The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, April 11, 2022

It’s Monday, April 11, 2022.

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


Part I

The Election in France Headed to a Run-Off Between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen — What Does It Mean For the Future of Europe?

As the old saying goes, “There will always be France.” Well, maybe not always, but yesterday we look at a French national election that typical of France and this kind of situation was inconclusive. There’s going to have to be a runoff on April the 24th. But there are huge worldview issues here. And I promise you some really interesting things for us to think about. For one thing, the incumbent centrist President of France, Emmanuel Macron received about 27.4% of the total vote in yesterday’s publicité. Now that’s not enough. It’s not even close to enough to being reelected president. But this is a multi-party election and there were several different candidates. The number two candidate in terms of votes was Marine Le Pen, who has head of a political party on the right known as National Rally.

It had previously been known as the National Front. Lots of European history invoked with that name. We’re going to have to look a little deeper at the situation in France. Let’s just think about the fact that France had a national election and you’re looking at a five year cycle in France. You’re also looking at a different constitutional system than our own. When you think of the United States, or even when you think of Great Britain where you have a separation of powers, it’s not quite the same thing in France. Certainly you see the contrast with the constitution of the United States. The United States constitution created, as you well know, three branches of government. They are defined as separate and equal: the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch. Now, one of the arguments that was key in the founding era of the United States and in the framing of our constitution is just how much power should be invested in the executive, in the elected president of the United States and in the executive branch. The framers of the American constitution were fearful of two different errors.

First of all, the error of having an executive who is too weak. The other, the opposite error, having an executive who is too strong. So the founders basically agreed upon what they defined as energy in the executive. They wanted the executive to be able to lead, to be able to execute the laws, to be able establish issues of policy and national priority, but they wanted the legislature after all to be in charge of the laws and to be zealous in protecting that prerogative. And they wanted the judiciary to be an independent third branch of government, separate from both the legislature and from the president. But of course, they don’t operate as if they’re independent actors. The president makes initiatives. And actually, as you know, recently, President Biden went to Congress, made the State of the Union Address. The president has the opportunity through his own office to ask Congress to initiate actions, to make proposals grand or small when it comes to legislation, but he can’t do anything about actually legislating. That is left to the Congress.

And of course the judiciary, well, it’s not completely separate because after all the president of the United States has the sole power to appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court and federal judges to their respective seats. But it doesn’t end there, of course. The Senate has the right of advice and consent. We saw that illustrated just recently. So the American system has been rolling along since the late 18th century now for well over 200 years. And we should also note that the American written constitution represents the oldest form of written constitutional rules still existing in the world. Well, you say we’re talking about the French national election and after all, France is a lot older by a matter of centuries than the United States. So you look at the French constitutional system, it must be more tested. It must be more tested. It must be more venerable just as you look through the ages, but not so.

The current French constitutional form of government is known as the Fifth Republic. And it is just a little bit older than I am. It goes back to 1958. France has actually had five different constitutional eras, five different constitutional forms of government. The First Republic, 1792 to 1804 didn’t last all that long. Then you have to jump all the way to 1848 for the Second Republic and it lasted only four years from 1848 to 1852. The Third Republic lasted from 1870 to 1940. Well, that’s longer than any previous, or for that matter, subsequent Republic thus far. You’re looking at 70 years there, but that all came to a crashing end with the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. The Republic fell after World War II came the Fourth Republic from 1946 to 1958. And that Republic faced a constitutional failure. And that’s when Charles de Gaulle, famous general of World War II and then the leader of France called for France to reconstitute itself with a very clear Fifth Republic, a fifth constitution.

And this fifth constitution basically created a government of experts that would be headed by an elected president who would be without the separation of powers we see in the United States, basically an elected dictator for about five years. And so the break or the limit, the boundary on the power of the president of France is whatever he can get away with, or for that matter, one day, she can get away with and still face election five years later. Now another issue just as you think about constitutions, when you look at the American constitution, the constitution of the United States and its definition of the presidency, it was largely defined around one human being. Everyone knew that the first president was going to be George Washington. And so the office was to a considerable degree written because everyone knew George Washington was going to be the first incumbent.

Well, just about everyone knew the same thing when it came to 1958 in France, it would be Charles de Gaulle. And Charles de Gaulle was a very different kind of general than General George Washington. Both of them were generals, but when it came to George Washington, he was famously reluctant to come back and to enter into politics. Charles de Gaulle, not so reluctant. Throughout most of the history of the Fifth Republic since 1958, France, a far more liberal country than the United States in many ways also is in some political senses, more conservative. And as you think about the constitution, the definition of the executive role, you might argue that France’s constitution is more conservative than the American constitution, even though the culture is in moral terms considerably more liberal. But there’s something else for us to note, and that is that the political class in France is largely produced by just a few institutions.

France really does, to an extent, even greater than what we see in the United States operate by means of a professional elite. And so much of the government is simply made up of people who have gone to a very few schools. Now you could say in the United States, we have a similar elite, we have the Ivy League. Still, not quite the same. Those schools in France tend to turn out leaders who are defined as technocratic. That is to say, they know the systems. They know how to put together an organizational chart. They know how to do the math. They know how to create policy. They are basically technocrats. And France has been without, at least at many points in its history, a unifying figure as president. Sometimes that the president just has enough of the vote to win, the president can nonetheless put together a very strong government. But again, only for five years. Emmanuel Macron when he was elected in 2017 was only 39 years of age.

He represented a new generation of these French technocrats. He had gone to the elite schools. And he had come through the cosmopolitan system of France. He was cultured. He was ambitious. He was articulate. He put together his own new political party and actually won the national election in 2017. He ran as a technocratic policy-driven centrist. Now, something we need to note is that France and Germany have had very similar developments in terms of the kinds of leaders they have tended to elect. France, perhaps a little bit more flamboyant than the famously non-flamboyant Germans. But at the same time, France and Germany have in the main been governed by parties from the center. Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of the fact that both the more rightist and the more leftist centrist parties in France had basically failed to have adequate influence, he put together a new centrist party. And again, he won.

But the thing to note is that throughout the rest of Europe, something very different has been happening, the centrist parties have been failing. And even as we had the run up to the election Sunday in France, it was really clear that candidates coming from both Macron’s right and left were gaining a lot of traction. And that was particularly true on the right with not just one major right candidate, but two. The most famous of them of course, Marine Le Pen, whose father had been the leader of the National Front and he had been considered throughout just about all of his political life, a member of something that might rightly be described as the radical right. And he was never very close to actual political leadership, much less to being elected president to France. But his daughter gained control of the party, rebranded it, actually kicked her father out and began to articulate a more plausible platform for this rightist party in France.

And evidently she’s gained a lot of traction because at least in some polling going into yesterday’s election, she was just about even with the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron. The final vote tallies in this election aren’t yet known. But again, it looks like Macron received about 27% and Le Pen about 24%. They’ll face each other in the runoff. And the big question is going to be, who turns out to vote on the 24th of April? Do you still have the size of the electorate that came out for the general election that was held yesterday? And furthermore, when you have a party from the left, does it break to Emmanuel Macron or does dissatisfaction with Macron leave them to basically add their votes to Marine Le Pen and her party of the right, the National Rally? There are those in the United States who say: It would be better if we had a multiparty system. We have the Republicans and the Democrats, and we’re tired of just looking at those two parties. It would be really interesting and perhaps healthy if we put together alternative parties, third party, fourth party, fifth party.

But what you see in much of Europe, and you can just look at yesterday’s election in France in particular, what you see in the fact that you eventually have a runoff here, what you see is the fact that probably doesn’t help to build a national consensus. Furthermore, it can also lead to some very unpredictable and unhealthy results. But nonetheless, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the citizens of France vote on the 24th of this month, because they don’t have very long to make up their minds until the runoff election will decide this issue. But let’s talk about Emmanuel Macron for a moment. As I said, he was the youngest president of the Fifth Republic when he was elected in 2017 at age 39, a rather interesting background for a politician.

This just wouldn’t work in the United States. He is obviously someone who was very young and he was very bright, but he was also someone who lived a lifestyle and represented a worldview that wouldn’t work in the United States. He is an ardent cosmopolitan. And when it comes to many issues, you see where there may be more conservative economic positions, but not really when it comes to moral policies. And for that matter, you also have the interesting story of the fact that Emmanuel Macron, evidently as a teenage boy fell in love with one of his teachers who was 24 years older. She eventually left her husband and married her former student 24 years younger. And she is now the first lady of France. Marine Le Pen and her National Rally are running on a nationalist campaign. There’s no doubt about that. They are calling for France to return to a far more conservative, cultural and political posture.

They are looking at several particular challenges. One of them is the growing presence and influence of Islam within France. And so there are those on the left who say, this is just a form of disguised racism. Meanwhile, you have Marine Le Pen and National Rally saying, “Look, this is an existential question for France. Will we have indeed a France as a continuing constitutional Republic when we have people who are ardently opposed to the very values that make this constitutional system possible?” This also raises one final issue as we’re thinking about all this, and that is the fact that as you look at the American media coverage, they refer to Marine Le Pen and her party almost uniformly as far-right. Well, that raises an interesting question. What exactly is the distinction between right and far-right?

Well, you might say that if you’re standing, just in making political comparisons, everything comes down to where you begin. And when you’re looking at France, you basically have a rather liberal media. They are conservative media sources as well, but nonetheless, they are able to say of National Rally, it is a far-right party, but they’re doing so basically to try to discredit it. The same thing is happening in the American media, but here’s where we need to note, that conservative parties that are winning elections have in the main in Europe and increasingly in the United States. Look at the Republican Party. They have taken more conservative positions, even as the opposing party has taken more liberal positions.

It’s simply safe to say that in the US, the Democratic Party is far more liberal than it was to say a decade ago even, and the Republicans far more conservative than they were also about a decade ago. Years ago, Marine Le Pen said that her ambition was to de-demonize her party, now known as National Rally. The fact that she came within about six points in the national election of the incumbent President of France, Emmanuel Macron says that at the very least, she’s accomplished a very great deal toward that end. But now that we’re down to two candidates in this runoff, the issues are likely to become even better defined. And we’ll be tracking that with you. We’ll see what’s revealed in this process.

Part II

The Bravery of the Ukrainian People and Democratic Symbolism: Boris Johnson on Video and Kyiv Still Stands, Even as Russia Continues to Commit War Crimes

But next, speaking of the future of Europe, very interesting video was released yesterday of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson, walking the streets of Kyiv along with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was one of those moments, which was only made possible by the fact that Russian forces had been retreating from Northern Ukraine. They are basically changing their warfare ambitions and rearranging their forces for what’s believed to be a massive onslaught there in Ukrainian East. But the big news over the weekend was the fact that additional war crimes have almost certainly been committed, including an attack on a train station there in Eastern Ukraine that has killed at least 50 people, including families and children who were seeking to flee as the government of Ukraine has tried to encourage people in Ukraine and especially there in the Eastern region to flee westward in order to avoid what is likely to be extreme warfare and violence when the Russian army begins offensive maneuvers there in that area.

And by the way, the Russian military announced a new supreme commander, therefore Russian forces. And even as you’re looking at all of this, one thing to keep in mind is that we are looking at warfare that is taking place in Ukraine. And that means the invading force is the force of greatest violence. That’s just the way it works. When you have an invading force, it basically bears moral responsibility for the war. And when you’re looking at a missile or rocket attack that hit a train station full of civilians, you are pointing to one of the greatest defenses as you think about the morality of warfare. We’ll be tracking this with you.

But right now, it’s really clear that the bravery of the people of Ukraine would be evident in the fact that Kyiv still stands, that President Zelenskyy is still president there in Ukraine and in Kyiv. And you could have a visiting prime minister of Britain who has shown himself in this nation to be a key ally of Ukraine, show up for video on the streets of Ukraine just days after Russian troops began to retreat from the area. That was very powerful video. That’s one of those big issues about democratic symbolism. It’s a symbolism that is necessary in a system where people have access to information and access to a vote and far less necessary where they do not.

Part III

A Revealing Debate Over a Word—Democrats Seek to Perpetuate Abortion Without Saying ‘Abortion’

But finally, for today, I want to end with a very serious consideration of vocabulary. And this is always important. We need to take responsibility for the words that we use. Winston Churchill spoke about words being put into action. And those words by both the sound of them, when you have someone giving a speech, or for that matter, preaching a sermon or just in a conversation, or whether you are reading them on a page, words are meant to do something. And most importantly, words are meant to tell the truth. But as we’re thinking about what’s revealed in the use of words, or let’s just add in the non-use of words, well, something big is revealed. And there is no better illustration of that than a recent article that ran without much fan fear at The Washington Post. How is this for a headline, “With Roe endangered, Democrats divide on saying the word ‘abortion’?”

Caroline Kitchener is the reporter in the article. And she writes, “After Texas passed its restrictive abortion law last fall, Democrats started talking more about abortion than they had in decades.” She goes on to say that House Democrats coalesced around a bill to turn into law the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing most abortions. And they voiced their support “for the landmark precedent in tweets and public statements.” We’re told that a few days later, some members of Congress, Democratic women shared their abortion stories there on the House floor. “And when he delivered his State of the Union Address in March, President Biden became the first Democratic president since Roe v. Wade to use that platform to call for action on abortion rights.” But here’s what’s most interesting for our consideration, the word nonetheless that still remains unmentionable among many Democrats, and that includes President Biden, so long as he has been President Biden is actually the word abortion.

The Post points to what it describes as a rhetorical divide that is emerged in the Democratic Party. And it’s a divide between those who are going for broke on abortion and are saying, “Let’s just call it what it is, abortion,” and others, most importantly, elected figures who are doing everything. They’re doing their dead level best to try to support abortion rights, but without using the word abortion. And that is of incredible moral significance. We need not to let this pass. This is something we discussed in the past, but right now we are looking at the fact that it is a matter of debate among Democrats, a matter of debate among those who are trying to perpetuate and to establish abortion rights. They want to support abortion. They just don’t want to use the word. Let’s think deeply about why that would be so. It is because abortion points to exactly what it is.

It is the murder of an unborn human being. It is the termination of life. It is the ending of a pregnancy by medical means. It is an abortion. The very construction of the word abortion points to the fact that it is the interruption in an otherwise natural process. Without the abortion, the expectation would be that the pregnancy would go to term. And that means the baby would be born. But the baby doesn’t become a baby the moment it’s born. No, common sense, not to mention the ultrasound and biological science makes very clear the baby was a baby before it was born. And of course the Christian worldview says we have to push back our understanding of the sanctity of life. The question when that life begins all the way to fertilization before there is any visible reality that might yet by most people be called a baby. It nonetheless is the baby, just a baby at a very early developmental stage. A developmental stage by the way that every person listening to this edition of The Briefing had passed through necessarily before being born.

The Post tells us about the emergence of new groups, such as We Testify, “a group with a large social media following that shares the stories of people who have had abortions.” And this is a group that is now intensifying calls for President Biden and other Democrats to say abortion. There are actually people in the abortion rights movement who are counting the days of the Biden administration between when President Biden took office and when he will use the word abortion. He hasn’t yet. That’s also just very revealing because throughout much of his own history in the Senate, Joe Biden held to what might be described as first of all, a position in which he tried to say that, as a Roman Catholic, he’s opposed to abortion, but nonetheless felt that it should be available legally, but he also was someone who supported the Hyde Amendment for decades in the United States Senate that prevented American taxpayers from being coerced into paying for abortions.

And he said he supported that policy. He supported the Hyde Amendment as a matter of conviction. Until he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination when he had to admit that just to stay in the race, he would have to change his mind and change his position on the Hyde Amendment. He did. But you’ll notice there’s something very significant revealed in the Senate, “While many Democrats have become more comfortable talking about abortion, the word has remained a sticking point for many, especially in competitive districts.” Well, let’s just point out that in this case, the offense is not really the word. The offense is the reality. Celinda Lake, one of Joe Biden’s lead pollsters in 2020 said that the decision to use other words is strategic. The purpose is to build the broadest possible abortion rights coalition, explains The Post. And so supporters of abortion rights “need to emphasize what unites voters on the issue, freedom over control, personal decisions over limitations.”

But it’s really revealing that there are those in the pro-abortion movement who have had enough of not using the word. They actually are making the argument that by using the words you can reduce somehow the stigma of abortion. But as a Christian looking at this from a biblical point of view, I want to point out again, the problem is not primarily the word, but the truth that is revealed by the word. It is the termination of a human life. It is one of the most ugly and horrendous developments in all of American constitutional history when it comes to Roe v. Wade, and it is an act that is evil and atrocious, and it simply is never going to lose its stigma. And that is due to God’s purpose in creation, not to any smart political strategy. It is the creator who’s established this, not the Republican Party and not even the pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement has brought this to greater public attention and to public activism, but the revulsion to abortion is rooted in the human conscience. And it is God who made that conscience. It tells you a great deal that abortion rights activists are actually criticizing this very pro-abortion White House and President Biden’s current administration basically calls for abortion under almost any circumstance. And for taxpayer funding of abortion, the president and his administration have given support to legislation that would basically scants Roe v. Wade as the law of the land by legislation even if the Supreme Court should overrule the decision. But even this, White House isn’t doing enough for some in the pro-abortion movement because he hasn’t used the word. They’ve actually put together an online tracker that has the title, “Did Biden Say Abortion Yet?” As of this morning, by the way, the answer is no, he hasn’t. And that’s political.

Conor Lamb, a member of Congress is a front runner for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat there. He says he prefers to use terms like a woman’s right to choose, health care, or services. That’s right, even just the word services, instead of abortion. That’s just moral evasion, I would have to insist. But according to this Post article, Lamb said in a recent interview, “He’s not trying to avoid the word. When he talks about the issue publicly, he said, he likes to emphasize the importance of choice.” Well, I bet he does. He studiously trying to avoid using the word because the word simply invokes the reality clearly. Barack Obama famously for abortion rights. It turns out that of the 20 State of the Union speeches delivered by Democrats since Roe v. Wade, only one of them, only one Democratic president one time in a State of the Union Address offered the word abortion.

That was Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union Address. All the rest of those presidents who were for abortion rights, they weren’t for using the word, not in front of the American people. It is interesting that a pro-abortion group like Planned Parenthood has decided that it wants to go ahead and use the term. According to The Post, its president said that the group would now use a term like pro-abortion, “a drastic change from the group’s rhetoric even a few years ago.” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the group said, “Planned Parenthood would stay away from any language that would stigmatize abortion as a procedure.” Well, the stigma of abortion is the termination of a human life. And the word abortion makes clear that’s what it is. And Ms. Johnson, there is no way to remove stigma from that word.

And this article in The Post points to the fact that there are many politicians who want to be all for abortion, but they’re not at all for using the word because they know very well that when people hear the word, they’re going to know what it is. And that’s the point.

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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