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The Briefing

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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It's Tuesday, February 9, 2021.

I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

The Second Impeachment Trial of Former President Donald J. Trump Begins Today in the U.S. Senate: What Is at Stake?

In terms of American constitutional history, it has happened only four times. The fourth is happening right now in the chamber of the United States Senate. We're talking about a trial, an impeachment trial, of a president of the United States. In this case, a former president of the United States. That's new in American history. The impeachment process has been used after some public officers have been out of office, but never before has such a trial been held for a former president of the United States. Back just a matter of weeks ago, the House of Representatives handed down an indictment against the president that amounts to impeachment. The Democratic majority joined by just a few Republicans voted for impeachment that amounts to a charge against the president that results in a trial in the United States Senate.

Again, this trial is going to be quite different. Going back to the third impeachment trial in American presidential history. That was in 2019, 2020, it was again, then President Donald Trump. The presiding officer in the trial was the Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts Jr. The constitution says that when the president is the subject of the impeachment, the Chief Justice of the United States shall preside over the affair as the Chief Judicial Officer. But the Chief Justice has read the constitution carefully, and he says that that applies to a situation in which the trial is of a president. The language is, the president. The United States has one president at a time. Thus, he says, the Chief Justice of the United States is not to be the Presiding Officer over this present undertaking.

The constitutional framers, the founders of this constitutional republic understood, at least, two very clear things about impeachment. Number one, there had to be some process of impeachment going all the way up to the president of the United States. There had to be some way that an individual could be removed from office constitutionally, and that would include the nation's chief executive, the president. Now, even as the framers of the constitution were arguing over the provision that became the constitution's impeachment process, they really didn't necessarily believe that it would ever happen. Of course, it has yet never happened, that a president has been convicted by the Senate and removed from office. That's not going to happen this time. It's not going to happen, at least in part, because President Trump is no longer in office as president. Thus, no matter what the Senate may decide, they can't remove him from office. He is not currently in office.

Just to remind ourselves of the two things the framers had very clearly in mind, one was that there had to be some kind of impeachment process. The second thing was the danger of the process. The framers understood that any kind of process that would amount to a charge, a criminal charge, against a sitting president or high political official could be used politically and it could just become another issue, another battleground in political warfare. Of course, it is that, because you are talking about politics. Without politics, you don't have the election that produces the president or other officers of the government. Without politics, you don't have the entire system. After all, every single individual, and yes, it means, truly, every single individual in this Senate trial, including the presiding officer, is going to be an elected politician herself or himself. Furthermore, given the deep political divides in this country, and yes, some of those were at least fairly evident in the founding era. The reality is that, there would never be a nonpolitical impeachment trial and the framers understood it. That is especially true. It's acutely true in the year 2021.

That is to say that, as you look at the impeachment process, here's one of the issues that be traced just how political it is. By the time you reach the weekend, now past, major newspapers were publishing charts of the 100 senators indicating who was going to vote, yes. Who was going to vote, no. And who was undecided. Now, what's the problem with that? Well, just imagine that this is not an impeachment trial with the president of the United States.

Let's just imagine that this is a grand larceny trial, and it's just about someone who is accused of the crime in your town or in your neighborhood. Let's just imagine you have a jury panel of 100 citizens. Now, that's way too large for this kind of crime, but nonetheless, just imagine that you had a jury of 100 persons. What does each of them swear to do? Each one of them swears to, faithfully, understand and to evaluate the evidence in order to come to a just conclusion about innocence or guilt. Now, to put the situation into our contemporary context, let's imagine that the grand larceny trial's to begin the middle of this week. Let's say that you pick up Sunday's edition of your local newspaper. Of the 100 jurors who are named, say, it's something like 30 of the jurors say, "In anticipation of the trial, I don't need the evidence. He's guilty. I'm going to vote to convict." You have another 30 who say, "I don't care what the evidence might be. He's innocent. I'll never vote to convict." And then you have another 20 who say, "You know what? I'm kind of leaning towards conviction, but my mind is open." And another 20 would say, "Hey, I'm leaning against conviction, but I'm going to keep an open mind."

What would you call that? You would call that, injustice. You're supposed to have impartiality until the evidence has been heard. At least, some members of the United States Senate have said all the right things, but others aren't even attempting to say them at all. By the way, that's a bipartisan pattern. You have a number of Democrats who say, "He's guilty, we're going to vote to convict." You have some Republicans saying, "There's no way he's guilty. I'll never vote to convict." You also have a question as to the constitutionality of the trial since the president has left office. Just a matter of fact, it does appear that the precedent for a Senate trial of someone who has already left office is fairly well established. It appears to be fairly clear that the preponderance of legal scholarship in this country believes that the trial is not unconstitutional. Nonetheless, you can expect that there will be an appeal if this trial ends on some kind of constitutional grounds, one way or another.

This particular trial is particularly political because you're talking about, not only the campaign for the presidency in 2020, you're not just talking about the election, you're talking about the aftermath of the election. After all, the one count in the indictment of impeachment, the article of impeachment brought by the United States House majority was a charge that the president had incited an insurrection against the United States government. Now, here's where the legal scholarship seems to say that there is no question about the moral responsibility of the president in that event. About that, I've been clear.

There's actually, no question in my mind, morally, that the president bears enormous personal responsibility for the events that unfolded on January 6. Both for encouraging them in the beginning and failing to stop them in a timely manner in the course of the insurrection itself, which turned out to be a politically farcical event, to the embarrassment of the nation and to the embarrassment of the American experiment in ordered liberty.

I voted for President Trump. I greatly regret the fact that we have the Democrat Joe Biden as President of the United States, given his policies. I do believe the president bears moral responsibility, but what that means legally. That's a question that is to be debated. It is to be debated amongst the jurors themselves, eventually, the 100 members of the United States Senate. The case against the former president is going to be made by the house impeachment prosecutors, the impeachment managers, as they are called. The case for the former President of the United States will be carried out by his own lawyers. Just to remind ourselves, the first impeached president was Andrew Johnson, the immediate successor to Abraham Lincoln after his assassination. Still, he was acquitted by the United States Senate.

The second impeachment trial was that of William Jefferson Clinton in the 1990s. He was impeached. He was not removed from office. The third impeachment trial of the four was the first impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. He was not removed from office. The fourth trial will be taking place this week. Now just given the numbers, go back to the chart, go back to the fact that we already know a good many of the numbers. The reality is, it is extremely unlikely that this fourth impeachment trial will end any differently than the first three. That is, without the conviction of the president, now, the former president. The numbers become very significant here. Given the 50-50 split amongst Republican and Democratic Senators with the Democrats holding the majority because of the Democratic Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. The reality is that, given super majority requirement for conviction, 17 Republican Senators would have to join with all 50 Democratic Senators for there to be a conviction. Just to state the matter clearly, that is extremely unlikely.

It's also important to say that, given the fact that the president is not in office, there's clearly no threat of removing him from office. The ultimate sanction is now moot, in legal terms. So, what then is at stake? Well, what's at stake is the constitutional penalty against, either a president, or a former public official that that individual could not hold public office or public trust in the future. It is not clear, at this point, if the former president intends to run once again for public office or if he does not intend to do so, or when he might signal that intent. In any event, the numbers indicate that the question is not likely to be settled by the United States Senate. As we think about this, just buckle your seat belts, the intense partisanship that has been building up and increasing year by year, as well as decade by decade, even almost week by week in recent sequence, you can count on the fact that we are about to reach a new fever pitch.

By the way, it's going to be really interesting to see how the Democrats currently in control in Washington intend to actually go further with their own legislative agenda, even as they understand that that's not likely to happen in any realistic sense while they press the impeachment of the former president of the United States. At least one thing we're also going to learn in coming days is just how committed, relatively, the Democratic leadership is to its own agenda or to settling the score. Before I leave this issue, one additional footnote just to help us understand what's going on. If the Chief Justice of the United States is not the presiding officer at this trial, then who will be? Well, who will be will be the president pro tem of the United States Senate.

Now, in case you're scratching your head wondering who exactly is that, it is Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. How did he get that position? Well, he got that position because he is the senior. That means, the oldest member of the party that is in leadership in the United States Senate. The Vermont Senator is very liberal, very Democratic. His colleague in the Senate of course is Bernie Sanders. But now, it is he, Patrick Leahy, who's going to be in the hot seat, so to speak, as the presiding officer at this impeachment trial. Yes, that could make a difference because the presiding officer sometimes has to decide which evidence is and is not allowed. Again, as I said, buckle your seat belts. It is going to be a very interesting ride over the next few days in the United States Senate.

Part

A Secret History of a Shadow Campaign in the 2020 Election? It’s a Blockbuster Story

Next, even as we have just been looking at events, basically subsequent to the election back on November 3, Time Magazine is out with an incredibly important, very lengthy investigative report and analysis that claims to tell us, "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That," in the words of Time Magazine, "Saved the 2020 Election." Now, just look at that headline, "Saved the 2020 Election." Now, in truth, what this report by Molly Ball tells us is, how the cards were effectively stacked in one sense, in order to make certain that, unless there was some kind of overwhelming landslide for Donald Trump, he would not be elected president.

As you look at this, you have to understand a couple of things. Number one, many of President Trump's supporters believed that there was some form of conspiracy that was put in place to deny him the election. Now, actually, if you are inclined to believe something like that, this Time Magazine article is likely to fuel your fire.

The article doesn't tell us that anything illegal was done. It does tell us that there was a concerted effort on the part of political elites in the United States. This would include, for the first time, and this is the big new story in this report. For the first time, it was the combined effort, not only of the political left, but of the corporate mainstream, the mainstream of American business to tilt the table towards the election of a Democratic president. That's not the way it's put, but nonetheless, Time Magazine felt confident enough to run a headline, "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election." That's a very meaningful headline. Molly Ball tells us that, liberal groups, before the election, had vowed to take to the streets. Even as election day was coming, "Planning hundreds of protests across the country. Right-wing militias," she says, "were girding for battle. In a poll before Election Day, 75% of Americans voiced concern about violence." But, "Instead, an eerie quiet descended."

"As President Trump refused to concede, the response was not mass action but crickets. When media organizations called the race for Joe Biden on November 7, jubilation broke out instead, as people thronged cities across the U.S. to celebrate the democratic process that resulted in Trump's ouster." Now again, notice how the politics are loaded like dice in this equation. Democracy wins when President Trump is defeated. That is, actually, the very explicit message coming from this article from Time Magazine. The last of the three big newsweeklies to survive and the very influential periodical, not only in the present, but throughout America's history, especially in the 20th century.

President Trump said on December 2 that there was, "An orchestrated effort to anoint the winner, even while many key states were still being counted." Here's what's interesting, Time Magazine's, Molly Ball then says "In a way, Trump was right." Here's what she says, "There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans. The pact was formalized in a terse, little-noticed joint statement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO published on Election Day. Both sides would come to see it as a sort of implicit bargain–inspired by the summer’s massive, sometimes destructive racial-justice protests–in which the forces of labor came together with the forces of capital to keep the peace and oppose Trump's assault on democracy." Again, the language here is very loaded, but what you have here is something that is a true blockbuster story. It's massive.

The blockbuster story is this, for the first time in American presidential election history, you had organized labor and the leaders of the most powerful corporations in the United States in a concerted effort. You had the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO working together. They weren't just working together to give structural support to America's electoral integrity. They were basically working together with liberal activist groups to make certain that Joe Biden was elected President of the United States. The language used in the article is about protecting the election and you have to concede that there were charges being made. There were efforts that were likely made all across the political map to do something short protecting the election.

You also have to understand that there's another dynamic, another logic at work here. Coming from the left, the idea that any vote might be invalid is absolutely horrifying. That's what they resist. They basically are going to oppose any effort to declare any potential voter invalid for voting or any cast vote as invalid. Coming from the right, coming from the Republican side, there's a concern that there are many people who can offer no proof that they are valid voters. Thus, you have a process whereby you would have some voter ID or some kind of in-person requirement. The reality is that the left and the right construe what it means to have an authentic election in very different terms. That, by the way, even though the mainstream media wants to act like that's absolutely new, it's not new.

Now, when you look at this article, you have to recognize that, from the span of time between now looking back at the election, we can now see that there was this kind of organized effort and Time Magazine and Molly Ball are making that abundantly clear. By the way, as we shall shortly see, there are huge ideological issues involved in this. At the same time, President Trump did, after the election, tried to defy the electoral results. Most importantly and most consequentially, he tried to deny the role of the electoral college, the very college of electors that had made him president going back to the 2016 Election. He tried to defy the counting process, which is under the control of the states and the constitutional officers of those states. That is also unprecedented in American history.

You have different groups that are identified by this Time's investigative report, Protect Democracy, "a non-partisan rule of law advocacy group." Then, there was the Analyst Institute, "A secretive firm that applies scientific methods to political campaigns." Then, there was an organization, known as, Catalyst, "A flagship progressive data company." This really is the ideological left. Indeed, as you look at many of these groups, they are the left of the left. At the core of it is an individual named, Mike Podhorzer, who quote, "Became convinced the election was headed for disaster and determined to protect it." He's Senior Advisor to the President of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest union federation.

Now just to state the matter clearly historically, big labor has been very pro-Democratic, for the most part, in a very big way over the course of the last several decades. There were exceptions, such as, support for president Nixon against George McGovern. If you go back to 1973, the cold war created a very odd combination of energies between labor and big business, the right and the left in one sense. But over the course of the last several decades, support for big labor has been big Democrat. Thus, you're looking here at something that's very interesting because support for big business has not been equally pro-Republican.

Now, you can look at the Republican party and it generally is considered closer to business. If you look closer, the question is, which part of the business sector? Historically, as you look at many portions of the business sector, you would see for instance, energy leaning Republican in a big way. But you would see many of the new financial enterprises leaning Democratic in a big way. The biggest lean to the left right now in big business are the biggest businesses of all. That will be the technology sector. Just, say, Silicon Valley, you're not thinking Republican. There were groups, that was the fight back table, the democracy defense coalition. Really interesting stuff here.

We are told that the far left, in terms of progressivist organizations, were a part of the network that met weekly for a two-and-a-half-hour Zoom. They were also looking for financial support from Congress and they got a bit of it from the COVID relief money that came in 2020. The big issue here is that they had to turn to others. To whom do they turn? Well for one thing, $300 million. Now, just think about that, $300 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. In other words, Facebook. In this sense, an awful lot of the money went to, not only registering voters, but doing all kinds of efforts to try to get people actually to vote. Especially, people who hadn't voted before. The big issue is this, the left, and that means the democratic party, recognizes that getting more people to vote by some means, other than in-person voting is a big win. Thus, COVID actually created the opportunity for a big win to become a big win.

Only one quarter of voters in the 2020 Presidential Election cast their ballots in person on election day. That's 25%. I don't think most Americans understand that. That means that 75% of Americans voted in some other way. Now, just to state the matter just in a way we can all understand it. If you are going to do something to, say, prime the pump in an election, it's a lot easier to gather ballots than it is to gather people. If you can bundle ballots together in the mail-in voting, and say, "Don't worry about that, I'll get it for you. I will mail it for you." And if you allow people to collect the votes and then to bring them, even you might say to dump them on election day, or even as we knew this time, subsequent to election day, then you can gather or bundle those ballots easier than you can bundle people.

Now, what does that mean? It means that requiring voting in person puts a restraint on just how freely you may be able to count or to gather some of those votes. What's also clear in the article is that, in November of 2019, now, remember that's not only over a year ago, that was almost a year before the election. Mark Zuckerberg invited nine civil rights leaders to dinner at his home. Why? Because they warned him about the danger of the election related falsehoods that were already spreading unchecked. Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, "It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement." More rigorous rules and enforcement by whom? Well, by the lords and ladies, the masters of Silicon Valley. Who would design those "rigorous rules and enforcement"? The very same, the leaders of Silicon Valley. Now, just keep that in mind. In other words, what we're being told here is that, even as conservatives have feared for some time, that Silicon Valley could basically cut off the faucet. When it comes to conservative communication, the reality is this article is making clear, oh, and not only could happen, it basically did happen.

Now, there clearly were messages that should never have been sent on social media. Probably more than any of us can count. Social media presents a distortion field in which it's possible to say something that is basically wrong, or you might say, even treasonous, and have it spread over the entire social media environment, almost instantaneously. Here's where we have to understand something. If you're actually going to have someone who sets the rules about what is and is not appropriate content, if those people are all from one political persuasion, you can pretty much be guaranteed that the result is going to be warped, as well. The policy is going to be a distortion field of its own.

The most fascinating part of this very significant, very lengthy article at Time Magazine is entitled, "Strange Bedfellows." It goes back to this unique combination of labor and corporate leaders. Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, just trying to figure out the world around us. What is the most interesting part of this? Well, it tells us, as if we just needed to be told this and yet maybe we do, that big business is not politically neutral. It's not politically neutral. It puts its finger in the air. It's made its decision about which way it thinks the culture is going. On political issues, all kinds of issues that are defined in terms of social justice, in terms of the moral revolution, LGBTQ issues, and all the rest, big business has decided that it's in its big interest to lean left. Thus, the "Strange Bedfellows," and thus, what Time Magazine is calling, a "Shadow Campaign."

There's a lot more in this article, but for the sake of time, I'm going to leave it just to say, you should look at this article for yourself. It's Molly Ball's article, "The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election." Current issue of Time Magazine. The link will be at the website for the program today.

Part

The Boss Appears in a Super Bowl Ad to Reunite America? Springsteen’s Message Doesn’t Match His Politics

One final word. If you're thinking about where corporate America is headed and how the messaging is coming, let me take you back to Sunday night's Super Bowl. Let's go back to the ads, which by the way, cost $5.5 million for 30 seconds of eyeball time. There's a lot to think about there in terms of consumerism and advertising, but I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about the Boss in a Jeep. Bruce Springsteen, who had never participated, at least we were told, in a commercial before, decided he would do this commercial for Jeep because it's about uniting America.

Springsteen appeared in the ad, and not coincidentally in a Jeep for part of it. In another part, he was in a chapel near Lebanon, Kansas, which we are told, is at the very center of the 48 contiguous states. There, we are told, as a symbolism that America has the opportunity to unite. Bruce Springsteen, driving, standing, lighting a candle in a chapel in the middle of a frosty, snowy scene at the very center of the United States reuniting the United States. Here's the problem, of course, Bruce Springsteen is not at the center of the United States. He might try to represent himself as every man with his blue-collar reputation, but the reality is, he's on the political left. He supported Barack Obama quite publicly in 2008 and in 2012. He's been for LGBTQ rights. He's been for same-sex marriage. He's for just about everything on the list of the left, which is just another part of the symbolism.

The left is really trying to recenter the United States, all right. It wants to reunite the United States, but far to the left of where most of the people in the United States have any clue. All of that was likely lost on the people who were watching the Super Bowl and watching that ad, because after all, the ads also included Cookie Monster.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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