The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

It’s Wednesday, August 25, 2021.

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

Part I

The Dynamic to Watch: The Big Political Game in Washington Now Is the Tension Among Democrats — The Traditional Liberals vs. the Insurgent Left. All Signs Are that the Left Will Win this Battle

In the United States, we are quite accustomed to talking about political parties, and the main two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. But from time to time, it’s at least important to pause and ask ourselves some basic questions about what it means that in our political system, there are two main parties, it’s often referred to as a two-party system. That doesn’t mean that other parties are illegal and can’t organize, it just means that in the main, third-parties or independent parties, new political parties, basically, are out to make an argument that has not been fully adopted by either of the two major political parties. And given the structure of the Electoral College, it is almost impossible for a third-party candidate to be elected President of the United States, and only rarely are there third-party candidates actually in Congress.

So, a third-party issue in the United States is more hypothetical than real. We’ve been settled in the two-party system that we now know for, well, almost 200 years, you could say, from the end of the Civil War to the present. But what is a political party? I mean, organizationally, it’s a voluntary group of political partisans and office holders who gathered together in order to establish a movement according to their own particular principles. The Democratic Party, going all the way back to the time of Presidents Jefferson and Jackson, and the Republican Party more recent, going back to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. There are arguments. The two parties are basically organized forms of political arguments. But the argument is developed over time. Indeed, it has changed over time. As you’re looking at one snapshot in American history, the particular issues associated with the two parties may be very different than what you’re thinking about today.

But the modern picture, nonetheless, has been pretty remarkably stable, at least in the aftermath of two things. Number one, the New Deal after the Great Depression, going back to the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then, you might say, the Reagan Revolution, that was the other bookend in modern American politics going back to the period of the 1980s into the ’90s. You had the Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Republican Ronald Reagan, you had American liberalism as represented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, looking to government and the expansion of government into life, into the economy, as the rightful future direction of American society, larger state, larger government in the name of governmental liberalism with the government becoming more and more, according to this theory, a helper to the citizens.

And then, you had the Reagan Revolution, a Republican president following a very traditional Republican ideology, Republican principle of saying that less government is better than more government because more government essentially means oppression and more government also means a weaker economy, more government control of the economy means less economic expansion, less development of wealth, less flourishing. In one sense and in an actual sense, the Democratic Party today claims to be the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt the way that the Republican Party claims to be the party of Ronald Reagan. But if anything, you’re now looking at the fact that the two-party system is really two confrontational arguments that are more stark, more divided, the partisan divide is deeper, it is not less significant, it is more significant. And especially, when you add social issues, moral, and cultural issues, just say abortion, the LGBTQ revolution, well, the distinction between the two parties is just getting deeper and deeper.

But it’s also interesting to note that when you are talking about two parties being two political arguments, and you could say, and this is as a generalization, actually true, the Democratic Party far more liberal, the Republican Party far more conservative. You also have to look at the fact that there are arguments within the parties. That’s true for the Republicans, we’ll talk about that picture one day. But most importantly, right now, it’s among the Democrats. Why is that the big picture right now? Well, because the Democrats elected the President of the United States. They hold majorities, although very slim majorities, in Congress, in both the House and the Senate. Differences, divergences, arguments among Republicans right now just aren’t all that significant as compared to what the Democrats are facing as the challenge of actually passing legislation. And that has led to a headline in the New York Times such as this. Monday, “Divided Democrats Resume House Battles Over Priorities and Politics.” The same day, the Wall Street Journal headline, “Democratic Split Keeps Bills in the Limbo.” Editorial statement yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, “The Agony of the Centrist Democrats.”

What’s going on here? It is really interesting. Now, the Democrats have the majority in the House. They have an even thinner majority in the Senate. In the House, Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose only three votes. That’s how close the margin is. She has to hold her party together, at least long enough, to score an adequate vote to move forward legislation. Now, consider this, the Democrats own the White House, they have majorities above the House and the Senate, but thus far, they have been unable to pass much actual legislation. So, what’s the big split? What’s the battle amongst the Democrats? Again, the Republicans are basically watching from the sidelines right now. All the action is in the battle among the Democrats. And it really is interesting. It’s between liberal Democrats who are often called moderate, and far more liberal Democrats, sometimes called progressives. It’s not a battle between conservatives and liberals.

The Democratic Party basically has no office holders who could be described as conservative in any legitimate sense. That is a change, by the way, from say, the picture in the U.S. 40 or 50 years ago. But we’re not living a half century ago, we’re living right now. In the Democratic Party, all of the energy is the battle between those who are more classically liberal in the democratic tradition and those who are far more now, a part of the left. They style themselves as progressives. They think the liberals aren’t liberal enough, and they think the liberals are sellouts. Now, why would they call the liberals the more traditional liberal sellouts? It’s because so many of them are in so-called swing districts. That is to say, they are likely to face a Republican challenger who just might beat them so they can’t be too liberal or they’re going to lose their seat. Either their Senatorial seat or even more likely, their seat in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives.

But here’s where the battle gets even more interesting. Let’s just say that you are a Democratic member of Congress. You hold a district, say, a suburban district in Chicago, so you’re a member of the Illinois delegation to the United States House of Representatives, you fear losing your seat. To whom do you most fear losing your seat? Actually, probably the fear of losing your seat in the general election to a Republican is a less significant fear upfront than being primaried, that’s a fairly new word in American politics, primaried by someone in your own party coming from the left. That’s what’s been going on in the Democratic Party. You have people who are challenging incumbent Democrats, people of their own party, because the allegation is they aren’t liberal enough. So, right now, if you’re a Democrat in the House of Representatives, you are in a very tough place.

Now, they ask for it. They want to be in the majority. They are the majority, but now that they are the majority, they aren’t sure what to do because they are divided amongst themselves. The far-left wants government to expand itself into virtually everything. The government to take over childcare, the government to take over, say, early childhood education, the government to fund free tuition at least to community colleges or state colleges, to forgive student loans, to push the Green New Deal, to put the government as an intrusion into virtually every aspect of American society. To fail to do that they say is to fail to understand the mandate of the millennial liberal, progressive, left-wing voters who are coming. And yet, even as the left-wing of the Democratic Party, the left left-wing is clearly driving the action and setting the terms of debate, it is also abundantly clear that there are not enough of them to hold enough seats to constitute a Democratic majority in the House.

And thus, some of the political energy turns to those who are described as moderates, which in this case means that they are less liberal than those on the far-left wing. What’s their predicament? Well, they’re in danger of two things, both being primaried from the left and then being defeated in the general election from the right. They can’t eagerly, or at least publicly, endorse the $3.5 trillion Economic Stimulus Bill it’s called, and it’s being labeled by President Biden as infrastructure. They can’t risk their political careers on that. They have to at least appear to be trying to create some kind of new, more conservative deal or bargain, or they have to find a way to allow this legislation to go forward without their public support, in other words, to hide from voters that they’re actually voting for, or politically supporting that $3.5 trillion bill that is actually, according to some estimates, well over $5 trillion.

But you do recall that the headlines were just recently a bipartisan deal in the United States Senate, a deal between the President of the United States, the Biden administration, and at least a majority of senators to come up with a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. But the Speaker of the House has been saying for some time that she’s not going to bring that $1 trillion bill until the Senate simultaneously brings that $3.5 trillion bill because she wants both of those bills adopted simultaneously in order to do something for the so-called moderates in her party, to give them that claim of a bipartisan legislative achievement, but also to give the big gain to the far-left. She has nine members who described themselves as moderates who say they won’t vote for the $3.5 trillion bill unless the Bipartisan Bill is brought first. But she has dozens of members in the far-left who say that they will only vote for the two together, it’s all or nothing. Does this sound interesting to you? It really is fascinating.

The situation is well-described by Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat of New York, and this particular member of Congress is way there on the left saying, “Frankly, if we were to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill first, then we lose leverage.” And then, as the Wall Street Journal explains, if the nine centrist Democrats don’t budge, “it’s a recipe for gridlock because I can assure you,” said the member of Congress, Ritchie Torres, “I can assure you that members like me have no intention of budging on our position.” Well, what we see here is something really fascinating. Number one, the Democrats basically own the store and they still can’t legislate. And that is because they really don’t want Americans to know how leftward the party has gone, but leftward members are now in such control holding basically coercive power over the Speaker of the House that she’s not going to be able to make progress unless the far-left plays ball. But the far-left says they want to own the ball.

The situations described in the New York Times with the speaker trying to arrange some kind of bargain this way, “The efforts have left the liberals feeling aggrieved and worried that the Democratic establishment is actually hurting the party by sapping the vital energy of younger voters. Young liberals like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, not only defeated Democratic stalwarts to win their seats in New York, but they have captured the imagination of the next generation.” That may or may not be true. Certainly, a lot of that energy in the Democratic Party to the left and the further left is coming from young voters, but those younger voters don’t have uniform influence, much less dominance across the country. If you are a Democratic member of Congress from suburban Chicago, you probably don’t want to appear in a campaign commercial with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

One other big issue, and it’s very revealing, is the role of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, in all of this. For virtually 40 years, Joe Biden built his reputation in American politics as a so-called moderate liberal, but by the time he won the Democratic nomination, he had basically openly embraced the far-left of his party. You had the New York Times recently ran an article that said that Bernie Sanders was the left-wing of his party, now, he’s something like the center of his party. He’s very much a part of the action. Joe Biden is in some degree, turned into Bernie Sanders. But Joe Biden also wants that bipartisan achievement, and those who are in the driver’s seat to the Democratic left see Joe Biden himself as well, willing to go along, but not particularly helpful or insightful.

The New York Times article, again, this is the New York Times, said, “While Mr. Biden is identified, at least in temperament, with the moderate, establishment wing of his party, the agenda he ran on forged in part by policy panels assembled by the Biden campaign and his rival, Mr. Sanders of Vermont, is closer to the left, much of which would be advanced by the $3.5 trillion budget plan expected to receive a vote.” The left of the Democratic Party has also learned that it can coerce Joe Biden into action. That’s what it did when the president announced by executive order, and there is no president who has issued so many executive orders on so many different issues in American life. They ordered the president to continue an executive order when it came to a moratorium on evictions and the President of the United States, Joe Biden, did the most amazing thing admitting in public to the American people that he did not believe that what he was doing was constitutional and going ahead to do it anyway.

You could argue one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts ever undertaken by a president who admitted to the public exactly what he was doing when he did it. The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal is almost assuredly right when it predicts that the moderates in the Democratic Party will cave. As the Wall Street Journal editor say, “Pelosi, meaning the Speaker of the House, views them as cannon fodder, and they’ll probably cave.” That’s exactly what they will probably do. One of the reasons is that when you’ll get politics, moderates are often, not only moderate in position, but moderate in temperament. You might put it as an axiom like this, moderates in the Democratic Party, insofar as they survive, generally are cannon fodder. Moderates in the Republican Party generally are former office holders.

Part II

"The Science' Says?" The Authority of ‘Science’ When the Entire Game is Political

But next, I want to turn to another headline story, this one on the front page of the New York Times, it’s rich in worldview analysis. Even the Times, by the way, seems to recognize that. The headline of the article is this, “Science of Virus Keeps Evolving and Frustrating.” The science of the virus, meaning COVID-19. Apoorva Mandavilli is the reporter of the article which begins, “When the coronavirus surfaced last year, no one was prepared for it to invade every aspect of daily life for so long, so insidiously. The pandemic has forced Americans to wrestle with life-or-death choices every day of the past 18 months, and there’s no end in sight.” Now, here’s the key issue, the second paragraph. “Scientific understanding of the virus changes by the hour, it seems. The virus spreads only by close contact or on contaminated surfaces, and then turns out to be airborne. The virus mutates slowly, but then emerges in a series of dangerous new forms. Americans don’t need to wear a mask. Wait, they do.”

It’s a very candid paragraph. You have many of the mainstream media who won’t actually acknowledge all the mixed messaging that has been coming, not only from those who claim some mantle of science, but frankly, the kind of confusion that has come from some of the very news sources. Now, you could say that the news sources are themselves simply reporting the confusion that they find. But the problem is they often report it as something other than confusion, they report as if they are writing with clarity when there is no clarity. Mandavilli understands the problem, “At no point in this ordeal has the ground beneath our feet seemed so uncertain. In the past week, federal health officials said they would begin offering booster shots to all Americans in coming months. Days earlier, those officials had assured the public that the vaccines were holding strong against the delta variant of the virus and that boosters would not be necessary.”

Notice again, this is a very rare acknowledgement. Here you have, stated right in public, the fact that you had federal officials claiming science, claiming to act only on science who have reversed themselves, not only once or twice, but now repeatedly. This is why the reporter says, “It seems as if the ground is shifting under our feet.” And it is, but there’s more here in terms of worldview. We have several problems. One of the problems is that Americans don’t understand the difference between science and to the claim of science. Now, when we talk about science as a scientific method, an experimental method, we talk about science as the accumulation and the development of argument tested over time. When we talk about science in that sense, we’re clearly not talking about the kind of science that you have people such as leaders of the CDC, and others, including the President of the United States, and many others who post on television or hold public office, many of them will say, “Well, the science says, the science says, the science says.”

Two days later, they turn around and say, “The science says something else.” Well, science as an overarching methodology doesn’t that way. They could mean something else such as, “I just read a scientific report and it says this,” without acknowledging that there are also other scientific reports that say the opposite. You also have the fault being made by so many in government and in the larger culture who are saying that science says as if that represents an overwhelming settled consensus in science when it represents no such thing. You also often don’t have the clarification as to whether science in this case means something that might be more authoritative in the scientific research establishment or something that’s merely claiming to be science. One of the problems is that people use the same word science when they’re talking about say, physics or sociology. But there is no sane universe in which science is the right word to use about those two very different enterprises.

As Christians, one of the big issues we need to think about is the authority of science in the larger culture. The ideology of scientism is actually one of the most dangerous worldviews telling us that everything worth knowing, the only authoritative source of knowledge is what can be called science. That’s a rejection, by the way, of essential Christian truth claims. Christians can accept that science can tell us a great deal about the world but we can’t accept that science has the final word and is the final authority in all things. When you think about the American government, by the way, and all its decrees, I’m not saying that they mean nothing, they actually mean something. I’m not saying that science tells us nothing, it tells us a great deal. I’m not saying that there is not at times a scientific consensus from which we should learn, not saying that at all, I am saying, they are people recklessly using the word science as if that is the magic switch that gives them authority for their public policy prognostications.

And you have many in government who see this kind of pandemic as an opportunity to exert themselves and government action into American public and even private life in a way from which they never intend to retreat. The scientific establishment, according to this article of the New York Times recognizes that it is facing a crisis because many Americans just think it’s all being made up. As the New York Times article says, “The public disagreements and debates played out in public, instead of obscure conferences, gives the false impression that science is arbitrary or that scientists are making things up as they go along.” Remember the headline was, “Science of Virus Keeps Evolving and Frustrating.” Well, it may be evolving, but it is certainly, undeniably frustrating.

Part III

Farm Life Without the Manure? Evidently People Don’t Want Too Much Reality From “Farm-Fluencers"

But finally, today, something interesting about human nature, it turns out we really crave reality, just not too much of it, and don’t make the reality too real. This shows up in a feature article in the Wall Street Journal about Hannah Neeleman, and she’s described as a rancher, an entrepreneur in Kamas, Utah, who has found a following on social media for “sunlit images of her rural life with her husband and six rosy-cheeked children.” She is, we are told, the reigning Mrs. Utah. She is a Juilliard-trained ballerina, but she posts “photos of dancing in the barn in cowboy boots, cooking on Agnes, her hunter-green Aga stove, and milking cows at dusk, all in support of the family’s Ballerina Farm Brand, which includes an e-commerce site that sells meat as well as sundries like cute sweatshirts.” The point here is that this particular rancher, entrepreneur, and her photo-perfect family have become a phenomenon on social media.

But it also turns out that there is the admission that there’s another side to this picture. There’s another smell to it as well. As reporter Rory Satran says, “What doesn’t make the cut, expeditions the family makes to 7-Eleven for hot dogs when farm life inevitably gets too busy for a home-cooked meal. ‘I’m not sharing that, but we do it,’ said Ms. Neeleman, who has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram. ‘We do get Slurpees occasionally.'” They’re not putting the picture. We’re told that there’s an entire wave known as the farmfluencers, social media figures who present a very big colic picture of farm life that’s very attractive to people, but reality, according to this article, is sometimes complicated. As Ms. Neeleman says, “I show the good, the bad, but not the ugly.” It turns out that one of the complications of this kind of social media presentation turns out to be your own children because they turn out not always to look like they belong in the picture of a bucolic farm.

One of these farmfluencers said that she sometimes cringes “when one of her children appears in videos wearing a fluorescent tank top thinking, ‘That’s not a prairie child outfit.'” The article goes on to say that she commented, “Kids definitely can make a beautiful space, not so beautiful.” In case you wonder what that means, it sometimes means that kids show up wearing a fluorescent t-shirt or for that matter, a princess outfit, that doesn’t fit the farmfluencer vibe. We’re also told that sometimes the child can show up with a stray “Paw Patrol sweatshirt” that takes us back to yesterday on The Briefing. But then we get to this, “There’s also the gory, gooey reality of farm life. As any homesteader will tell you, droppings and death are as central to the lifestyle as the cerulean eggs.” Another farmfluencer who combines French cooking and American rural life, at least in theory said, “If I’m in my kitchen and I’ve got a beautiful roll with pancetta, it’s gorgeous. You can see the herbs, it’s giving you all the feelings.” She said, “What’s behind that pancetta? It’s me raising that pig and the smell that goes with that pig.”

To some extent, this is true of all of us, but it tells you something about the contemporary moment that so many people say they crave reality. They look to farmfluencers for a source of reality, but it’s a very edited reality. Because when it comes to the pancetta, we want the herbs. When it comes to the actual smell of the pig, not so much.

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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