The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, March 12, 2021

It’s Friday, March 12, 2021.

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

Part I

The U.S. Government Has Written a Check It Can’t Back: President Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion “Stimulus” Bill Into Law

It is the biggest legislative expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, sold as a stimulus bill, the legislation that was signed into law by president Joe Biden and labeled a stimulus bill really is in so many ways, a redefinition of our federal government and the impact will be very long lasting. We need to understand what we’re talking about here. It has been sold as a stimulus bill, but the stimulus is really no longer needed. Needed certainly in any kind of scale that is represented by a $1.9 trillion bill, it’s referred to as a recovery act, and even as there are some sectors of the American economy and certainly some individuals and families who are desperately in need of recovery, the fact is that the economy writ large was well on its way to recovery.

But what we are talking about is seizing the opportunity, when you think about the Democratic Party, and this was a Democratic Party project, emphatically so. The Democratic Party saw the opportunity to seize the crisis of the coronavirus, and of course the economic effects, and to present to the American people, what was called a stimulus bill, but as we have noted already on The Briefing, it actually redefines the entire welfare system, it basically comes up with at least what is temporarily something like universal basic income for at least some people. It involves massive tax credits that, of course, will be sold to the American people as something that is pro-family and may have, in at least the short term, a pro-family effect. But long-term, what we are looking at is a check written by the federal government that it really cannot stand behind. We’re looking at the fact that the spending that is now undertaken by the federal government, is going to be passed on as an indebtedness to our children and grandchildren.

We’re also looking at the fact that there is economic recklessness and a stimulus bill, or what’s called a stimulus bill by this scale, because the economy will be so flushed with cash that there is a very real danger of inflation. Inflation, by the way, is the biggest economic killer as you look at the landscape, because inflation devalues everything. That means every dollar you have in the bank account, it means every raise you may ever hope for. It means the value of your home, the prices go up and the value of the dollar goes down. That’s how inflation works. Just in political terms, we need to understand what’s happening here.

This was a Democratic project, no doubt about it. President Joe Biden ran for the democratic nomination for President of the United States, at the very time that his party was demonstrating the fact that it was moving far, far to the left. So far to the left that Joe Biden had to move, progressively, to the left, in order to stay up with his party, and even then, even now by the way, there are some within his party who see him as hopelessly moderate, but this is not a moderate bill. This is an extremely liberal bill, but yet it is the kind of bill that the liberals see as a stepping stone towards something else.

As I said, there are temporary provisions in this bill that the Democratic Party hopes to make permanent, and that includes redefining the welfare system, it means expanding Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act coverage. It means all kinds of things. It also means everything from rapid transit in Northern California to money for museums and other art, or cultural institutions, things that are really not covered by the normal kind of stimulus bill that you might envision. To put it another way, there’s an awful lot of pork in this bill, but when you’re talking about $1.9 trillion, well, you just need to acknowledge up front that, in all likelihood, most of it, one way or another will be pork.

Some kind of spending that politicians believe will benefit them in the long run, which is one of the ways that politicians think. And I’m not just putting that on politicians, if politicians didn’t think that way at all, they wouldn’t stay in office, but we do need to note what we’re looking at here. The checks and the balances of the bipartisan system are just absent. And that gets to another issue. As you look at the raw politics of this equation, President Biden and the Democrats in the Senate and in the House, ran through with this bill, even as they were pledging a form of bipartisanship, they ran it through entirely on party lines, entirely on party votes, and the bill only got through the Senate because it came under the process known as reconciliation. That is the budget process that is immune from the filibuster. All that is needed is the majority of votes.

In this case, you’d say 51, but actually in this case, it was only 50 votes that were needed. But the point is, the Democratic Party is now demonstrating, and President Joe Biden, Mr. Bipartisan, by his own label and branding, turns out really not to be so bipartisan at all, and it’s interesting that even the more progressive mainstream media are acknowledging that. But there’s a big worldview issue that is revealed right there, because once again, we see the fact that even as you look at say, the last 80 years of American politics, for about half of those decades, let’s say 40 years, there really wasn’t that much policy distinction between the two parties, the Republicans and the Democrats acted in so many ways that on budgets and on tax policy, there were of course skirmishes and maneuvers, but the reality is, that there was a vast bipartisan consensus on foreign policy and for the most part on domestic policy, so much so, that President Richard Nixon at one point said, “We’re all Keynesians now.”

Now the meaning of that is less important than the fact that he said it in order to say, there really is an economic consensus, by the way, it was a bad economic consensus. But the point is, that the two parties were operating within a rather narrow neighborhood of agreement. But now it’s as if they’re living on separate blocks. And one of the things we need to see, is that even when you have a candidate who promises bipartisanship and Joe Biden promised it, over and over again, he contrasted himself with former president Donald Trump saying that Donald Trump had been divisive, but he was going to be bipartisan.

But when push comes to shove, we have just seen how bipartisan Joe Biden is. He signed a bill that included not one Republican vote. And as I had mentioned on the briefing before, Joe Biden has had to make negotiations, but the negotiations are not with the Republicans. The negotiations are with the left wing of his own party, which even after the election keeps pulling him, of political necessity, further and further left, and we’re going to see that on many issues.

But here’s where we also need to understand that there was a certain Rubicon that was crossed, so to speak. There was a certain boundary that was transgressed here. The President and the Congress got in this bill, what they could get in the Senate through reconciliation.

Part II

Our Hyper-Partisan Age: There’s a Conflict Between Two Deeply Rooted Worldviews and Everything from Economics to Morality Will Be Affected

But they’re not going to be able to get any other legislation through, other than budgetary revenue legislation, under this reconciliation process, which means everything they do now, looking forward in terms of major legislative initiatives, that will require 60 votes in the Senate. It will require some form of bipartisanship unless the Democratic Party moves to eliminate the filibuster. Now we will not take the time today to do a surgical dissection of what that means, but it is right now, the great nuclear bomb hanging over American politics. If the Democrats in the Senate somehow are successful in removing the filibuster, it will basically mean that you have one party rule, not only in some kind of theory, but an absolute fact. There will be no way to stop any kind of Democratic initiative, any kind of Democratic legislation.

There would be no way to stop any kind of Democratic aim unless it’s stopped by other Democrats. And the reality is that that is a system very much like a parliamentary democracy, like you have in the constitutional system of Great Britain, where the party in power never loses a vote because it is the party in power. But in the United States, especially in the United States Senate, the so-called cooling saucer of American politics by our founders design. Since the filibuster, the Senate has been a check on the power of the political majority. The power of the minority has been protected. Not that the minority can pass legislation. The fact that it’s a minority indicates that that’s not true, but nonetheless, it does have a tempering effect upon the majority. You take the filibuster away and there’s nothing but a 747 roaring down the runway, unstoppable. This general point is what the editors of the Wall Street Journal made in the print edition of Thursday’s newspaper, the headline of their editorial, “The Progressive Steamroller.”

In the subhead of the editorial, they wrote, “The $1.9 trillion spending bill is only a taste of what’s coming.” In one of the most important sections of this editorial in the journal, the editors wrote, “One lesson from the COVID non fight is that there are no democratic moderates in Congress. The party base has moved so sharply left, that even swing state members are more liberal than many liberals in the Clinton years. Democrats lost not a single vote in the Senate and only one in the house. The fear of primary challenges from the left, which took out house war horses in 2018 and 2020 has concentrated incumbent minds.” Now we’re going to be looking at this a bit further, but this is the reality of our hyper-partisan age. And again, there’s a deeper worldview issue here.

It’s a conflict, not just between two parties or two sets of policies, it’s a contrast or conflict between two deeply rooted, comprehensive worldviews. That means that the kind of partisan picture we’re looking at here, isn’t going to go away when you move from say, budgetary or monetary matters to moral matters, such as the Equality Act that is another part of this same steamroller. One of the things we’ve noted is that there is a connection between being theologically liberal and politically liberal, but we also need to understand that there’s a necessary, understandable worldview tie between liberal economics and liberal politics.

The fact is, that these two worldviews are now becoming so apparent that those who have eyes to see, will understand that we really are looking at a steamroller in the current context, but the editors went on and said, “A second lesson is that President Biden is no moderating political force. Democrats in the House and Senate are setting the agenda, and Mr. Biden is along for the ride. He’s the ideal political front man for this agenda they write, with his talk of unity and anti-Trump persona, but he isn’t shaping legislation. He is signing onto what our chief of staff, Ron Klain tells him he needs to support.”

Well, that’s actually true. It’s true that as you look at this legislation, none of the particular parts came from Joe Biden. None of the particular arguments originated with Joe Biden. Joe Biden picked them up in the primary process because they were the direction of the party, and many of the positions that are now policy, according to this law, were positions that Joe Biden didn’t hold, not only when he was in the United States Senate, but when he was Barack Obama’s vice-president of the United States.

Now in coming days and weeks, we’re going to be looking at this massive bill and massive changes. Of course, our basic concern is what we learn in worldview perspective. For one thing, we are looking at the redefinition of the American welfare system. Here we’re going to have to look at the fact that even during the Clinton administration, there was a welfare reform act that sought with vast bipartisan support, to tie welfare support and public assistance to some kind of bona fide actual work or intention to work or proof of trying to find work. That really disappears under the logic of this stimulus bill. You also have, what amounts to tax credits and outright grants to people, that will, in many ways, come as a supplement to public assistance. The Democratic Party’s made clear this is something that they want to continue. It’s a revolutionary rather radical first step towards something like universal basic income. You will also note that in much of the Democratic Party’s language about this bill, they have shifted from talking about it as a stimulus bill to talking about it as an anti-poverty bill.

Well, here’s what you need to recognize. If it really is an anti-poverty bill, there should have been a debate about how to lift people out of poverty. What are the conditions that actually make for escaping poverty? But there was none of that. That discussion didn’t happen. It should have happened. But what we’re going to be looking at is the fact that, you’re going to see people say, that if you are for this bill, then you’re for lifting people out of poverty. If you’re against this bill, then you want to keep people in poverty, but that’s not true. The worldview clash is not between people who want to help people who are in poverty and those who do not. The worldview clash is over two different entire understandings of what it takes actually to lift people out of poverty in some kind of ongoing sense.

But one final thought on this stimulus bill, as it has been packaged, remember that $1,400 check coming to so many people and then other checks for children, and that would mean at least several thousand dollars for many families. Many people will see that as what they are due, because they’ve been paying taxes to the government, but many of the people who will be receiving those checks, never actually pay much in taxes. Furthermore, this is not a means tested check. It’s going to be sent to any number of millions, tens of millions of Americans, including some who are not even citizens to this country, and some who are actually felons, who are in prison. But all this was basically clouded in the rush, the rush to pass this bill, the rush for the President to sign it publicly and to declare a big victory early in his presidency, but it’s actually a bigger issue even than the President has trumpeted in his signing ceremony. It’s a far bigger issue than he may want to be associated with in decades to come.

It’s certainly a far bigger bill and a far bigger debt for future generations than President Joe Biden will want them to remember at the time. Back in the day, the Roman Empire, it was said that the key to the government success was bread and circuses. Giving people bread and giving them entertainment, a spectacle. We’re seeing more than a little of that in what’s going on in the spectacle in Washington DC right now.

Part III

The New Pseudo-Religion of Instagram Influencers: Exploring the Intersection of Social Justice Activism and the Wellness Cult

But next we’re going to shift to a very different issue. The New York Times had a really important editorial that ran in recent days, an opinion piece. It was by Leigh Stein. The headline, “Influencers are the new televangelists.” Now, Leigh Stein is the author of the recent novel, Self Care, it’s identified as a satire of the wellness industry and influencer culture. Well, I’m all in on that. I’m all for satire of the wellness industry and the so-called influencer culture. But in this article, Leigh Stein is really onto something and I want to see what she’s onto. She’s onto the fact that religion in America, that is serious religion, which is to say the dominant Christian witness, the dominant Christian worldview, has given way in the secular age, not to actual unbelief on the parts of most of the millions who say they aren’t religious.

Rather they’re religious in different ways. And one of the ways they are religious is about their wellness, about their health. There are all kinds of cults about health, and by that I don’t just mean cults as in the old religious cults. I mean cults as in consumer cults. One of the things that Leigh Stein points to is the fact that the old televangelists have been replaced by the modern Instagram influencers. Stein writes, “On Instagram, I follow 700 people, mostly women. 100 of these women follow Glennon Doyle, whose memoir Untamed has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 51 weeks.”

Let me just stop here. It’s quite an achievement to make the New York Times bestseller list. If you make that list with a title, if you’re the author, you are a millionaire, several times over. But to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 51 weeks? Well, let me just say, that’s something to envy. It turns out that Glennon Doyle is a big deal. And I mean that not only in the cultural sense, but in the financial sense. She has turned her role as an internet influencer into millions and millions of dollars. But it’s not just that, it’s a pseudo religion. As Leigh Stein writes, and remember, this is in the New York Times, that’s important, “Fans of Miss Doyle’s gospel, an accessible combination of self-care, activism and tongue in cheek Christianity, can worship at any time of day or night, at the electric church of her Instagram feed by replacing the rigid dogma of religion with the confessional lingua franca of social media, Ms. Doyle has become a charismatic preacher for women, like me, who aren’t even religious.”

So here’s the acknowledgement. They aren’t religious when they say they’re not religious, and by the way, the Christian worldview reminds us that, being made in the image of God means that you will always have this impulse to worship, it will come out one way or another. And in this case, the cult of worship actually turns out to be the cult of self, now redefined as wellness. Later in the article, Leigh Stein writes, “But are we truly non-religious or are our belief systems to bespoke?” That means too custom fashioned to appear on a list of major religions in a Pew phone survey. She then writes this, “Many millennials, who have turned their backs on religious tradition because it isn’t sufficiently diverse or inclusive, have found alternative scripture online. Our new belief system is a blend of left-wing political orthodoxy, intersectional feminism, self-optimization, therapy, wellness, astrology, and Dolly Parton.”

You have to give Leigh Stein this, she’s a very good writer. You also have to give her something else. She is very honest and she is onto something. Speaking of the religious nature of this new wellness cult, she writes, “And we found a different kind of clergy, personal growth influencers, women like Ms. Doyle who offer nones like us permission, validation,” that’s none, N-O-N-E-S, as in no religious affiliation, “Who offer nones like us permission, validation, and community on demand, at a time when it’s nearly impossible to share communion in person. We don’t even have to put down our phones.”

Well, actually you can’t put down your phones because that’s where the influencer is influencing. There’s another very important point that comes out in Leigh Stein’s article, and it is the intersection of the new social justice activism and what she calls “The rebranding of diet and beauty culture as wellness and self-care.” Leigh Stein writes, “I was once one of those millennials who made politics her religion. I lasted three years as a feminist activist and organizer before I burned out in 2017. That’s when I began noticing how many wellness products and programs were marketed to women in pain and how the social media industry relies on keeping us outraged and engaged. It’s no wonder we’re seeking relief.”

In other words, she says something here, number one, that intersection of the new social activism, and that’s a rather progressive social activism and the new wellness cult, but she also points out the fact that the only way for these influencers to gain influence is to keep people outraged and engaged. There’s another acknowledgement in this article by Leigh Stein, and that’s the fact that these new religions of wellness and social activism, don’t actually offer much. She says this, “Left-wing secular millennials may follow politics devoutly, but the women we’ve chosen as our moral leaders aren’t challenging us to ask the fundamental questions that leaders of faith have been wrestling with for thousands of years. Why are we here? Why do we suffer? What should we believe in, beyond the limits of our puny selfhood.”

That’s a spectacularly important set of questions, and it points to the distinction between the Christian worldview and the very confused syncretistic worldview of the secular world around us. Wellness can’t even deliver wellness, much less anything like forgiveness of sins, meaning of life, truth and everlasting life. The conclusion Stein reaches is this, “The whole economy of Instagram is based on our thinking about ourselves, posting about ourselves, working on ourselves.” Now in a worldview perspective, I just want to say, the worldview issues there are pretty apparent, and we’ve already looked at the intersection here. We’ve looked at the emptiness of theology here. We looked at the reality, this new air-sets false religion, but we need to look at something else. As I said, it’s important that this article appeared in the New York Times.

What does that tell us? It tells us that even in the pages of the New York Times, which is really as a paper, pretty much committed to both the social activism and the wellness culture that’s described here. The fact is that there is still a hunger for answers to more basic fundamental questions, and that’s why the newspaper would run an article like this, which actually raises those huge questions. Even as sadly, of course, it offers no real answers.

Part IV

Roger Mudd, Long-Time Television Anchorman, Dies at 93: The Major Media, Then and Now

Now as the week comes to an end, I also want to point to another obituary. In this case, it’s about the former television news anchorman, Roger Mudd, who died in recent days at age 93.

Roger Mudd was old school journalism. He had the voice and he had an historical academic background that made him quite ready to cover American politics and he covered American politics as about as well as American politics could be covered in the TV journalism, of the second half of the 20th century. He came very close to becoming the lead anchor at both CBS and NBC. Nonetheless, he was very well-known to Americans who watched the news by, the fact that he had so many leading reports, award-winning reports, on both of those television networks. But it’s also important to recognize that Roger Mudd, who, as I said died at age 93, vastly outlived the old journalism that he represented. That journalism died a long time ago. It was a journalism that though conducted by people who were generally more liberal on the political spectrum, was accountable in ways that modern news media are certainly not accountable.

Roger Mudd operated in a time when television news was in its infancy and he saw it through its adolescence into its adulthood, but a part of its adulthood was that if you got a report wrong, you were disciplined. If you’ve got to report wrong too many times, you were fired. That’s really not the case in what’s called journalism today. Roger Mudd also had, as so many journalists have, one crystallizing moment in history. For him, it came in the presidential campaign of 1976. Roger Mudd got an interview with Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. At that point, Kennedy was running against the incumbent president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Kennedy was the great symbol of the left wing of the democratic party then, and people forget, that at the point that his interview with Roger Mudd took place, he was leading Carter by something between two-to-one, to three-to-one.

President Carter was in a very weak position in his own party, and it looked like he would be unseated, even as he was running for reelection, unseated for his own party’s nomination. Of course, it didn’t happen. It came fairly close to happening, but the reason it didn’t happen, well in many ways, it comes down to that interview with Roger Mudd. Roger Mudd asked Edward Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, as he was more popularly known, a fatal question. He asked him, “Why do you want to be president?” It wasn’t that Ted Kennedy’s answer was really bad. It was that Ted Kennedy really didn’t have an answer. When Mr. Mudd asked him, “Why do you want to be president?” Senator Kennedy responded in a way that was more hesitant than I am willing to try to reenact, “Well I’m, were I to, to make the, the announcement and to run, the reasons that I would run is, because I have a great belief in this country.” That was the end of his statement. That was it. If you can understand it, you are way ahead of the American people.

By the way, if you find this interesting and I hope you do, you’ll find very interesting the conversation that I had with historian and journalist, John Ward. My Thinking in Public program was about his book Camelot’s End, which is about that race for the Democratic nomination in 1976. It’s an epic story, it’s a big story, and it’s a story with a lot of relevance actually about where we stand today in American culture and politics in 2021.

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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