The Briefing

The Briefing

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

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Transcript

It's Wednesday, January 12th, 2022.

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

Part

President Biden, Voting Rights, and the Filibuster: What’s Behind the Atlanta Speech?

Both the President and the Vice President of the United States traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday, where the President delivered an address, trying to put pressure on the United States Senate, in general, Democrats in the Senate in particular, to do two things. To adopt two pieces of legislation that the Democrats intend to revise the voting process and to change the rules of the Senate.

Those two things may seem to be rather disconnected, but they're not. They are connected precisely because no legislation can get through the Senate without 60 votes. 60 votes are required for what is called cloture. That is a successful move to bring something to the floor of the United States Senate. Short of 60 votes, almost nothing gets to the floor of the Senate, and that's why so many left want to change the rules of the Senate. But behind this are a couple of very interesting historical developments.

One of them has to do with the issue that is defined here is voting rights. The Democrats are pushing two big bills. The Democrats have named the first of these bills, the Freedom to Vote Act. Among other things, it would make election day a national holiday. It would also mandate 15 days of early voting and all states would be required to allow mail-in voting. There are other aspects to that Act as well. The second Act is named after the late U.S. Representative, John Lewis. That Act would give to the federal government a great deal more control over the voting processes that take place in the states. That second Act would also seek to reverse a Supreme Court decision from 2013 that removed from the federal government the right to give pre-clearance to changes in voting rights in particular states.

But what we're looking at here is also a vast conflict, political controversy, head-on collision between Democrats and Republicans, and an ongoing conversation about what kind of voting regulations, rules, and policies should be in place in every jurisdiction. But the big issue here is simply recognizing that the Democrats don't have 50 votes. We're going to talk about that more in a moment. They not only do not have 60 votes, they do not have 50 votes for that legislation. One of the central issues here is that this legislation is extremely partisan. The Democrats are claiming a national emergency, and the president used that kind of language, trying to argue that the passage of these bills is absolutely necessary if democracy is to saved.

And now, part of the problem with that is that many of the things they are trying to address by means of this legislation, they're trying to say they are wrong in Republican dominated states are actually policies that have been in place for decades without complaint and democratic majority states. You are looking here, however, at the fact that if you just listen to the national conversation, the Democrats want loose voting laws. The Republicans, in general, want tighter voting laws. And as we're going to see, that is because of two different visions of citizenship, and two different visions of the American political system, not just two different understandings of voting. The Democrats are saying that Republicans are trying to keep people from voting. The Republicans will respond and say that the Democrats are opposed to having normal safety processes put into elections to prevent fraud.

Speaking yesterday in Atlanta, a highly partisan President of the United States said this, "As an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills." The president continued, "Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this." Heightening the situation dramatically, the president also said, "I ask every elected official in America, do you want to be on the side of Dr. King," meaning Dr. Martin Luther king Jr., whose church Ebenezer Baptist church who is in the background here, "or George Wallace?" Again, he said, "Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?" Speaking of the very controversial former governor of Alabama, well known for his historic support of segregation. He changed his mind, but we get the point of what the president is saying here.

But in worldview perspective, one of the things we need to is that if a politician, if a government leader is going to use this kind of language, two things pertain. Number one, you better not use it very often. And secondly, it better fit the historical context. And in the second case, it certainly fails here. The President of the United States is pushing highly partisan legislation, and he is doing so claiming nothing less than a moral mandate, because democracy itself, he says, "is at risk." The political stakes for the president are very high. The president has announced that he must have this legislation passed. Of course, he said that about the Build Back Better bill that also didn't pass in recent days.

He has spoken of the two voting rights bills, saying that democracy requires them. But what is really required for the president is shoring up his political support. And that was dramatically underlined by the fact that several of the groups pushing for these bills from the left refused to appear with the president in Atlanta, because they said he wasn't pressing hard enough. But here's where the situation gets really, really interesting. Because the president went on to say that if necessary, this means the Democrats should change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster, at least in this case.

But again, let's just think about the math. The filibuster requires 60 votes in order for a bill to reach the floor of the Senate. But in any situation, if you have 100 senators, you couldn't pass a bill without at least 50 votes plus one. And that plus one is made very because the Senate is exactly 50/50. 50 who vote Democratic, 50 who vote Republican in terms of the caucuses. The only reason the Democrats have what is called a majority, and technically it is, is because the Democratic Vice President of the United States is able to cast the tiebreaking 51st vote.

But here's where you see the desperation right now. The president can't get this through his own democratic caucus in the Senate. He can't get these two bills passed, even if there were no filibuster. Even if the filibuster were never to have happened or were to disappear, he still, at this point, would not have adequate votes. What he, you see here is a statement of political desperation. But this is a president who, through his many years as a politician has learned how to use language in order to try to create a dramatic moment.

But one of the things we need to note is that that can be a very dangerous strategy and it can often backfire. Right now, it has already backfired once on President Biden with his proposed mass suspending plan. It didn't get through, and that was taking place even as he's the president and there is a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. He still didn't get it through. And the problem there was not Republican opposition. The problem, as in this case, is that the president can't deliver all the votes from the senators of his own party.

But as I said, there are some other very big issues here. One just comes down to the question of what kind of voting rights, what kind of voting pattern, what kind of voting policies, laws, structure should be in place? At this point, it's important to recognize that the United States Constitution leaves the basic organizing of almost all elections, including elections to national office, to the states. That's a part of our system of federalism. Federalism, you may remember, is a system of sharing power and authority between the states and federal government. And it's analogous to the separation of powers. The same logic, you do not want too much concentration of power. You don't want the states acting individually in such a way that there is no union, but you do not want the federal government trampling upon the rightful Constitutional authority in powers of the states.

The Republicans are crying foul when it comes to these two bills, especially to the second one, because the very intention of this legislation is to make the federal government largely in charge of elections. And that's not just a new political development. That would be a repudiation of our constitutional system and order. It's also really important we recognize that the vote, the right of citizens to vote, is a huge issue within the United States. And it has itself been a controversial issue. And you look through the history of the United and you come to understand, even you could put into a larger context, the history of western civilization or the English speaking peoples on both sides of the Atlantic, the bottom line is that there has been a progressive, and I mean that in the historical sense, there has been a progress of expanding the right to vote to all citizens.

And by the time you reach 1965, the United States Congress had to take action in order to make clear that the United States constitution granted to all citizens the right to vote, regardless of color of skin. And that comes down to something that was the responsibility of the United States Congress. And just looking at the math, that Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed in the Senate by a vote of 77 to 19. That's overwhelming. The reauthorization of that same bill that took place in 1980 passed in the Senate 85 to 8. Again, a very strong statement, a very clear bipartisan statement. But now, you have two bills that are being brought forward by President Biden and by the Democratic leadership in the Senate. And the big problem is neither the majority leader nor the President can come up with 50 votes, much less the 60 votes necessary.

And that means something else is going on here. And that something else comes down to the controversy over the filibuster, because the left, the progressivist wing of American politics, is extremely frustrated with the very existence of the United States Senate. And they see the sands running through the hourglass. They see the time running out, because they fully expect, we'll be talking more about why this is the case, they fully expect to lose the democratic majority in the United States House, as a consequence of the midterm elections to be held later this year. Thus, there is the sense of desperation, the President and the Vice President, and by the way, for security reasons, they traveled on different planes. Both of them went yesterday to Atlanta. That's why so many politicians wanted to appear in Atlanta with them. And that is why so many groups on the left actually didn't want to appear with the President and the Vice President.

This is really more about fracture on the left and division in the democratic party than it is in the larger body politic. But for Christians, it is a good reminder that there have been instances in American history where outright prejudice has prevented some people from voting. The right of citizens to vote is an extremely important issue, and it is central to our constitutional order.

Part

Does Citizenship Mean Anything? New York City Gives 800,000 Noncitizens the Vote

And that takes us oddly enough, to the city of New York and our second issue of consideration. Just before the end of the year, USA today ran the headline, "New York City becomes the largest municipality in the United States to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections." That was because of a city council though passed in New York City that did indeed authorize non-citizens to vote in local elections there. The actual voting will begin in the year 2023, but the big issue here is that many liberals in the United States are pressing for an elimination of the distinction between citizen and non-citizen when it comes to voting.

And here's where the interesting language of something like voting rights comes up. Because when you use the phrase voting rights, well, obviously, everyone should have the right to vote. Well, you could say that, but wait just a minute. You would have to back that up by saying, every individual should have the right to vote where that individual should the right to vote. I'm a citizen of the United States. My local congressional district is in Kentucky. I don't get to have any vote on who becomes the President of France. I am simply not authorized to vote in France. I'm not a citizen of France.

But there are those who are now making the argument that the American system of election disenfranchises, that is, it denies the vote to hundreds of thousands of people in New York City, and millions of people in the United States who live here and whose lives are affected by the government, but who are not citizens. Now, this really is a big issue. And by the way, that city council act that was reported before the end of last year became law just in the last few days, because the incoming mayor of New York, Eric Adams, let it become law without his signature. And that's similar to what you have in the national level, but there's also something else that's interesting here. His predecessor in office, Bill de Blasio, was an extreme of liberal Democrat. And he believed that this city council legislation extending voting rights to non-citizens is unconstitutional, explicitly in the New York State Constitution, also at least implicitly in the U.S. Constitution.

So you had a very liberal Democratic mayor who was going to veto the legislation, his term ran out, and then you had another Democratic mayor coming in, but he can't alienate the very Democratic power bases that passed this legislation. He needs their support. So he has said that he will defend this bill in court, but you'll notice he did not sign it. He didn't put his name on it. According to yesterday's edition of the New York Times, the city's bill is likely to extend the right to vote to 808,000 adults. And they'll begin to have that authorization according to the new law on January the 9th of 2023.

Now, one of the reasons it was put out that far is because there are going to be, and you can count on this, any number of legal challenges to the constitutionality of this bill. The New York state Constitution clearly identifies the right of citizens to vote, not non-citizens. We can be looking at the details of this bill, but the most important thing is that we step back for a moment and recognize that the issue of citizenship is one that is not receiving enough honest attention in contemporary controversies.

As you look to the notion of citizenship, it comes down to a relationship between a government and the governed. It comes down to the rise of national identity. And by the way, the modern nation state is a fairly modern development. But the idea of belonging to some kind of nation under the authority of some kind of government is extremely old going back into classical antiquity. Just remember the New Testament. Again, the apostle Paul invoked, he cited, he claimed his Roman citizenship and the rights that by Roman law went to its citizens. How does citizenship work?

You might think of it as a relationship like this. The citizen owes the government allegiance, and that might come down to paying taxes as a matter of substance. The government, on the other hand, owes the citizen protection. And that means not only physical protection and the protection of borders, the protection of property, but also the protection of certain rights. Now, in any situation where citizenship is rightly cited, you have some of allegiance on one side that could come down to obeying laws. It could come down to paying taxes. It could come down to good citizenship and participating in elections and helping to build the community. That's the obligation on the citizens' side.

But then on the government side, there is the responsibility to do what only government can do, to offer military, protection, defense, to have a system of, say, roads and interstate highways, to come up with an appropriate and just system of laws. But that is a relationship. It's a relationship between the government and the governed. It's a relationship that has to have some kind of limit. Again, I don't get to vote as to who becomes the President of France. I don't get to have a say in who's elected to the legislature in Brazil. And it's because I am not a citizen of Brazil. I'm not a citizen of France. I am a citizen of the United States of America.

Going back to the Enlightenment in western Europe, especially in the 18th century, going back to the politics of the 19th century and the world wars of the 20th century, there arose, among at least some, and this would be primarily on the political left, the idea that nations are dangerous and that citizenship should be extended basically to all of us being citizens of the world. The problem with that, of course, is that it is the rejection of the way community and civilization actually works.

It is a reputation of the biblical principle of subsidiarity in which we understand that the most important relationships, the most important rights, the important responsibilities, subside in the most basic unit of society, which means first of all, marriage and the family, then community, neighborhood, city, county, state, you can go on. But let's just put it another way. You do not want the world protecting your right to life, and liberty, and property. That's not going to happen. And you do not want the world filling the potholes on your streets. That's not going to happen either.

But even as on the left, there has been this goal of kind of a global cosmopolitan citizenship. The reality is that those people still travel on some form of national passport. And if they get into trouble, that passport is going to tell them who they call when they need help. Americans abroad carrying an American passport can claim the protection of the American government and call for the intervention and assistance of the American government. The same thing is true in the United States for someone who's traveling on a South African passport or a Philippine passport. The reality is that still means something. And it means something that most Americans aren't even willing to consider giving up.

But here's where we need to understand that voting has to be defined as one of those issues that pertains to citizenship voting means a purchase on the political process. Voting implies an even stronger relationship than just residing in a place. And by the way, the New York state law is so radical that it allows non-citizens who are legal in the United States to vote in New York if they have lived in New York only 30 days. That is almost as if the government there is trying to say, "We don't care if you have any real relationship with this city or not." That devalues the entire political process. It devalues every single vote.

And by the way, if you are going to allow, if you're going to extend the franchise, as it is called, the voting franchise, to more than 800,000 new citizens, you are also discounting the votes of citizens in that same election by the very same amount.

Part

Nothing Lasts Forever: What Blackberry, Apple, General Motors, and Toyota Tell Us about the Transience of Earthly Existence

Well, finally, some of you today are listening to The Briefing on your phone, perhaps an iPhone or another smartphone, some of you on a computer, some of you in a car, but I'll tell you what you're not using. You're not using a Blackberry.

Because finally, after a series of extensions, the Blackberry era has come to an end. It came to an end on January the 4th, 2022. That was the day that the world of the Blackberry died. Now, it might be to some listening to The Briefing today, don't know what a Blackberry is, except as a very dark berry, a fruit. But actually, the Blackberry came in the 1990s as one of the very first successful mobile devices that first of all used the equivalent of what is now called text messaging. And then it was expanded to what you would recognize as email. And then it eventually became a phone.

It was put into place by a company called Research in Motion. And so many people, especially business executives, those in sales and others, had the Blackberry. I had one, I was able to carry the Blackberry all over Europe through many different countries. It was the one device that worked just about everywhere, but now it's a device that works absolutely nowhere because the entire system has been shut down. And that means the disappointment of many absolutely dedicated, and indeed, it is not too much to say, devoted users of the Blackberry.

The company had begun shutting down its operations. Due to customer demand and respect for its customer base, the company kept the system going longer than it said it would, but it simply declared that it must come to an end. It came to an end just a matter of days ago on January the 4th. It was a story that made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. That tells you something. The headline, "Blackberry diehards struggle with final blow." The final blow is, as the article makes clear, if they are of value now, it is mostly as a technological artifact that reminds US of a day that is no more. The fans were truly devoted. The Wall Street Journal cites one named Claude Millman who "adored his Blackberry phone so much, two of them now hang in a frame in his New Jersey lake house." The next sentence tells us "He had to break up with his Blackberry in 2019 when the phone died, because he couldn't buy a replacement."

And you see just the level of devotion that many people have had towards this particular technology. Why was it so popular? Well, for one reason, it was first. It was first in line and it worked. It was an extremely stable program, no bells and whistles. It was about text. It was about letters on a screen. It was about getting information from one place to another, and it did so with ruthless efficiency. Lots of people who would say, "I forgot," or "You couldn't get in touch with me." They lost those excuses because with a Blackberry in their pocket, or some of you will remember in the nerdy holster, you can no longer say you were out of reach.

Someone could send you an email and on a train in Switzerland, there it came right to your belt. It probably came as an insult to all of those blueberry dev OTs that the very same day that headline ran in the Wall Street Journal. I couldn't help but note that the New York times ran another headline about Apple. Apple's valuation soars to unheard of $3 trillion. Now, it didn't stay there. But for a moment, Apple Actually reached a corporate valuation of $3 trillion, that's with a T, dollars. At the very same time, another exchange was being made. And that was between who sold the most cars in the United States for the first time ever. The answer to that question was not General Motors. The answer was Toyota. General Motors had held that dominant role ever since the 1930s, but it lost it to Toyota. And by the way, COVID-19 and the interruption in shipping and microchips were a part of this.

Toyota had a better supply of microchips. They could get more cars into the sales process than General Motors, but it also reflects the long term decline of General Motors and the rise of import automobiles, such as Toyota. What are we talking about with Apple, and the Blackberry, and Toyota and General Motors? Well, we're talking about the fact that nothing like that lasts forever. The Blackberry that was cutting edge at one point is now hanging in a frame in your lake house in New Jersey. The system that you had in place in which you thought you had corporate dominance as an automaker, it's long gone. And no one can remember those glory days, except in glossy coffee table books filled with pictures of blooming fenders and expanding fins.

We demand so much more from our phones these days, text isn't enough. We need pictures, video. We need it all. And when it comes to automobiles, let's face it. They're not just chrome, and metal, tires and engines anymore. They are computers. Indeed, they are universes of computers on wheels.

And here's yet another sobering reminder of our technological age. One day, someone is going to have a lake house somewhere in which there will be frames that will hold abandoned iPhones. And someone's going to have to explain to their grandchildren what in the world an iPhone was. That's the transient of earthly existence.

Keep that in mind, Christian.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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

I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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