The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

It’s Tuesday, June 22, 2021. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

New York City Holds Primary Election Today: What Will the Election Results from the American Epicenter of Culture, Economics, and Influence Tell Us?

New York City is the largest city in the United States. Its economy is larger than that of many nations, and thus, who holds the office of mayor in New York City is a matter, not only of importance for New York City, but for the entire nation, and furthermore, it has international significance.

Today in New York, there will be a primary election usually scheduled for the fall, but taking place this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the month of June. And the most important action is on the Democratic side. Who emerges as the victor of the Democratic Primary is almost assuredly going to be the next mayor of New York City. That might well be a bellwether pointing to the future of Democratic politics in the United States. But then again, it might not. A very interesting background for our consideration and it is rich with worldview significance.

First of all, let’s just remind ourselves about the City of New York. It is the nation’s most populated city. It has a population of over 8 million, in the metropolitan area about 20 million, in the larger statistical area, 23 million. That’s 23 million people. Those who founded the United States of America could not have envisioned a country that had 23 million people, not to mention just one city.

But as we’re speaking of American history, remember the fact that New York City was actually the capital of the United States of America from 1785 to 1790. But the history of New York goes back much further than that. It goes back at least to 1664 when Dutch traders set up a trading post in what was, and still is, one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New York Harbor. The Dutch had control of the area. The trading post became a city with a charter in 1674, and it was often referred to as New Amsterdam. You have that pattern where you have, well, of course, not only New York and New Jersey, you have news, as in the New World, referencing famous places in the Old World, Amsterdam, of course, being the center of the Dutch empire of the Netherlands.

But New Amsterdam didn’t stay New Amsterdam for long. The British gain control in 1664 and promptly renamed it New York, York replacing Amsterdam, the British replacing the Dutch. But the Dutch tradition continued, especially with some of the famous families that came over and became leading Dutch traders. The Dutch names include one of the names very much associated with New York City, New York State, and with American politics. That name would be Roosevelt, a part of the Dutch aristocracy in the history of New York, producing, of course, two American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Dutch temporarily wrested control from the British in 1763, establishing New York that had been New Amsterdam, now as New Orange, referring to the ruling house there in the Netherlands, the House of Orange. It is still the ruling house known as the House of Orange-Nassau. Of course, at about the very same time in history, you had the glorious revolution in Britain that brought to the throne there, William and Mary, William, of course, of the House of Orange. Thus, you have all the Orange names in the United States as well.

But it wasn’t long before New Orange went the way of New Amsterdam, and the city has been known as New York consistently since 1674. And eventually, the state would be known as New York as well.

Geography often explains why one city has such outsize influence. And again, it was the natural harbor and the accompanying river that provided the maritime commerce that brought civilization to the city we now know as New York, and it’s what made New York such an economic and political powerhouse, virtually from the beginning.

But if you fast forward to where we are now in the Democratic Primary held today in New York City, New York is now far more than a natural harbor and a trading post. It is now one of the world’s most important cities, and in the United States, New York has an outsize influence and importance. We need to consider that. It’s not just a matter of numbers. It is a matter of influence. And this is where the worldview issues really do kick in.

Think about just the fact that in New York, you have the center of economic activity, not only for the United States, but arguably, for the world. The business that is transacted in New York on an annual basis in what is known as the Gross Municipal Product, it amounts to about $20 trillion. That’s $20 trillion. There are very few cities in the world that can consistently, over time, point to that kind of preeminence in the financial world. Just say, “The New York Stock Exchange,” and you get the point. Just say, “Wall Street” and understand the power.

But it’s not just the raw economic power. It is the political clout that goes with that economic power and with the fact that very early in American life, New York began to develop in an outsize way the elite of the nation. The culture [inaudible 00:05:16], the academic elite, the intellectual elite, the financial elite and yes, these elites are often very much interconnected. And in New York, the interconnectedness is massive, and it is also intergenerational. Just look at the names on so many of the museums, the names that continue to crop up, but you’re also looking at the fact that New York has become one of the most multicultural and multi-ethnic cities in the world.

There are reportedly more than 300 languages that are spoken by the population of New York. You’re also looking at various dialects and ethnic groups. You’re looking at America shaped over successive generations and decades by an influx of immigrants, not just the Dutch, not just the English, but many others, including the Irish, the Italians, the Central and Eastern Europeans, many who have come, and of course, many from Asia as well.

The United States became the great front door to immigrants in the history of the United States, New York Harbor being the natural harbor into which these immigrants came at first, almost all of them by sea. And of course, when you’re looking at the Statue of Liberty, it is there in New York Harbor, along with Ellis Island, again, a symbol of New York as the front door of the nation to the world. But that front door of the nation to the world is ideological, philosophical. It is true in worldview and in ideas, as well as in politics and commerce and culture.

You can go to New York City. You see some of the most famous museums in the world, some of the greatest collections of antiquities and art and culture. You also see the cultural combat in terms of the shifting ideas of art and culture of intellectual schools of thought. You’re looking at the fact that in New York, you do have an intellectual elite that has influence not just in New York, furthermore, not just in the United States, but in the United States, it is absolutely outsize, and it is enormously liberal.

There are conservatives in New York, of course. You’re looking at something like 23 million people in the area, but the reality is that the politics of New York is very liberal. Even the Republicans who have been elected mayor there have been, on social issues, very liberal.

Part II

What Is Ranked Choice Voting? How This Form of Voting Weakens Democratic Process

But New York is clearly, in the main, a Democratic town, and in the Democratic Party, it is the far left that is vying for control. When you look at the candidates that are on the primary ballot today, there are about 13 of them. There are 8 major candidates, and here’s what you need to know. Any one of these would be basically on the left wing of the left wing in almost any other American political context, but not in New York.

The 8 major candidates include Eric Adams. He’s the Borough President in Brooklyn and a former city police officer. You have Shaun Donovan, a former housing secretary in the Obama administration. Kathryn Garcia, a former Sanitation Department commissioner. Ray McGuire, a former executive with Citigroup. Dianne Morales, a former non-profit executive. Scott Stringer, the City Comptroller and he’s the former Bureau President of Manhattan. Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer, and she’s a former counsel to the current Mayor Bill de Blasio and Andrew Yang. Yes, a contender, at least he thought for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination who was leading this race some months ago, but is now not believed to be in the leading position.

Most people think that Eric Adams, the current Borough President in Brooklyn is in front place. He’s been endorsed by the New York Post Editorial Board and a major service workers’ union. He may be, at least, perceived as more conservative than some of the other candidates and for one thing, he is a former city police officer, but in New York, you can count on fact that that is both a plus and a negative.

The most liberal of these candidates is probably Dianne Morales. She is the former executive of a nonprofit organization. She’s been endorsed by the Sunrise Movement of New York City. Again, you’re looking at a very well-identified liberal activist group, but here’s the point. The Democratic Party often looks to the mayoral election in New York City, trying to gain some indication of the future of that party. But, once you begin to translate New York politics across the nation, it doesn’t go so well. Mayors of New York have often seen themselves having such a vast constituency as potential candidates for the presidency of the United States, but they have not fared so well.

To put the matter, simply what works politically in New York doesn’t work in Kansas, not even close. Furthermore, it doesn’t even work in a place like, well, upstate New York because the State of New York is not entirely like the City of New York. Upstate New York, more rural, more agricultural, far more conservative. What plays in New York City doesn’t even come close to playing in upstate New York.

But once again, because of the size, the population of New York, it has outsize influence in New York State politics. Increasingly, that state is moving in a more liberal direction because New York and its environs are becoming such liberal powerhouses, even in New York State politics. It’s much like what you see on the West Coast, especially with the major cities of California along the coast, developing such an outsize influence.

But there’s one other aspect of the race in New York we need to watch. This is the first time that the Democratic Primary in New York will be by ranked choice voting. Now, when you hear people in the United States talk about voting reform, you will hear some of them suggest that perhaps, we ought to elect our leaders according to ranked choice voting. In New York, voters are going to face a ballot that asked them to rank the top five candidates, their first choice, second, third, fourth, and fifth choice.

Why? Because according to ranked choice voting, the winning candidate has to have a majority. That’s not true in most American elections. There have been several American presidents, even in recent cycles, who’ve been elected with less than a majority of the vote. Bill Clinton, for example, elected with less than 40% of the vote, but still serving as President of the United States after the 1992 election.

But as you’re thinking about ranked choice voting, if there is no candidate who has a majority, then the candidates who received the lowest number of votes become eliminated in turn and their votes reassigned according to the ranked choice, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth until a candidate does have a majority. What does that do? Well, number one, it confuses the electorate. I think one of the worst aspects of ranked choice voting is the fact that it makes the process so incredibly complicated.

Furthermore, it means that the winning candidate may not have been the candidate who received the most votes on the first round. That, I think, to most Americans will seem fundamentally unfair. It amounts to a redistribution of votes that does something important ideologically, and that’s what we need to watch. It tends to favor candidates who are in a direction of the leader, but not in the same position as the leader. What does that mean? It means that what you end up with is something as you have in many European elections in which the center basically controls everything, and there is no real way for someone to be elected from either the left or the right, even by winning a plurality of the votes. It is because the ranked choice voting basically moves everything into the center.

That may sound good to many Americans until you understand that that center may be very resistant to Democratic correction. It means that as you have in Europe, you often have candidates that basically have to form coalitions in order to work together to try to win some kind of electoral victory. Again, there are some Americans who would say that sounds like a good thing until you understand that those coalitions can sell the voter out long before any name appears on the ballot.

In the United States, there is a very long tradition of understanding Election Day and the electoral process where the math is, at least, supposed to be very, very simple. This is added to the credibility of America’s experiment in constitutional self-government by the electoral process. And you’re also looking at the reality that in New York, the winner of the election may not be known until the middle of July.

Now, anyone who thinks that strengthens democracy, I think, is fooling himself or herself. That simply is not true. When you’re looking at a situation in which it is going to take computers basically to use algorithms in order to figure out who has won the Democratic nomination just for the office of mayor of New York City, that doesn’t strengthen democracy.

So what may we know late tonight from New York City? We might know the results of the first choice or the first rank election. And if there is no one who wins a very clear majority, and by the way, there are a lot of absentee ballots and others that have to be considered, then likelihood is that in all honesty, especially given the fact that there will be no less than 13 names on the ballot, the fact is there is likely to be no candidate who wins a clear majority and thus, New Yorkers might not know who is their Democratic nominee for mayor until sometime in the middle of July.

We could just let the Democrats in New York fend for themselves, but the influence of New York will be felt wherever you are, and thus, yes, we do have an interest in this race. So stay tuned.

Part III

Always Pay Attention to the Vocabulary: The Department of Veteran Affairs Will Begin Offering “Gender Confirmation Surgeries”

But next, as we’re speaking about big changes in the culture, an announcement was made just days ago by Denis McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs telling us that the Veteran’s Department, that is the Department of Veteran Affairs of the United States of America will now plan to offer so-called gender confirmation surgery to transgender veterans. Big story here. We’re talking about the fact that the Veterans’ Administration, now known as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, is telling us that they are going to classify what is ideologically labeled as gender confirmation surgery as a part of the medical package that is assured to veterans of the United States military.

The influence of this, again, is not just going to be in the military. It’s not just going to be what we are told are several 1,000 persons who may be covered by this policy. It is clearly coming as a part of the cultural coercion to say that all medical establishments must do the same. Medical insurance companies should do the same. This is putting the clout of the United States government through an organization as central as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs behind the sexual revolution in a whole new way.

Now, again, the headlines include this from the New York Times, “VA Plans to Offer Gender Confirmation Surgeries for Transgender Veterans.” You also have the headline that appeared in the Washington Post, “VA Plans to Offer Gender Confirmation Surgery to Transgender Veterans, Reversing Ban.” Now, what I want you to note there is the language, “gender confirmation surgery.” It wasn’t always known as that. And the very fact that this language is so ideological just leaps out at us, “gender confirmation surgery.”

Now, why would one need surgery in order to confirm gender? Well, in the main, and this is talking about gender confirmation surgeries clearly for transgender veterans, so we’re talking about transgender individuals as identified this way. The reason why gender confirmation surgery would require surgery is because the gender here, we are told, is not the same as the biological sex of the individual. Now, again, Christians do not believe that that distinction is even real, but nonetheless, here you see the new ideology that has leapt right out of what had been the kind of theorist that the philosophers and the moral revolutionaries were promoting right down now to the surgical suite in the veteran’s hospital.

Before it was known as gender confirmation surgery, and again, that was by political pressure, very clearly, undeniably. It was known as sex reassignment surgery, but you can understand why the ideologists behind the sexual revolution, the transgender ideology didn’t like the label sex reassignment surgery. Now we, as Christians, would understand that was at least far more honest about what was going on. We don’t believe, by the way, that sex can be reassigned, but at least that was more honest and that there was a reassignment that was being attempted.

But now, instead, the ideological form is gender confirmation surgeries. Just in case people didn’t understand what this was, and it’s moral sanity that millions of Americans wouldn’t understand what this is, the New York Times reported, “Gender confirming procedures reconstruct sexual organs to match the gender with which an individual identifies and approved to mitigate serious health concerns like substance abuse, suicide, and suicidal ideation” that according to an official in the administration. That’s the kind of argument that’s used over and over and over again. This, we are told, was the explanation behind the decision to change the policy, “The procedures, which were once considered to be akin to cosmetic surgery, are now widely seen as effective for such issues.”

But here’s where we need to note something. The issues that are presented here are psychological, not physical. That’s a very important thing for Christians to recognize, even as we do, pastorally, in compassion understand the tremendous consternation that is taking place amongst people who would request this kind of surgery. We still understand that what is being defended here is the necessity of the surgery on basically psychological and psychiatric grounds, not physical grounds.

You also notice something else. Even in this article in the New York Times, it says that these procedures are to, forgive me for the language, but this is an essential point, “Reconstruct sexual organs to match the gender with which an individual identifies,” but you’ll notice something here. There is no reproductive capacity. This is, indeed, more akin to cosmetic surgery. The justification for it isn’t physical. The justification for it is psychological or psychiatric or in the case of what is defined here, gender dysphoria as the official definition.

The fact that this is a very political decision was made clear in the fact that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary made the announcement at a PRIDE event in Orlando, Florida. He was clearly choosing the timing of the event and the location, the context in order to make a political point to score political points. That just makes very clear the political nature of all of this.

But I think it’s also important to recognize that there is a continual drumbeat in the media about the fact that this was a reversal of Trump-era bans on transgender service members. “The vestiges of bigotry remain,” said the secretary. Now, just keep those words in mind, “The vestiges of bigotry remain.” Where would that bigotry be rooted, and who might be behind it?

The secretary, by the way, went on to paint a very dark picture of the past, speaking of what he called a dark history of discrimination, speaking of the Biden Administration as the light that now comes after an era of darkness in which the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Veterans Administration did not recognize the legitimacy of this kind of surgery as a part of the treatment to be offered to veterans. Well, if that is a dark policy, who was behind it, and when did it happen? That policy doesn’t go back to the Trump Administration. That policy goes back to the year 2013. “The vestiges of bigotry” and the dark history, to whom do we look for that policy? The President of the United States was Barack Obama. The vice-president of the United States was, wait for it, Joe Biden.

But listen to how the press reports this. This is from the Washington Post, “The change marks a significant departure from the Veterans Administration under President Donald Trump who limited transgender people from serving in the military, a prohibition reversed by President Biden soon after he took office.” Here’s the next sentence, “In 2013, while Biden was Vice President, a department director said the VA, ‘does not provide sex reassignment surgery,’ effectively preventing transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Organization for Transgender Health.” We’ll just notice all of a sudden, the history isn’t rewinding four years. It’s rewinding back to 2013, but that’s not very convenient for the current president of the United States who was actually the vice president then.

One other issue. Did you notice in that sentence where we are told that the surgery is considered medically necessary by, “The World Professional Association for Transgender Health.” We’re supposed to assume that has worldwide automatic credibility and authority. The very construction of the word should tell you that the organization exists to justify this kind of surgery and the ideology behind it. Guess what? We’ve just come full circle.

The veteran secretary also made the statement that, “Even something as simple as displaying VA-specific rainbow magnets has proven to make our hospitals more welcoming, signaling to LGBTQ+ vets that we are here for them.” Yes, the Veteran Secretary of the United States talking about how the world has changed under the new administration by VA-specific rainbow magnets. That’s how the world works, folks.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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