain courage whenever America stands tall. As we think about this, we need to recognize that you could also look at the nations of the world and come up with a division as to whether or not some of those nations or at least the governments of those nations would prefer that Donald Trump be elected to a second term or would prefer that Joe Biden become the president of the United States.

Now what’s interesting is that in the main, this has to do with a pattern that reflects what we see in the United States, where more liberal forces are in favor of a President Biden, more conservative forces are in favor of a President Trump. You look at the map of nations and you see that at least to some degree, that pattern continues. President Trump’s reelection would be celebrated by nations, such as Poland, Hungary, but also our closest historical ally Britain.

It also appears that at least one to totalitarian government, or at least an autocratic government in the form of Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, he would seem to prefer that Donald Trump be reelected. But you also have to consider the fact that the current government of Israel appears to be very much hopeful for the reelection of President Trump, as do many of the nations in the Middle East, those facts are not insignificant.

Favoring the election of a President Biden would be many of the nations of the more liberal Western Europe, in particular leaders such as Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. You could add to that Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. And once again, you’re looking at that basic divide in Europe between the more Eastern nations, generally more conservative and the more Western nations, generally more liberal. But again, it would certainly appear that the government of Boris Johnson in Britain would far prefer the continuation of the Trump Administration rather than a Biden Administration.

Who then would welcome a Biden Administration? We mentioned those nations in Western Europe, we’ve mentioned also that Russia would appear to affirm or want the reelection of President Trump. But at the same time, it appears that China, another autocratic state in this case, a totalitarian one-party government would prefer the election of President Biden. But of course, all of this could change very quickly. And you have to keep in mind that nations tend to act in their own self-interest or at least in what they perceive to be their own self-interest.

It’s also a matter of identity. Those nations that see themselves as more cosmopolitan, more as members of the kind of world order that existed say between the fall of the Soviet Union and the early years of the 21st century, those who want to return to that favor Joe Biden. Those who see that kind of world order and its norms, its own economic alliances and culture as the problem rather than the solution favor the reelection of Donald Trump. But they’re also waiting to see what’s going to happen as the election results come in.

The American election will have to do not only with the reordering of American politics, but with the reordering of many of our relationships throughout the world and the future plans of other nations.

Part IV

Should You Marry Someone on the Other Side of the Partisan Divide? Fundamental Issues of Worldview Arise During Political Disagreements

But finally, as we’re waiting for the dust to settle, it’s interesting to think about the ramifications of the vote, not just on the world system or on the American political order, but in personal relationships. This was raised in an article that appeared in recent days in the New York Times by Valeriya Safronova, the headline, “No Vote? No Date.” The subhead, “On the apps, singles put their politics and political engagement front and center.”

Well, the article is not exactly blockbusting, but it is interesting. It tells us that on online dating platforms, politics has emerged as a big issue. And generally what we would describe as dispositive rather than positive, which is to say people are now far more open in saying that they’re not open at all to developing any kind of relationship with someone who is on the other side of the political divide.

It also turns out looking at this article that even as there might be more liberals who say they wouldn’t even consider having a meal with a conservative, it’s pretty much a bilateral or a bi-partisan development. Conservatives generally want to date conservatives. Liberals want to date liberals. Democrats are open to establishing relationships with a Democrat and Republicans with a Republican, not so much going the other way.

Now here’s a big question. Is this new? Well, the article in the New York Times makes clear it is new. It’s even new when measured over the last several months. Now maybe part of that is just the intensity of a presidential election, the issues at stake. Maybe it’s just the intensity of this election in 2020. But even as I say that, I have to tell you, I don’t think that’s true. I think that what we’re looking at here is the unfolding of a dynamic that doesn’t go back a matter of months, but a matter of decades in American life, in American public life, but now let’s note in American personal life.

Let’s also note something else. As Christians trying to consider this in worldview perspective, this actually makes sense. Now, of course, this isn’t the same kind of issue as the New Testament teaching that Christians are not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. That’s a biblical standard, that’s a theological issue, but it is a pattern that we can understand. The basic logic of that biblical teaching is that a Christian should not be united with an unbeliever in marriage because that weakens the very idea of the marital value, weakens the marriage. It creates an imbalance. It creates a conflict in the marriage and it will offer temptations or at least complications for the Christian spouse to be less than fully convictionally Christian in order to have peace in the marriage. There are all kinds of issues there, including how children would be raised. These are historic issues faced by Christians, but there is a clear biblical teaching.

But that’s speaking of our Christianity, speaking of our discipleship, our obedience to Christ. When it comes to politics or cultural issues, you would think that it’s not exactly the same thing, but I would argue the same pattern evidently tends to apply. Whether or not we say it’s handed down as a principle it appears to be a now very obvious pattern. So obvious that the New York Times is writing about it on the front page of the Style section. But this is where Christians understand that we are talking about basic principles and those principles come out of our most basic worldview.

At this point, given the partisan divide in the United States, the difference between a conservative and a liberal on so many issues is now so vast that it actually is pretty hard to understand how you might develop a stable marriage based upon that kind of divergence of worldview. And that’s because we as Christians understand that politics is not where anything starts. We understand that there are far more basic, far more fundamental questions, and the answers to those questions produce the politics, not the other way around now.

Now this pattern has been building for decades as the partisan worldview divide in the United States has grown deeper and wider, but I want to credit journalist, Bill Bishop for coining the term, “The Big Sort.” He did so in 2004, and it’s based upon the observation that Americans are sorting themselves out by politics. They’re sorting themselves out by worldview. They’re tending to gather together in like-minded neighborhoods. Now I’ll just put it in a footnote here. As you had all those rather hyperactive political analysts talking on the cable news networks last night, pointing to counties, neighborhoods, cities, pointing to the electoral map of red and blue, they were basically pointing to this reality that we’re basically saying here is the new sorting of the big sort.

But certainly this applies to our most intimate relationships, starting with marriage and romance. And that’s why the article in the New York Times is very interesting, “No Vote? No Date.” And furthermore, if you disagree with me in a fundamental way on politics, then I’m going to pretty much guess that you fundamentally disagree with me on even more fundamental issues. And that means no lunch, no date, no dinner, no chance. But then along comes fascinating evidence from authors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt who in their analysis of democracy write that in 1960, “Political scientists asked Americans how they would feel if their child married someone who identified with another political party.”

Now here’s the point, only 4% of Democrats and 5% of Republicans reported that they would be displeased. That meant that about 95% of those surveyed in the year 1960 said they wouldn’t care one way or the other if their offspring were to marry someone of the opposing party. But then the authors tell us, “In 2010, by contrast 33% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans reported feeling somewhat or very unhappy at the prospect of inter-party marriage.” So that’s a distinction of 50 years, from 1960 to 2010, a massive change. So much change that Republican and Democratic parents increasingly say they would be very troubled if their offspring were to eventually marry someone of the opposing party. What happened?

Well, in those 50 years, the two political parties did not move more closely together. Obviously the exact opposite took place. They moved and are even now moving further and further apart. What these two authors, by the way, do not take into adequate honest consideration is the fact that the two parties have now taken on cultural and moral issues that are unavoidable. And it’s largely been because the left has forced these issues, issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and all the rest. You look at this and you recognize you’re looking at two political arguments that are actually standing atop two moral arguments that are actually standing atop two theological arguments, whether that reality is acknowledged or not.

And so we all together as Christians continue to pray for our nation, even as, especially as the electoral results come in. We pray for them to come in clearly. We pray for them to come in, in a way that will best befit our nation moving into the future. We pray for the right argument to win. And over the course of the last several months and far beyond, we’ve been trying to think about what that best argument is to see it clearly and to understand what is actually at stake.

But this is not at this point, the time for argument and anticipation of an election, the election has already happened. There absolutely should be no votes cast from this point, onward. The last votes should have been cast by the time that the polls closed last night. But that means that even as we are awaiting and quite eagerly awaiting the election results, we’re not just considering them numbers that will tell us the outcome of an election. We understand they’re going to be telling us a great deal about the outcome of an argument and about just how we’re going to have to frame arguments in the future, taking into account the status of the argument in the present.

And this means that in our context, the argument that came before the vote will turn into the argument about the vote that will turn into the argument about what the vote means that will turn into the argument about what we do next, but we can’t turn to what we do next until we understand what Americans have just done. We wouldn’t know that as quickly as possible.

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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