The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

It’s Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022.

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

Part I

Performance Art in the Confirmation Process: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Faces a Line of Questions from Senate Committee Members

The confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson continued yesterday and it was a very long day. And furthermore, today is going to be just about the public wrap up of the discussion that you will hear from the Senate Judiciary Committee about this nomination and this nominee. So, what exactly happened yesterday? Well, every member of the committee had 30 minutes for question and answer with the nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Now, here’s the deal. And when you look at this and understand that all of it is now in the distortion field of television or streaming video, you understand that when we talk about asking questions, we’re actually talking about something that is performance art in one sense.

And that’s true for all. This is not a partisan descriptor. In the age of television, everyone is now a television personality, and they have the opportunity to score political points as well as to make what they see as legitimate points in the confirmation process. And so, you had Democrats and Republicans each having 30 minutes and it went back and forth all day. Judge Jackson basically understood what was going to be happening because she has had three previous confirmation hearings. But those are absolutely nothing when compared to a confirmation process for someone to sit on the United States Supreme Court because there is a sense in which all of the nation is watching, or at least potentially, because were there to be a slip up, were there to be some headline news, then that would be a game changer in the entire equation.

But what is the equation? The equation is this, unless there is some defection from a Democratic senator, then Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is going to sit as the next justice on the United States Supreme Court and she will become the sixth woman ever to serve on the court, the fourth woman to serve on the current court, and she will be taking the chair of Justice Stephen Breyer who’d been appointed in the 1980s by President Bill Clinton. It is a seat that had been held by a Democratic nominee, nominated by a Democratic president, it is a seat on the left of the court, it will continue to be a seat on the left of the court. And so, what was taking place yesterday was necessary, but it is unlikely that anything that took place yesterday changed a single vote.

So, how did she do? Well, she answered respectfully but she did not answer very fully nor directly to some of the questions particularly posed by Republican senators. Now, she was following a game book, and that game book is now very well-established. The game book comes down to this, the nominee risks a great deal by using too many words and speaking with too much specificity, instead, the nominee herself also understands that this is a form of performance art. This is a televised hearing. If the entire process were held outside the public view and in particular just outside the view of cameras, then there would be a very different process. And you would likely have more actual give and take between the senators and the nominee who is now having to answer questions.

The answer for that is simple. As you look at the senators, they know that they have a very rare on camera opportunity so their questions tend, just to be honest, not so much to start out as questions but maybe to end up there. They are microspeeches disguised as questions. So, the opportunity for senators in this context is to say as much as possible and if possible, to score some points. But the goal of the nominee, in this case, is to say as little as possible and to avoid any particular points because the most important points that might come out of anything she might say are points to aid the opposition, not her supporters. She went into the process basically with her confirmation in the bag. Her job was to do everything within her power to prevent blowing that opportunity.

Now, Christians watching this need to understand there were some real issues that were up for debate yesterday, for discussion. They really are important issues and several of the questions addressed to Judge Jackson are exactly the kinds of questions that should be addressed. What is your judicial philosophy? In a way that is not intellectually honest, she says she doesn’t have one. Well, if she didn’t have one, she really wouldn’t have any way to operate as a judge as she has now for about 10 years. The reality is, she has one but she doesn’t want to talk about it. And she faces great risk, just to be honest, if she did talk about it because it is one that is likely to point in a more liberal direction rather than a more conservative direction. And you see that just evidenced in who is supporting her nomination, who was calling for it, who is now funding efforts to further it.

There was something else to note in Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearings yesterday and that was the fact that she cited recent Republican nominees and their answers as justification for giving her own. When she was asked about Roe v. Wade as precedent, she responded that it was a precedent along with the Planned Parenthood versus Casey decision of 1992. So, she went on to say, “I’m going to answer that those cases are settled precedent.” But that’s the way Brett Kavanaugh answered the question, that’s the way Amy Coney Barrett answered the question. And there you also have the reality that whether a judge believes that Roe should be upheld or perhaps even extended on the one hand or reversed and vacated on the other hand, it really has everything to do with the president who makes the nomination.

Democratic presidents are going to nominate pro-abortion, judges and justices and Republican presidents are going to appoint pro-life judges and justices, it is reducible to just that. That is the plain fact. Nothing is really going to be revealed in these hearings unless whatever’s revealed happens by accident. In addition to the discussion about Roe v. Wade and abortion, there were some other very interesting moments, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley had pressed the nominee on whether or not as a federal judge she had handed down overly lenient sentences on serious crimes, including crimes related to child pornography. She responded that she had not acted in such a way as to minimize the crime. But joining Hawley in this concern were other Republicans, most importantly, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

And Senator Graham had announced yesterday that he would vote against the confirmation of Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court seat. And so, you’re really looking at the fact that even though serious issues were brushed up against, very little actually happened. It’s still worth watching. I know that might sound counterintuitive, but it is actually worth watching these proceedings because this is the drama of a democratic system of government, a constitutional republic, and it is always interesting to see that it’s not just a matter of words, it’s also a matter facial expressions, it’s a matter of gestures, it’s a matter of understanding what is happening in that room, and also understanding the limits of that process.

Because in reality, the way that a nominee answers these questions may have relatively little to do with the decisions that that justice might eventually hand from the Supreme Court bench.

Part II

Massive Clash over the Nature of the Court and the Biggest Worldview Questions: Judiciary Hearings Reveal Massive, Dangerous Role of SCOTUS in National Life

There are some other moral dimensions for us to consider. Jonathan Turley, a well-known commentator, he’s also professor of law at George Washington University in the nation’s capital. He pointed out in the pages of USA Today that Judge Jackson is being accorded a respect that Justice Amy Coney Barrett was denied during her own confirmation hearings. And that is very, very clear. Republican senators are operating in a very different way in this nomination coming from a president of the opposing party that was experienced by now Justice Amy Coney Barrett during her hearings just a matter of a little more than a year ago.

The most interesting commentary on this process has come from Henry Olsen, writing an opinion piece in The Washington Post entitled, “Republicans Are Right To Oppose Ketanji Brown Jackson.” Now, that’s an inflammatory headline, but he’s making a very serious argument. His serious argument is that Democrats are right to oppose, tooth and claw. Every single nominee by a Republican president and Republicans are right to oppose, with equal vigor, every single nominee coming from a Democratic president. “Why,” you ask, “why would that be so?” Well, Olsen answers the question. It is simply a matter of fact now that the Supreme Court is the arbiter, the decider of so many issues of national politics. That was not what the framers of our Constitution intended, but that is what the court is now and that means that the court is political.

And that is seen in the fact that every nominee coming from a Democratic president follows a particular agenda, and the same is true for Republican nominees as well. But Olsen understands something else. The big question here is not just about where a judge might be predictably to stand on any number of issues from abortion to the administrative state and going on, it is a disagreement over how the court is to function and how justices are to work. Olsen writes, and this is very perceptive, “We’ve reached this state because the two parties have radically different judicial philosophies. Democrats favor the court, expanding its jurisdiction into political matters. Republicans favor a restrictive view, generally deferring to democratically elected bodies at all levels of government rather than making the court the final arbiter of public policy.”

He goes on to write, “This is one of the most important political issues of our time. Republicans and Democrats who ignore this reality when determining who sits on the court simply do not align with the concerns of their supporters and would rightfully court a primary challenge.” I’m going to say that Mr. Olsen is even more right in matters of principle. And it is because it is now virtually certain that when you have a Democratic president, that president is going to nominate someone whose way of understanding the judiciary in general, whose manner of understanding the Supreme Court specifically, and whose reading of the Constitution is going to be diametrically opposed to nominees coming from the opposing party’s president. That’s just a matter of fact. I appreciate Mr. Olsen’s candor.

And it shows this clash of worldviews, because it’s not just over issue A, B, C, or D, it is over the very nature of the court, it is over the basic reality of the Constitution, it is over huge questions including questions of life and death that should be left to Congress to decide or should be left to the states and should not be arrogantly taken up by the court. But the court, in its more liberal era, did take up those issues and it did so with gusto. This is the result. There will undoubtedly be more and will be following this, not only in terms of what happens in the hearings today, but what happens in the discussion of the committee and eventually the debate of the Senate, what happens when it comes to the vote as to whether or not Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.

Part III

A Massive Act of Disclosure: Covid Phenomenon Reveals Worldview Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives — and Between Those Identified as Liberal and Very Liberal

But as we’re speaking about the great worldview divide in the United States, that divide between those who are more conservative and those who are more liberal, those who are on the right, those who are on the left, red states, blue states, will just realize in reflection how much of that divide became even more apparent under the conditions of the COVID-19 phenomenon, because we really are looking at a massive act of disclosure in the context of COVID-19. What is the role of government? What is the reach of government? How much right does government have? How much responsibility does the government have to intrude into everyday life, into the lives of individual Americans? How much right, or on the other side, how much responsibility does the government have to shut down entire communities for some time to shut their businesses and to close schools?

You can go on to questions about vaccines and face masks, all kinds of regulations at the state, local, and national level and you understand just how much we learned about our society and indeed our neighbors under the conditions of COVID-19. But in reflection, it’s very interesting to see some of the analysis that is now coming out. David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times, offers an article, “The New COVID Divide: The Very Liberal Versus Other Liberals.” Now, he’s writing from New York and he’s writing at least in part about New Yorkers, an overwhelmingly liberal city. And he says the big divide right now is between liberals and well, the people to their left, the very liberal. He writes that the divide over COVID-19 is now not just a divide between liberals and conservatives, well, that’s a very big divide, it is a divide between liberals and way liberal liberals.

He writes, “The left-right divide over COVID-19, with blue America taking the virus more seriously than red America, has never been the pandemic’s only political divide. Each partisan tribe,” he writes, “has also had its internal disagreements.” He says Democrats have a growing schism “between those who believe COVID precautions should continue to be paramount and those who favor moves towards normalcy.” He then writes this, “The key dividing line appears to be ideology. Americans who identify as very liberal are much more worried about COVID than Americans who identify as somewhat liberal or liberal. Increasingly,” he writes, “the very liberal look like outliers on COVID. The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal.”

He says that recent research conducted by an organization known as Morning Consult reported to The New York Times that the partisan identification and the partisan divide is now growing inside these sectors such as liberalism. Again, the headline, it’s, “The Very Liberal Versus The Merely Liberal.” But as we’re thinking in terms of worldview analysis, there’s another very interesting part of this research. It indicates that the research identified Americans as classified not under two labels, liberal and conservative, nor even three, liberal, conservative and very liberal, but seven. So, that’s really interesting because we know that worldview differences are more fundamental than politics but they determine the politics. So, let’s just work backwards. What would these different identifiers of Americans be?

Seven labels. Well, here they are from the left to the right, very liberal, liberal, slightly liberal, moderate, slightly conservative, conservative, or very conservative. Really, really interesting. In other words, left, right liberal conservative, not enough on many of these issues, instead we have very liberal, liberal, somewhat liberal, and basically the same on the conservative side. Well, it turns out that there is very little debate right now over COVID what government should do, what government shouldn’t do, whether people should be required to wear masks, vaccine mandates and all the rest. Guess what? The vast majority of Americans are really pretty clear on these issues and they are not with the very liberal.

Who’s with the very liberal? Well, mostly other very liberals including some somewhat liberals. But that just shows you how the extremism on the issue of COVID reveals far more fundamental issues. This suggests very clearly that someone’s underlying political philosophy can be extended to how one believes the government should respond to a virus. Very interesting. If you were to go back to Americans in say the year 2019, before most Americans had any understanding of anything coming like a pandemic, and you asked them, “Would the existence of a virus and questions about that virus be likely to indicate your vote?” The reality is that most Americans would likely look at you with a blank stare as if to say, “What does a virus have to do with a vote?”

Well, ask those in elected office that question right now. Most of them will understand. And that’s why so many on the left have been moving away from the left on these issues, they understand that Americans are making a very clear link between the virus and their vote. There’s something else to understand here and that is that early on in the pandemic, the Democrats, and that includes Democratic governors, thought that they were really gaining political ground by asserting government power. And they were largely sidelining Republican governors who were more resistant to the government intrusions and were far more resistant to many of the requirements, the shutdowns, the mass, the vaccine mandates, et cetera.

But you’ll notice that sometime over the last year, there was a dramatic reversal. Now, it is the more conservative governors who have the upper hand and it’s the more liberal governors who are trying to catch up with changes in their own state policy in order to open up their societies and basically to say COVID was a big deal, it’s not such a big deal anymore. But you still have so many on the left who continue to say, “Oh, it’s still a big deal. It might be a big deal once again.” We still insist it was a big deal. And yet, there is another fascinating revelation in all of this. And here’s what’s important, it also appeared in The New York Times. Now, that’s important because The New York Times is a very liberal paper in a very liberal city.

When you’re talking about the politics in New York City, you’re basically talking about most of the energy being on the left one way or the other. Especially when it comes to social issues, even as you look at Republican mayors in New York City, they are almost uniformly very liberal on moral issues. You have former Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who in the midst of a messy divorce, actually lived with a gay couple. Mayor Michael Blumenthal, who was a Republican when he was elected mayor of New York City but is no longer a Republican, all Republicans knew he wasn’t very Republican in the first place, especially when it comes to moral issues like sexuality, the LGBTQ revolution and all the rest. In any event, the big issue here is that this appeared in The New York Times.

Here’s the headline, “Differences in Red and Blue America Don’t Hold True in COVID Caseloads.” So, it’s the same reporter here, David Leonhardt, and he’s asking a fascinating question, “Did the shutdowns, did the differences in policies between blue states and red states make a big difference when it comes to the case counts in COVID?” As he says very honestly in this article, “That is certainly not clear.” He asked the question this way, “Did Omicron spread less in the parts of the U.S. where social distancing and masking were more common?” He answers, “The answer is surprisingly unclear.” Which is to say that if you look at the red states and the blue states during the phenomenon of what is called Omicron, you’ll notice that the very restrictive policies in the blue states and the less restrictive policies of the red states don’t show up with much difference in the case counts of COVID.

That is a stunning revelation, but it’s in particular of revelation to the left. An awful lot of people were making the calculation much, much earlier, months and months earlier that the numbers weren’t adding up to justify the aggressive policies. Now later, Leonhardt does make the point that there is a distinction in death rate between states that have high vaccination rates and states that have low vaccination rates. That’s far more predictable. But the point here is that the restrictions of the government in social distancing, and mask wearing, and shutting down businesses, you just go down the list, particularly under the most infectious phase of the pandemic, and we’re told that was the Omicron phase, it now turns out that there is no clear evidence that the more restrictive policies made any real difference when it comes to case counts.

So, in this case, what we see in retrospect is that there was a massive disclosure in the data, but the disclosure is that the response was overwhelmingly political, predictable on political terms, and we would say in worldview terms, and understanding of the role of government, and understanding of the role of the church, and understanding of how societies should operate. And there is no question that those who live in blue states, who are living under far more restrictive policies certainly over a far longer period of time, but it turns out that discloses more about the politics than about the caseloads of the disease. An awful lot of Americans figured that out a long time ago.

And it’s really interesting right now that whether you’re talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci or others in the federal government, or you’re talking about the leaders in blue states, you simply have to ask the question, “Under what conditions would you cease some of those restrictive policies, some of those shutdowns, some of those requirements?” The reality is that there is no current justification in public health for such policies. But that doesn’t mean that government, having gotten to the habit of making these policies, is going to let them go easily, particularly in blue jurisdictions and in blue states.

Part IV

‘The Day Will Come When Those Responsible for These Appalling Acts will Have to Answer for Them’: Nation of Burma Declared Guilty of Genocide

But finally this week, the United States government made news by declaring that the nation of Burma and in particular, its military junta in control is guilty of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim population there.

That’s a population of about 800,000 people who are committed to a form of Islam, but they’re in a nation that is about 90% Buddhist. And sectarian strife there has turned into genocide and the current military leaders, there is no current democratic government in Myanmar, it has now been accused publicly by the United States of genocide. Now, where does that word come from? It comes from some of the darkest moments in the 20th century, dark moments such as the Nazi effort to try to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. Genocide in that sense was the vocabulary that was determined by international bodies in order to name an effort to try to exterminate the people or to prevent their reproduction, to basically cease the existence of a people group.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the announcement just this week that Myanmar is guilty of crimes against humanity and that also means officially of genocide in the effort to try to carry out systemic killings of the Rohingya Muslim community. Now, there’s some fascinating aspects to this. For one thing, a person who was largely celebrated in the United States as a heroine for human rights Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been at one point, the political leader of Myanmar and another point and again now a political prisoner, the report very clearly does not exonerate her from the charge of complicity in genocide. Christians understand that the moral horror of genocide is real, and it’s because we have a doctrine of sin that explains how and why human beings can give themselves to sin in such an overwhelmingly comprehensive and horrifying way.

We also understand that sin results in enmity between peoples, and that enmity can often turn deadly. We have a theological understanding of this. But something else in the Christian worldview comes very much to mind when you look at the comments made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as he leveled this charge against Myanmar’s leaders. He said, “The day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them.” Well, let’s think about this as Christians for just a moment as we close. Is that statement right or is it wrong? Well, when it comes to a human court of justice over against the assertions of the United States secretary of state, it might be true that there is no human means to bring about a human trial that will be morally satisfying.

And that’s not just the case in the genocide against the Rohingya Muslims, it’s true in any number of sins, and atrocities, and murderous rampages in world history. But is the statement true or is it false when Secretary Blinken said, “The day will come when those responsible for these appalling acts will have to answer for them”? Here’s where Christians understand that in the most fundamental sense, that statement is right but that assurance can come from no human court, from no human government. That assurance comes from the righteousness of God and the certainty of his judgment. A statement like that made by the American secretary of state reminds us of the importance of making moral statements.

The problem is that we as human beings often can’t make those moral judgments stick. But as the Bible tells us, God is going to judge. He’s going to judge every single human being and no one will escape his judgment, no human being and no sin.

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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