The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, February 21, 2022

It’s Monday, February 21, 2022.

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

Part I

The Russian Bear is Poised for Attack: Russia Escalates Situation in Ukraine to Explosive Proportions

This is likely to be a very big, very historic week because there are certain fissures on the world surface that are going to break loose. And by that, I mean, politics, war, geopolitics. We’re looking at huge headlines rushing at us. Something is going to happen in Ukraine. Something is going to happen and Russia is going to be the instigator, regardless of what Russia claims. We are looking at a continual effort by Russia to destabilize the entire Western order and by now, we really do know what we are facing.

Now on the domestic scene in the United States, something very interesting must be noted. That is the fact that there is basically a bipartisan unity on this issue. Now in the United States right now, there just isn’t much of a bipartisan unity on anything. Now this is not to say there’s unanimity. It’s not to say there are not different ways of looking at this issue and that Republicans and Democrats, at least in terms of their foreign policy establishments, don’t have different ways of considering some of the issues. But the big issue, the big thing to watch is the unity of the West over against Vladimir Putin and Russia. It’s a very interesting development.

Now over the course of the last two decades, Vladimir Putin and Russia have had a very important aim. That aim has been to destabilize the West. And furthermore, that aim quite specifically has been to politically fracture the West. The former NATO allies that had been the democratic countries allied against the Soviet Union and its satellites during the Cold War, the United States and its allies were perceived to have won. And in the West, there was a triumphalism that now looks quite pathetic in retrospect. You had people arguing that we had reached the end of history, that Western democracy and capitalism had simply become a global reality due to an inexorable logic. But the problem is of course, that that was never the case. And almost as soon as the Soviet Union broke up, there were those who wanted to try to put as much of it back together again as might be possible.

Vladimir Putin, you’ll recall, was a KGB agent outside of Russia when the USSR broke up and he has never reconciled himself to that loss of what he saw as Soviet glory. And of course, that’s in the larger context as we have discussed of Russian glory. But Russia has always been an insecure state. Even as an empire, it was a very insecure and sometimes paranoid empire. And for some good reason, it has geographical liabilities and it has some very restive nations and people surrounding it.

We’ve talked about the fact that Russia divides the world into the near abroad and the far abroad. And here’s what is very interesting in recent days, Vladimir Putin has been even more openly speaking of Ukraine as being legitimately, historically and rightly within the Russian sphere of influence. That term, sphere of influence, is something we need to think about for a moment. Now, in one sense, powerful nations exert a force field. That force field includes both allies who are eagerly a part of that sphere and those who, for one reason or another, find it more convenient or more survivable to be a part of that sphere. In any event, the Cold War itself was a representation of that kind of war of worldviews, war of regions, and war of spheres of influence. The American sphere of influence, largely Western Europe, English-speaking allies such as Australia and New Zealand, of course, allies after World War II like Japan. And even as those were not always included among the English-speaking peoples, there was an English-speaking and European unity to the entire sphere.

But as you’re thinking about the former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence, Ukraine has always been important as it was to the Russian empire, going back to Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. What we are witnessing right now is Russia once again turning itself into a paranoid and very dangerous state. A state that wants to be an empire but has lost its imperial glory and now is trying to rebuild a sphere of influence in order to accomplish two things. What is Vladimir Putin trying to do? He is trying to build Russian security and glory and he is trying to destabilize the West.

Now, we’re not going to say much more about Ukraine today until we see some further developments, but what was really interesting on the world scene over the weekend is that exactly what the Americans had suggested would happen, exactly what American intelligence had predicted is taking place, cyber warfare, the political warfare, attempts to try to create false actions that would give Russia a pretense to enter into a military confrontation. It would declare to be defensive of all things. Vladimir Putin and his allied media in Russia have been running nearly endless news stories about the fact that Ukraine might invade Russia. Now, that’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s ridiculous in historical grounds. It’s ridiculous in military terms. It’s ridiculous morally. But let’s just remind ourselves that the 20th century is at least in part the victory of ridiculous ideas when it comes to the public consciousness, at least for a while. The Germans believed Hitler, at least for a while. The Russians believe Stalin for a much longer period of time. Arguably, Vladimir Putin is something of a revivalist for a Stalinist regime.

But on the American front, there are a couple of things to be noticed here, and both of them have to do with the approach taken by the President of the United States, Joe Biden, and his administration. Number one, this is an administration that has been far more vocal in terms of offering specific warnings and even suggesting over the weekend, the inevitability of a Russian assault on Ukraine based upon the second thing, which is the fact that evidently this White House has decided that the right thing to do under these circumstances is base its assessments on American and on allied intelligence and use the media as a way of putting that intelligence judgment out there in the public square in order to make very clear to Vladimir Putin and to his political allies that the United States and its allies are onto their game.

By yesterday, major media on both sides of the Atlantic were arguing that the announcement made by the Biden administration, that it believed the decision had already been made by Vladimir Putin to go to war in Ukraine was based upon very credible, very substantial Western intelligence that indicated that the troop movements were now according to a plan of war. That a trigger had effectively been pulled.

Something else just to keep in mind in the midst of all of this is Americans wonder why exactly should we care so much about Ukraine? Just remember that Ukraine has been allied with the West. It has wanted to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Let’s just remind ourselves that Poland, the next nation to the West, is a NATO ally, and the NATO treaty calls for an understanding that the invasion or a military attack upon one is an attack upon all, requiring an absolutely joint military response. Should Ukraine, one way or another, either be completely destabilized or for that matter, come into a Russian sphere of influence, that would put that Russian sphere of influence right on the border with a NATO ally to the United States of America. Now we really are going back into the territory of the Cold War.

Part II

A Dark Day in Canada’s Constitutional History: Government Shuts Down Trucker Protests with Emergencies Act — And Reveals Both Constitutional Subversion and Class War

But next, we simply have to go back to Canada. It really is that big of a story. We’re looking at something that should have our attention. We’re looking of course at the fact that last week, the Canadian Prime Minister announced that he had had enough and so he invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, something that hadn’t been done in 50 years, in order to justify a government crackdown on the protests.

Now, just keep in mind, the protests had begun in Ottawa, largely on the part of truckers who had their trucks masked and idling, making a political protest. They had also created something of a trucker protest community there in Canada’s capital city. Of course, that’s something that is quintessentially not Canadian, but nonetheless it had taken place that made it headline news around the world. And then the protest spread, a protest against certain policies having to do with COVID and COVID vaccinations and the traffic and commerce, largely by trucks, across the American Canadian border. The protest spread to several sites, most importantly, the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan. This led to the shutdown of much of the economy of that region on both sides.

But here’s what you need to know, effective police action actually ended the protest there on the Ambassador Bridge. The bridge was back open for traffic before the government cracked down in Ottawa and beyond. And we’re looking at the fact that this really is a Western nation that claims to be committed to democracy and yet Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, the son of a former liberal prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who had invoked the previous law. So far, the only time this law or its analogy, has been invoked has been by either one Trudeau or the other. But the fact is that there was no direct threat to the integrity of Canada. There was no direct threat of violence. There were no bombs. There was no violence. No one was killed in any of these protests. We are talking about the essence of protests and a government that simply says it has had enough, and protests against the government of Prime Minister Trudeau was enough for Trudeau to say we are going to act in ways that, again, as we noted last week on The Briefing, the Canadian government insisted did not violate fundamental liberties, but in essence did exactly that.

Now, by the time the headlines were clearing this morning, it became very clear that the Emergencies Act actions by the government were actually quite effective. The trucks were basically gone from Ottawa. The protest was shut down. But this is going to be a black mark in Canadian history and in its constitutional tradition for a very long time.

But there’s something else we just need to know here. This was a series of headlines coming from Canada, and it’s still going to be an unfolding story, but the reality is that this is something that has affected other areas in the English-speaking world, in particular just consider the nations of Australia and New Zealand. Both of them, very much a part of that larger English-speaking world, but both of them, and perhaps most surprisingly Australia, basically also saw a rather severe government crackdown with COVID as the pretense.

It’s important on this issue to consider the analysis offered by Ross Douthat, columnist for The New York Times. He often is very insightful on these things. Ross Douthat comes back to say, “You know, all of this reminds us of the basic divide between the technocrats and the people who actually do stuff.” The people who move stuff, transport stuff, the difference between technocrats and truckers turns out to be a very huge deal. He cites the author who goes by the pin name N.S. Lyons is saying that the great distinction is between those who are classified as the virtuals and those identified as the practicals. You can kind of figure this out. Peter Drucker talked about this as the distinction between the knowledge class and the working class. But the distinction between the virtuals and the practicals, it clarifies. It makes a lot of sense. There are people who move ideas and there are people who move stuff.

But guess what? The people who move ideas tend to be very liberal. They tend to be very, very distant from those who are in the working class, believing themselves to be infinitely superior, not only in intellectual and cultural, but in moral terms. They will tell the practicals how they will live. But it’s the practicals that move the stuff. It’s the practicals who grow the food. It’s the practicals who put the food on the shelves in the grocery store. It’s the practicals who make things happen. It’s the practicals driving those trucks and fixing those trucks and for that matter, selling those trucks. You’re looking at the reality that that deep divide between the people in the elites, who are sure they know best, and those who actually move the stuff that we all need, not to mention other goods and services that are simply matter that must be moved. And one of the mechanisms of political protest available these days is those who move stuff, moving it no longer.

Now, that also points to the book written decades ago by Michael Young entitled The Rise of the Meritocracy back in the 1950s. Young warned of a coming class divide between those who believe themselves to have climbed to the top by their merit and those who were simply populous, left behind by the technological, cultural and economic revolutions of the last half century and more. Ross Douthat says, “That’s the class war that we now see playing out in Canada.” But we know that that class war is playing out in the United States as well. It is actually one of the most dominant themes that explains American electoral politics.

Now, the meritocracy thinks that it deserves to be where it is because it, after all, is morally superior. Now let’s just say face it, every society has an aristocracy of one sort or another. That is simply a truth throughout human history. You’re going to have tribes but you’re going to have those who are the chiefs of the tribes. You’re going to have corporations, someone’s going to be the CEO. You can have people declare that all animals are equal but as George Orwell pointed out, in essence, some animals are more equal than others.

One of the key achievements of the English-speaking world, and you could say more generally of Western civilization, is trying to figure out how to preserve the dignity and the rights of all citizens while recognizing that someone’s going to be president, someone’s going to sit on the Supreme Court, someone is going to be president of the university. How can those people actually lead, and lead with integrity and effectiveness without becoming a class of overlords over the rest of society? As Douthat simply points out, there is no one who represents what he in his own mind thinks is a meritocracy than Justin Trudeau. But Justin Trudeau is, let’s just remind ourselves, the extremely privileged son of a former Canadian Prime Minister, arguably the best known Canadian Prime Minister of the 20th century, certainly among those now living.

So Justin Trudeau, who was also born to a very famous mother, as well as a very famous father, he didn’t start out on first base. Douthat points out that Trudeau has degrees from two of Canada’s three best universities and is also, of course, the son of a former prime minister. Behind him, says Douthat, is a Canadian establishment “that has followed public health advice on COVID more closely than the United States, imposing more stringent restrictions throughout the pandemic.” We just need to understand that Justin Trudeau and his government are trampling on fundamental rights and constitutional freedoms. You also need to recognize that they are crying wolf. They’ve cried wolf against truckers demonstrating, acting as if they are facing the challenge of an invasion or war.

This is an unfolding story, we need to be watching it closely, but the distinctions offered by Ross Douthat really are helpful here. We really are looking at those who move things as opposed to those who move ideas. And the people who move ideas tend to feel themselves superior to the people who move things. But you know what? Eventually, the people who move ideas get hungry. They need things.

It reminds me of a story that was told by the late Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson. He referred to being put in his own place when he was at a Washington dinner at a very famous hotel, when he was sitting up at the head table and he wanted more butter. There evidently was not enough butter for everyone to be given to and so as the server came to him, he said, “I’d like another pad of butter, please.” The waiter said, “I’m sorry, but there isn’t enough.” He said, “I’m a member of the United States Senate.” And the waiter looked at him and said, “And I hold the butter.” Alan Simpson told that story to his own expense. He told it with a chuckle and he said, “You know, every once in a while, we need someone to tell us, I really don’t care who you are. I’m holding the butter.” That’s a message that needs to be heard in Ottawa. And for that matter, that’s a message that desperately needs to be heard in Washington, D.C.

Part III

The Revolt Against Creation and the Destruction of Women’s Sports: Transgender Woman Continues to Defeat Biological Women in NCAA Swimming — as the Debate Reveals Cultural Insanity

Next we’re going to turn to the Ivy league swimming championships and in particular, to the Ivy league women’s swimming championships. And guess who was the big winner? Well, Lia Thomas, a transgender woman as identified by the University of Pennsylvania, as identified by the media. And of course, as is evident to all, swimming with an advantage because as recently as 2019, Lia Thomas was recognized as a man. A biological male who had been swimming on the men’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania.

You know something about this story already, but the point is it continues to unfold. And as it unfolds, we see expose the insanity of a world around us that is at war right now, not just with vocabulary, as in male, female, man, woman, boy, girl, but with logic and with creation. This is an unraveling of creation that is taking place here. And that becomes very evident in controversy over an article about the entire issue that appeared at The New York Times by its science writer, Azeen Ghorayshi. It appeared just last week and it has occasioned a lot of controversy itself.

The headline of the article ought to tell us something of why the controversy is so clear. The headline is this, “Trans Swimmer Revives an Old Debate in Elite Sports: What Defines a Woman?” Now, you’ll notice the question that is so vexing is not what is a man, but rather what is a woman? And the reason is that there really is no scandal, there is no problem of a lot of people who are biologically female trying to compete with males simply because of the natural physical advantages of males, especially after adolescence and after puberty, after physical development. But the reality is that, going back for some time, and as this article in The New York Times makes clear, going back even to the early part of the 20th century, there were questions with the emergence of women’s sports on an international scale, who exactly is a woman?

Now, by the way, this goes back to the first Olympics in which there were women’s track and field events. That would be the 1928 Olympic games. The issue of who was a woman emerged then because it became very clear, at least to some, that some of the competitors identified as women, upon closer observation, clearly weren’t women. Now, this is not to say they were transgender. It’s just to say they actually were men competing as women because they couldn’t win as men competing with other men, they could win as women. And some of them did. In other words, they weren’t claiming any transgender identity. They were just men competing as women so they could win.

During the 1960s, when, especially in the West, there were accusations that some in the Soviet sphere were cheating on the issue of gender, there were visual and physical examinations to determine who was male and who was female. The International Olympic Committee, by 1968, decided that that was a little too embarrassing and invasive and so they shifted to a cheek swab in the age of genetic testing in order to determine whether the chromosomes came up XX, thus female, or XY.

Now, let’s just also pause at the fact that there are some who are in an ambiguous situation when it comes to the genetic testing. That’s a reality and that’s a challenge of its own when it comes to international sport. But the big issue right now is the fact that there are those who clearly are genetically unambiguous when it comes to male or female identity but you have an advantage to some who now claim transgender identity as transgender females, and they’re competing.

And when it comes to Lia Thomas or the University of Pennsylvania, you are now looking at the single figure who makes that issue so clear. Because just one look at the skeletal structure of the person identified as Lia Thomas says, this isn’t actually a woman. And the other women on the team, at least 16 of them, wrote a public letter saying that it is unfair. And of course it is unfair, but here’s the bigger point. It’s obvious. This is something that is so obvious that children can figure this out real quickly. It’s something so obvious that in order to deny it, you have to sell yourself, immerse yourself, delude yourself with an ideology that tells you, you can’t trust your eyes, you can’t trust a genetic test, you can’t trust a physical exam. All you can trust is an ideology of gender nonconformity and a gender non-binary that is supposed to turn thousands of years of human experience, not to mention the wisdom of creation and the revelation of God, on its head.

In a tweet advertising her own article, Azeen Ghorayshi wrote this, “Lia Thomas is just the latest elite athlete in the last century who has been subject to anatomical, chromosomal or hormonal scrutiny to compete in women’s events. One thing they all have in common? They were winning.”

Now, the insinuation in the tweet and in the article is that there is something like jealousy that is basically going on here. There wouldn’t be so much attention, she is arguing, if these transgender women, as they are identified, were losing rather than winning. But that then gets back to the point that is simply made with creation on our side. There is a difference here and there’s a reason why there isn’t a controversy about so-called transgender men in so many of these sports, it’s transgender women. That’s the reason why, as this very science writer for The New York Times indicates, this has been an issue since the advent of organized women’s sports going back to the beginning of the 20th century. What is generally missing from so much of the public conversation about this is that the athlete named now, identified now as Lia Thomas, just didn’t emerge from nowhere. The same individual in the same body competed as a man on the men’s team of the same university as recently as 2019.

Now, remember in the last story we talked about that distinction between the virtuals and the practicals, those who basically move ideas and those who actually move and make stuff, and then we looked at the distinction between the meritocracy on the one hand and those who the meritocracy looks down upon as the working class on the other hand? But I think we now can see another divide. I’m going to say that this is the divide between those who understand what male and female means and those who insist that they do not.

But here’s the thing, we don’t believe that they actually don’t know. We know that they know because it’s so deeply ingrained within creation that there is no one, as the apostle Paul would make very clear, who doesn’t actually know the distinction between a man and a woman. But of course, Paul’s point in Romans 1 is that human sinfulness being what it is, not just some people, but all people, because of our sinfulness, we do not see what is there a right. Now, that’s why Paul points us to the gospel and he points us to the scripture because what we need is the word of God to make clear even our own sinfulness and we need Christ as our savior. There is just no way we save ourselves from this level of confusion and self-deception.

The article in The New York Times, by the way, cites one observer as saying, there’s no good answer, meaning to this quandary: “Someone is disadvantaged one way or the other.” So that argument means that someone’s going to be disadvantaged, either women or the so-called transgender women. And that just points, once again, to the inevitability of a collision between creation and those who are simply revolting against creation.

But another observer is given the final word in the article, and that’s this, “If we allow trans women to compete, we have to allow them to win too.” Well, there’s no argument with that. Well, that’s a logic that is hard to refute. If you’re going to accept the premise that there are transgender women who have a right to identify as women and be recognized as women and play on women’s sports teams and in other women’s arenas of life, once you accept that, winning is the least of your problems.

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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