The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 28, 2021

It’s Thursday, October 28, 2021.

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

Part I

‘To Change The Way Americans Live’: The Goal Of The Spending Bill — And President Biden’s Ambition To Be Next Transformational President

Joe Biden says he wants to be a transformative president. He intends to change American culture. In his words over the weekend, his massive stimulus spending would change the way Americans live. Just think about that. We’re talking about government spending, changing the way Americans live. Now, in technical details, we can see that that would be true, but Joe Biden clearly sees himself even in contrast to former President Barack Obama, whose vice president he was, he clearly wants to see himself as a transformative president. But that then raises a huge question, who have been transformational or transformative presidents?

Transformational presidencies have been few and far between. You can argue in the 20th century that there were three. Those three would’ve been Woodrow Wilson in the beginnings of the 20th century in which he brought this idea of a living constitution, and governmental progressivism, and the government bureaucracy. As a regime of experts, you can say that Woodrow Wilson successfully even used the leverage of World War I in order to build the modern ever expanding American government as we understand it, by the way, that we was driven by worldview with Wilson, very much driven by a Hegelian understanding of history. You say, “Well, that’s a lot.” That goes back to the German philosopher Hegel and his understanding of history as the eventual unfolding of progress given the general will of the people. And thus, you have this ever expanding government.

But you’re looking at a second transformational presidency in the middle of the 20th century with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now, why was that presidency, that president transformative? Well, it comes down to the fact that in the aftermath of the Great Depression and in that crucial period, which also saw the Second World War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt thus used the leverage of the depression first and the war second to continue a vast expansion of the federal government and to do so in such a way that brought virtually every citizen, if not in the present than in the future, under this kind of federal spending, most importantly when it came to the Social Security program. By the time the Roosevelt administration was over, Americans looked to government as the solution to more and more problems.

Until it became evident by the time of the third transformational presidency that government was not so much solving the problems as causing the problems. As government actually being the problem, the third transformational president of the 20th century was Ronald Reagan. And to a considerable extent, his ambition was to unwind the previous two transformational presidencies, but not all the way. Ronald Reagan did not suggest eliminating the Social Security program. He did understand, however, that a government out of control would be as oppressive as a government that would be organized in any other kind of restrictive totalitarian autocratic system. And, of course, that simply comes down to the fact that the more the government spends, the more that the government roles, the more the government eventually dictates.

And when you’re looking at the United States, our experiment in ordered Liberty, which requires an understanding of a free market economy, by the time Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, Americans came to understand that our economy was being strangled by federal regulations, that the entire worldview of the nation had increasingly turned to the government as the solution to problems and government programs, government spending, which by then had proved themselves to be quite inefficient. You had the would be transformational president, Lydon Baines Johnson, who did see some very big legislation pass during his tenure. But the big social welfare programs that he had declared to be essential to his war on poverty, well, by the time you come to the end of the 20th century, the federal government’s been spending billions upon billions of dollars but the problems that were identified in the war on poverty were almost to a single problem worse than before the federal government began to spend all that money.

And by the way, the big winner in an expansion of federal spending is always the federal bureaucracy. Those are the jobs that are created and they’re the jobs that always endure. And that’s something else to keep in mind. That’s why official Washington loves a big increase in federal spending. That’s why regions and this ties to what’s going to happen next week in Virginia, the Virginia election for governor, you have those Northern Virginia counties that depend upon all that federal funding, all that federal budget spending, and they want that spending to increase. That’s one of the reasons why Virginia has gone from red to blue. By the way, I’ll exercise my option as an Anglophile here for a moment, if you cross the Atlantic, you need to ask the question, “How many transformational prime ministers did Britain see in the 20th century?” Arguably not three, but just two.

The first, Clement Attlee, the labor and rather socialist prime minister who had been the deputy prime minister under Churchill during the war coalition Cabinet. By the end of the war, Churchill is unceremoniously and ungratefully kicked out of office. Clement Attlee takes office and he brings a labor government program, which also amounts to vast government spending, beginning with the National Health Service but expanding into the idea of what Britain openly called the welfare state. But the second transformational prime minister in British history in the 20th century was Margaret Thatcher, who came to office just before Ronald Reagan came to office in the United States. And she, like Reagan, was transformational in reasserting a free market economy, also reasserting a British sense of identity and its place in the world, redefining the relationship between British citizens and their government.

Now, the situations aren’t exactly the same but the parallels are massive. Joe Biden has this overarching ambition to be a transformational president. He wants to go down in history as a transformational president but he has two huge problems. First of all, he wasn’t elected to be a transformational president. And the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate weren’t elected to be transformational, not at least in terms of their majority status. The majority status of the Democrats in the United States Senate is precisely one if you count the vice president of the United States. Otherwise, it’s 50/50. No great groundwork for transformation there. In the House of Representatives, a swing of three votes means the doom of any democratic legislation. So, both President Biden and the Democratic Congress are trying to govern as if they are carrying a mandate for social transformation and political transformation.

But the bottom line is, they were given no such mandate. And here’s the other interesting thing, they can’t carry it off even by themselves. They can’t agree with one another, which is the big story in Washington D.C. right now, and it’s going to be a story that follows Joe Biden from Washington D.C., to Rome, and to Glasgow for the Climate Summit. The big story is this, he is not able at this point to come up with any kind of negotiation that brings a sufficient number of Democrats on board to get the massive spending proposals that he intends to get through without a single Republican vote. He, right now, can’t get them through with his Democratic votes. And that is a huge story, it’s a fascinating drama. It’s the political equivalent of a very long soap opera and it’s still being played out.

Part II

The American Income Tax and Why the Constitution Forbids a Wealth Tax: What Are The Worldview Considerations As Democrats Seek Tax on Billionaires?

The headline in yesterday’s New York Times, “Democrats Urge Billionaires Tax to Help Fund the Bill.” The next words under the headline, “A novel hit on wealth.”

We’re also told big firms also targeted and feud over slimmer social package. So, it turns out that there has been a significant reduction in this massive spending that is proposed. Make no mistake, it’s still massive. We’re still talking about something around $1.75 to $2 trillion. That’s on the top of a more than trillion-dollar package in that bipartisan infrastructure plan. And that’s behind the multiple trillions of dollars of stimulus spending in the context of COVID-19. These are numbers so gargantuan that no previous administration, and that includes the administration of Barack Obama that they could have even imagined. This is so far outside of anything within the realm of the politically plausible, until Joe Biden claims he was elected with a mandate to do this. We’re about to find out if he has that mandate or not, even within his own party.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have pressed back on, not only the spending, but also the tax proposals because they understand the reality. Number one, the reality that president Biden is just speaking a blatant untruth when he says that these bills will cost nothing. You can’t brag about multiple trillions of dollars of spending and then say it will cost nothing. But secondly, they’re also pressing back on the idea that this taxation will avoid the middle class. And Senator Sinema has been particularly effective at saying she’s not going to support any such taxation plan. And so, then you have to look elsewhere for money. And right now, they are looking elsewhere to billionaires. Now, a lot of Americans would say, “Well, that’s sounds like a fair idea. After all, billionaires can afford to spend the money.”

Here are some problems with that. And Joe Manchin, by the way, yesterday, made very clear he sees some of these problems. Let’s look at them. Number one, taxation is the confiscation of money. And in the United States, it is limited to the confiscation of income when it comes to the federal government. There’s a story behind that. The Constitution has prevented a tax on wealth. It allows, but only since the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, it allows an income tax, a tax on income at the federal level. But the Federal Constitution does not allow a tax on wealth. That’s made very clear in the actual language of the 16th Amendment. What is allowed is a tax on income. So, Senator Elizabeth Warren and others are talking about a wealth tax but they’re going to have to amend the U.S. Constitution if they want to pull that off.

Now, when it comes to billionaires, at least some, including Senator Warren on the Democratic left, think they figured out a way to tax wealth by calling it income, in this case, unrealized capital gains. Now, their issue is, however, and you just need to keep this in mind, virtually every single listener to The Briefing today has, right now, perhaps in your retirement account, so investment accounts, your IRA, you have unrealized capital gains. You may very well be living in an unrealized capital gain. Your house may be an unrealized capital gain. You may have bought it for, let’s just say, $100,000, it may be worth now $135,000. The Democratic package calling for a billionaire tax on unrealized capital gains would start with billionaires saying that even if they live in the house and they haven’t sold it, if the house is increased in value, that’s a gain, we’re going to call it income and we’re going to tax it.

Well, just understand it won’t stop with billionaires. They’ll be going after the unrealized capital gains of billionaires today, and a lot of Americans will say, “That’s fair.” But just understand the omnivorous nature of the government. If it becomes legal or is ruled constitutional to declare unrealized capital gains as income, then understand eventually, they’re coming for your unrealized gains in your IRA or in your house. You have been warned.

Senator Manchin, by the way, has announced as of yesterday that he will not support the so-called billionaires tax. And people are saying, “Well, what sense does that make? He lives in West Virginia where there aren’t that many billionaires.” Certainly, the argument must be that there would be support for taxing billionaires in a state like West Virginia because after all, there aren’t that many, so why not tax them elsewhere and bring in the money? But the reality is that Senator Manchin understands, there is a basic instinct that is rightfully found in the American people to understand that if there is a new category of taxation, it will eventually come for you.

Part III

The Personal Collides with the Political: The Divide Between Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin Runs Deep and Angry

But finally, when it comes to Senator Manchin, I want to bring up the fact, and this is also important from a worldview understanding, politics is personal, the political and the personal always get mixed. And when it comes to too titanic figures in the Democratic Party right now or at least in the Democratic Caucus, when you’re talking about Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of the State of Vermont but nonetheless voting with the Democrats, you’re looking at two titanic personalities. And the personalities and the politics get mixed together and those are two senators, who not to put too fine a spin on it, do not like one another one bit.

And yes, that matters in politics. When you have a caucus of 50 senators and one senator can mean the end of legislation, the fact that two senators inhabit two radically separate political worlds and really loathe each other, that turns out to be important. Now, what are we talking about? Well, how bad can it be? It can be pretty bad. Just a few days ago, Bernie Sanders wrote an opinion piece published in a major West Virginian newspaper in which he openly criticized West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin, criticizing him for being the holdout on these massive spending programs. So, the equivalent would be Senator Joe Manchin writing an editorial attacking Bernie Sanders in Vermont. But the media in Vermont would probably not be too excited about running a piece by Joe Manchin against Bernie Sanders. But nonetheless, the piece by Bernie Sanders did run in West Virginia. What was the net result? Probably, much more support for Joe Manchin in West Virginia.

The fact that Bernie Sanders opposes him, criticizes him, tries to call him out in public and basically dislikes him, that just makes Joe Manchin more likable to the likely voters in West Virginia. But the politics and the personal are even more intertwined than that. There was a showdown meeting in recent days that included Senator Sanders, who by the way, declares himself to be a Democratic Socialist. And one of the best lines in the response of Senator Manchin to Senator Sanders’ editorial was to say, “I don’t think the people of West Virginia are going to be overly influenced by someone who declares himself to be a Democratic Socialist.” That’s probably been the safest political statement ever made about West Virginia ever. But when it comes down to the personal, these two were in a meeting, and when Bernie Sanders basically said, “What is your bottom line,” to Joe Manchin, Joe Manchin held up his finger and made a goose egg, “Zero, Senator Sanders! Deal with it.”

But then people might say, “What’s the background to this?” We know they disagree even within their own party on policy, but how personal can it be?” Well, you don’t have to look very far. And that is because if you’re talking about Senator Bernie Sanders, he is married to Jane Sanders. And Jane Sanders posed with Senator Joe Manchin’s primary opponent in the Democratic Party for a publicity photograph. And it is openly believed that the Sanders have tried to raise money against Joe Manchin and to try to create political opposition for the senator of their own party there in the state of West Virginia. Again, what is the bottom line from that? Likely, more support for Senator Manchin in West Virginia, not less. That point was made abundantly clear in an article that appeared Monday in The Washington Post by Madalin Sammons, a Democratic consultant and lifelong West Virginian.

The headline of her article in The Washington Post addressed two Democrats in the nation’s capital, “Progressives, please back off Manchin, you’re only helping him with my fellow West Virginians.” In her article, Sammons wrote, “Making Manchin a punching bag for liberals is only going to endear him to West Virginians, including plenty of Democrats. It proves his point,” she writes, “to the people who elected him, vindicating a message he has carried from the coalfields to the panhandle that he is a West Virginia Democrat and will not cave to the progressive Democrats in Congress, no matter how much pressure they apply.” She concludes, “Tearing him down nationally has the ironic effect of building him up locally.” And remember, senators aren’t elected nationally, and for that, we should be very thankful. They are elected statewide, in 50 individual states, and that is a great protection to our constitutional order.

Part IV

“Professionalizing” the Role of the Suicide Bomber: Taliban Pays Honor and Reparations To Families of Suicide Bombers — Will the World Notice?

But finally, today, as we are thinking about politics and consequences and the reality of a divergence in worldviews, I want to take us from the United States to Afghanistan. Headline, recent days in The New York Times, “Taliban Pay Homage to Suicide Bombers, Purveyors of Agony.” What we’re talking about here is the Taliban now ruling in Afghanistan, deciding to openly honor and pay reparations to the families of suicide bombers. And that is big news. It should also be of concern to us that so many in the mainstream media have not treated this story as big news. This is a turning point. It’s a turning point that can only be explained by worldview. We need to look at it more closely. A team of reporters for The New York Times tell us, “Hussain had just arrived at his office in Afghanistan’s capital when the world seemed to explode around him. It was the morning of May 31, 2017 and a truck bomb had just detonated, boring a crater in the earth killing more than 150 people, most of them civilians, and releasing a shock wave that shattered glass across the city.”

We’re told that this man suffered head and leg wounds in the blast, “one of the largest in two decades of war, and was in constant anguish during months of surgery.” Now, just remember, this particular suicide bomber killed 150 people. We’re then told this, “The still lingering pain was made more acute this past week when Hussain watched the new acting interior minister,” and that is Mr. Haqqani, the leader of the very group accused of carrying out the attack, honoring the people who consigned him to a life of agony, the Taliban’s legions of suicide bombers. “Instead of asking for forgiveness, they are commemorating the suicide bombers.” He went on to say, and I will never forgive, but then we’re given the substance of the news story, “On Tuesday, the Taliban government brought together families of suicide bombers at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul praising the deaths of their children and siblings in the fight against the U.S.-backed coalition and Afghan government, and giving them condolence payments and a promise of land.”

Now, here’s the big shift. The big shift is towards the public honoring of, and commemoration of, and payment for suicide bombers. And this tells us something, this tells us that suicide bombers, a relatively new invention in the modern world in terms of the terroristic efforts undertaken by insurgents, not new in world history, just new given the technology of the modern age, those suicide bombers had been identified as the fringe elements in these terrorist organizations. But now you have the Taliban in control in Kabul and now control of Afghanistan, now honoring in retrospect, suicide bombers during the time that the American-led coalition was in power, during the time that the Afghan government under a constitution was in power, they are now going back and officially honoring, commemorating, and paying for the acts of suicide bombing that had killed so many people over the last many years.

But here’s the biggest thing to note. When you have this kind of shift, this means that you now have the institutionalization, the formal adoption by policy of suicide bombing as one of the means that is going to be honored by the Taliban, honored by the new regime in Afghanistan, and it will not stop there. Like at toxic political poison, like a moral virus, it will spread elsewhere. We already have evidence of suicide bombings as a methodology undertaken by terrorist groups. Now, the big change here is suicide bombing officially being recognized by the equivalent of a state actor. The New York Times report gets right to the issue in one paragraph, “The new government’s decision to so publicly memorialize its suicide bomb squads seems to be both an effort to appease the aggrieved families for the movement’s use of their loved ones as weapons and an overt attempt to rewrite the history of the war by championing the bombers’ deaths as the highest level of sacrifice.”

Next, “In short, it sought to professionalize the role of the suicide bomber.” Those are the words we need to know. This is a government entity, the Taliban now in control in Afghanistan professionalizing the role of the suicide bomber. And the moral issue here, by the way, also just needs to be repeated, this is the suicide bombing, which is undertaken with the goal of inflicting as many civilian deaths as possible in order to bring about terroristic change by the threat of further suicide bombings, to cause a society to change its will in terms of how it will live by means of acts of terror, including the deliberate targeting of civilians, including children. Now, Western societies have not always lived up to the principle of Christian Just War Theory that makes very clear what is known as the principle of discrimination, in this case, discriminating between combatants and non-combatants.

In the hot context of war, sometimes those issues have become quite fuzzy, especially in the age of aerial warfare. But the reality is that you are looking at this radical worldview distinction. The Christian worldview produces that principle of not attacking civilians, of warfare being limited to combatants. And that means generally, those who are combatants in uniform. It means taking that as a moral cause, flipping that principle on its head and targeting civilians, including those who are even children that intentional targeting and then professionalizing suicide bombing, that is basically the complete repudiation of a Christian morality when it comes to the justified use of force. In other words, you can only explain the action taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan as representative of the theological worldview to which they hold. One that says that violence, even intentional killing of civilians and children, is justified towards a political aim.

Keep that in mind. That’s what Afghanistan’s current leaders are now professionalizing, they are honoring, and they are effectively to relatives, paying for. That tells us something we dare not miss.

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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