Monday, May 2, 2022

It’s Monday, May 2nd, 2022.

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

Part I

George Orwell’s Fiction Becomes Fact: The Biden Administration’s Ministry of Truth

This is going to be a very big week on many different fronts. We’re going to be looking, for example, at what’s expected to be handed down by the Biden Administration as something like a student loan/student debt cancellation program. I’ve talked about the basic inequity of that, the fact that that is basically a way of buying a constituency while destroying any kind of moral understanding of the economy. Yeah. Oh, that’s at stake, but we’re going to be looking at that in coming day as details of what the Biden Administration proposes to do will actually become more clear.

In the meantime, we’re going to have to begin with another story from the Biden Administration, and this at first didn’t appear to be even possibly true. The news seemed so implausible, the announcement so politically clumsy that this must be some kind of mistake. Well, it’s a mistake, all right, but it’s the truth. The United States government does now have a Disinformation Governance Board. In other words, almost exactly what the novelist George Orwell warned against to the midpoint of the last century, the United States government now has a Ministry of Truth.

Most Americans found out in the aftermath of the Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandra Mayorkas, testifying before a meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. In the course of that testimony, Secretary Mayorkas simply mentioned that the Department now had a Disinformation Governance Board that had been created in order to fight the spread of what was described as disinformation on the internet. Now, let’s just back up for a moment. We are talking about the Federal Department of Homeland Security. This is the new department, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the year 2001, intended to consolidate and to strengthen America’s domestic security defined as Homeland Security.

Secretary Mayorkas has made some controversial statements in the past. The Biden Administration is, after all, just a little bit over a year old, but nonetheless, this was one of those bombshells that doesn’t even appear at first hearing to be possible, but it’s not just possible, it’s actual. We are talking about a department of the United States federal government as a part of the Executive Branch of our Constitutional government establishing what is basically what Orwell warned against as a Bureau of Truth or a Department of Truth. In this case, it is known as the Disinformation Governance Board.

Now, this is not, as you look at this title, at least at face value an attempt to try to organize disinformation and govern it. It’s an attempt to try to prevent it, but that raises a huge issue. Who gets to decide what is and is not disinformation? In a world that is inherently political, and when you’re talking about the federal government, the government of the United States of America, what does it mean that our Homeland Security Department has now put together what it acknowledges in public is a Disinformation Governance Board?

Well, just consider that as you’re looking at this, this is one of the most politically explosive, politically volatile concepts imaginable in our Constitutional order, but even if the Homeland Secretary basically bumbled into acknowledging its existence, the more you look at it, the more troubling the picture becomes. For example, Newsweek had reported that Nina Jankowicz is the president’s pick to serve as the Executive Director of this Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Governance Board, and as Newsweek Magazine had acknowledged, the appointment has already met with some controversy, and for good reason.

Jankowicz, identified as the first Executive Director of this program, has been a Global Fellow at The Wilson Center. That’s a think tank in Washington D.C. She’s an author and we’re told that her research is “focused on disinformation as well as Russia and the treatment of women online.” Well, that description might make a little bit of sense, except for the fact that the very idea of a Disinformation Governance Board appears just at face value to be a violation of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Later in the article, Jankowicz is described as the author of these two books, number one, How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict, and an even more recent book entitled How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment and How to Fight Back. Well, it turns out that just a cursory look at social media feeds would indicate that Nina Jankowicz herself is an extremely prolific user of social media and a very politically identified one at that. Even as the news was breaking about the existence of this board and Jankowicz as its first Executive Director, she was active on Twitter opposing Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and going on to warn of its effects.

She wrote, “I shudder to think about it if free speech absolutists were taken over more platforms. What would that look like for the marginalized communities?” Well, a look at her own Twitter and social media feed would indicate that Nina Jankowicz is actually no great friend of free speech. As a matter of fact, you look at her books, you look at her other writings, you look at her impact, you look at her own behavior online, you’re looking at someone who does really represent not only the left, but a very decidedly identified member of the left.

Last Wednesday, Jankowicz also tweeted that she was “honored to be serving in the Biden Administration.” She identified the Department of Homeland Security. She went on to say that she would be “helping shape our counter-disinformation efforts.” Now, let’s go back to George Orwell for a moment. Let’s go back to 1984. What would it mean that the government has something like a Ministry of Truth? Now, should the government tell the truth? Yes. Does the government always tell the truth? No. In a fallen world, no government always tells the truth, but one of the necessities of any kind of free society is that the government has its power to control information checked by outsiders, not that the government would actually have the power to check that information, especially when it comes to something as clumsily put together, as clumsily announced, and as clumsily appointed as this.

When you’re looking at this Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Governance Board, it’s almost as if someone put something together as fake news in order to make people think that the United States government had just fallen into George Orwell’s novel 1984, but this is not something that is a parody. It’s not something that is a joke. This was something that was announced by the Secretary in the Department of Homeland Security in a conversation with a Congressional subcommittee. He basically let the cat out of the bag. Did he intend to do so in this way? Or was this a massive mishandling of the situation by the administration? Perhaps we will never know, but the fact is the basic issue here is that the United States government has no right to have a Disinformation Governance Board. Basically, again, a Ministry of Truth.

Let’s go back to George Orwell a moment. You’ll recall that he wrote that work, 1984, largely out of moral outrage at the attempt by the Soviet government and other dictatorships, other totalitarian regimes of the 20th century to control truth. Orwell understood something foundational and that’s this. If you are going to have a totalitarian government, it has to have total control of the truth.

Now, as you’re looking at that, just consider the fact that if you live in China, then you are only getting the information, at least legally, that is officially passed through the Community Party and all of its opinion shapers and all of its propaganda ministers. You’re also looking at the fact that right now if you’re in Russia, Vladimir Putin basically has control over all of the major internal information sources. If you have access to some other source, you’re probably already committing a crime.

The very essence of totalitarianism is to attempt total control. In order to do that, you have to have control of the information. Now, that could come about by more ways than you might imagine. It’s not just the power to prevent some information from ever seeing the light of day, it is to prevent any fair and free understanding of that data or that information because the government controls the apparatus of interpretation.

Now, in a totalitarian government, the ultimate effort is to try to prevent some information from ever even coming to public attention. That’s why you have to have a draconian, enormous bureaucratic enforcement mechanism. It is not reassuring to know that this particular Disinformation Governance Board is located in a department of unprecedented police force, and that is the United States Federal Department of Homeland Security.

Now, just to be honest, you look at this and you would think that no administration in its right mind would want to have any political association with having even considered such a thing, much less bringing it about, but it was probably not an accident that Secretary Mayorkas dropped this information in the midst of a conversation mostly about something else, and that had to do with Homeland Security. As you began to look at this story and as the press began to give some attention to the story, a part of what they talked about was political grandstanding coming from Republicans, but what would you expect? How in the world could Republicans in the House or in the Senate not respond to something like this when basically you had something that even most of those lawmakers certainly found it hard to believe might even exist as a reality? You can imagine they jumped on it. We should all be jumping on this.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas jumped on the story. “The federal government has no business creating a Ministry of Truth. The Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Board is unconstitutional and un-American, and I’ll be introducing a bill to defund it.” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri wrote and released a letter to Secretary Mayorkas in which he wrote, “I write with deep concern about the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to create a new Disinformation Governance Board. I confess,” he wrote,” at first I thought this announcement was satire. Surely no American administration would ever use the power of government to sit in judgment on the First Amendment speech of its own citizens. “Sadly,” he writes, “I was mistaken. Rather than protecting our border or the American Homeland, you’ve chosen to make policing America’s speech your priority. This new board is almost certainly unconstitutional and should be dissolved immediately.”

Both of those senators also pointed to something else, and that was the woman who was appointed to lead this Disinformation Governance Board because again, she is not an uncontroversial character in herself. She was rather savage in her denunciation of President Trump and his Administration in serial tweets. She also warned of what she called “homegrown fascism which predated President Donald Trump.” Her words. She has described the United States as systematically racist and she’s been highly involved in dealing with many controversial partisan issues.

We really have two issues here, but they are related and they’ve both been handed over on a platter by the Biden Administration into an absolute context of political controversy, and in this case, deserved controversy. When I first heard about this, I thought, “It cannot possibly be true.” Like Senator Hawley, I thought this must be some form of misrepresentation or political satire, but all you have to do is listen to the Secretary’s testimony and you understand he means this to be taken seriously.

Now, should the United States government in some way sense to counter untruth with truth? Yes, that’s exactly what takes place all the time, but it has to be done up front. It can’t be done by trying to prevent the free exchange of information in so far as that takes place within a Constitutional context. Our Constitution does not allow the Executive Branch of government to set itself up as the arbiter of what kind of speech is and is not allowable in public, and for that matter, you can also look at the fact that the woman who has been appointed as the first Executive Director of this particular Governance Board is also someone who has opposed Elon Musk taking over Twitter on a free speech platform.

You would think that any administration that might be actually trying to get away with something like this would appoint someone who would be absolutely anodyne, someone uncontroversial as the first Executive Director, but it turns out that exactly the opposite is the case. Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, it just reminds us of the fact that information is inherently moral. It’s always inherently moral. Whoever controls information eventually controls destiny, in one sense controls future events, controls options, controls politics, controls economics. If you have insider information, that’s one thing, but if you also plant false information, that’s something else, but who decides what’s true and what’s false?

We as Christians understand someone really does need to decide, and that someone, by the way, comes down to the American citizen. Now, that is not to underestimate the challenge of American citizens in sifting through all these issues. That is simply to say that Christians should understand that trying to find some kind of bureaucratic shortcut in which we are relieved of the responsibility to determine what is true and false because the government is going to do it for us, I think you can recognize the inherent danger in that. The Christian worldview would tell us to avoid concentrating that kind of authority in any politically sensitive or directed position, but that’s exactly what this board would represent.

Now, conservatives are going to have to acknowledge that there is a war over information. There is a war over knowledge. There is a war over truth. We know that, but the point is that whether we would have a Republican President or a Democratic President, a liberal President or a conservative President, we should not want any President heading an Executive Branch that would have a Ministry of Truth, or for that matter, a Disinformation Governance Board. Just think of those words again. How clumsy is this? Was no one thinking through even in terms of how it’s named? A Disinformation Governance Board? Is that what President Biden and his Administration say they’re going to try to do, to govern disinformation? I don’t even think that’s their plan.

It just goes to point out that this is one of the clumsiest, most blatantly unconstitutional actions to be taken by any administration in recent years, and to that was added an aggravating level of politics when it comes to the woman who’s been appointed to head this program. You look at it and you recognize this is not only a political disaster, it’s not only a Constitutional disaster, it is also something that Christians understand comes right down to whether or not you trust anyone in the government to determine what is and is not true.

Christians just need to look back to the New Testament and remember ominously that the Roman Empire was actually attempting its own form of a Disinformation Governance Board as it was attempting to wipe out Christianity. A government that will set itself up as the arbiter of truth is a government that sets itself up for an autocratic totalitarian rule, and history reveals exactly where that leads.

Part II

New York Times Columnist Argues ‘Parents Should Not Shield Children from Dangerous Ideas’ — Do Our Children Have More Moral Sense Than Parents?

Next, we’re going to shift to another issue of tremendous significant for Christians. In particular, we think about the rights and responsibilities of parents in terms of their own children. Very interesting arguments out there right now in the public square. For example, just over the weekend, an article that appeared in The New York Times by Matt Gross, he’s a former travel writer for The New York Times. They ran this article, “Your Kids Can Handle Dangerous Ideas.” Now, the idea behind this article is that parents should not try to shield their children, teenagers or older children, or even for that matter younger children from what even parents might decide are dangerous ideas because children, after all, are autonomous individuals who need to be trusted to find their way to the truth.

Now, obviously, that is not consistent with a Christian understanding of how parents should guide and guard their children. Now, we recognize that we’re living in a world in which there’s only so much parents can do for only so long, but it is, after all, up to parents, the God-given authorities and the God-given guardians in the life of children, to decide when and where and under what circumstances and in what context certain issues are going to be brought to the attention of their children.

It is actually a part of the most important wisdom exercise by Christian parents to decide, “This is an issue to which I’m going to expose this child now. This is not an issue. I’m going to bring up this issue in this way.” After all, that is why God gave children parents in the first place and made the family with marriage and children as the first context of civilization because it’s also the most important place where legislation is done, where judging is done. It is the most important place where the work gets done, the work of raising children.

Matt Gross recognizes that he’s rather permissive as a parent. He describes himself that way. He says, “When I look at the broader cultural landscape, I feel isolated in my permissiveness. Parents, or at least the parents who seem to win media attention are freaking out over everything their kids see, read, and do.” Now, in this case, the columnist is speaking of so many controversies about not only textbooks in the schools, but for that matter, books that are available in the public library and books that are, indeed, trying to transport and transfer a complete revolution in the understanding of reality, sexuality, gender, the entire landscape. Yet, what he’s arguing here is that parents should not try to prevent their children of basically whatever age from having contact with these materials, but they should simply believe that these children are likely to end up in a more or less better place because of the freedom that parents would grant them.

At one point in one of the most ridiculous portions of this article, the author writes about the fact that he and his wife had decided to intentionally expose one of their daughters to a particular form of entertainment that, at the end of the day, the child said was simply too grown up, but then the parents ended up by saying they watched the show through and they decided they weren’t going to watch anymore because it was too grown up for them. What kind of parenting is this where the child seems to have more moral sense than the parents?

There’s something else mentioned in here. In advocating his own permissiveness, this dad writes, “This isn’t modern liberal parenting. If anything, it’s old-fashioned. Before the era of helicopter parents, Baby Boomers raised Gen Xers like me as latchkey kids who made our own snacks and watched TV for hours. We might not have appreciated it at the time, but it bred a self-reliance that I don’t know we would otherwise have developed.”

Well, let me just point out the obvious. The very programming, the very ideas, the very ideologies that so many parents are concerned about now were not being broadcast on the television access that children had after school when this man was a child. That’s like going back and saying the Flintstone children didn’t have this exposure, so why should we be worried about it now? By the way, the kind of permissiveness that’s indicated here is what concludes the article about one of his daughters who had at least indicated that as a middle schooler she was thinking of skipping school. The dad says this, “Will she skip school? I hope so and I hope not, but if she does, she shouldn’t tell me, at least not for another decade. Then, we can laugh about it over cocktails.”

You look at this article and you recognize it’s the daughters in this family who should be sending the parents to their room to think this through.

Part III

Cultural Elites Want Continued Control of the Public School: Parents Are the Main Threat

But at an even deeper level, the same newspaper ran an article that deserves our attention by Frank Bruni. He used to be an opinion columnist for the paper. Now, he is a Professor of Public Policy at Duke University. The title of his article is, “Parents Aren’t The Only Ones Who Have Rights.” Frank Bruni is outraged by so many parents who are outraged at what’s being taught their children in the public schools and he is very concerned about all the parental response that is forcing an addressing of these issues in school district by school district.

He comes back to say, “Enough about parental rights. I want to talk about non-parental rights.” He says, “I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment funded by all taxpayers in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.” In this case, the columnist goes on to say, “Each of us has skin in the game and each of us, even those without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.”

Well, all you have to do is know a little bit of background on this columnist to understand this is a very long argument and one that should not surprise us. In this case, Frank Bruni is writing as a big advocate of public education educating in a way that elites believe children should be educated. He says he can at least respect the fact that homeschoolers took their children out of the schools and he says those who are dissatisfied with the direction of the public schools can simply pay for tuition to put their children elsewhere. He misses the fact that parents, by the way, our citizens, too, and by the way, the majority of citizens looking at many of these issues are siding with the parents, not with the members of the cultural elite like Frank Bruni, for that matter, who believe that they, rather than parents, know what should be taught to the children in the public schools.

The assumption here, by the way, is that the public schools are a way to bring about a change in worldview on the part of children. That’s actually explicit in this article. He writes this, “Raising the banner of parental rights, which is being hoisted high and waved with intensifying passion these days, doesn’t resolve that conflict,” he said, “nor does it change the fact that the schools in question exist for all of us to reflect and inculcate democratic values and ecumenical virtues that have nothing to do with any one parent’s ideology, religion, or lack thereof. Well, that just gets perhaps accidentally and clumsily to the heart of the issue.

Education is not neutral and it is never neutral, and here you have an acknowledgement that whoever controls the education controls it by putting into place a certain set of democratic values and “ecumenical virtues” that are to be taught in the schools. The question is, who determines what those virtues and values are? The bottom line is that many people in the United States, particularly on the left, believe that it should be credentialed elites that make that decision, and we know the worldview of those credentialed elites, at least the dominant worldview. That’s why so many parents are righteously and rightly indignant.

These issues are raised by Frank Bruni in this article and he is identified as a Professor of Public Policy at Duke University. He’s also mentioned as a contributing opinion writer. Well, he was a regular columnist for a long time, and in my book on these issues I mention the fact that he’s the author of an article from 2015 entitled, “Your God and My Dignity,” in which the openly gay writer went on to complain about the very notion of religions liberty saying that it, “Sounds disturbingly like a dog whistle that want specified, codified exemption from anti-discrimination laws.”

He said in that article that he’s all for religious liberty so long as it is confined to pews, homes, and hearts. That’s another way of saying confined away from the local school board meeting and the public schools in general, or the public square in its most expansive sense. “You are free,” he writes, “to have any religious beliefs you want,” and he believes you so choose, “but you do not have a write to hold them or even to articulate them as being meaningful in any sense beyond pews, homes, and hearts.” He says basically to religious Americans, “Keep those religious convictions to yourself.” Now, he says to parents, “Keep your convictions to yourself, or pay tuition and homeschool your children, whatever you want to do, just let the public control the public schools.

Except here’s the rub. It’s not actually the public, it’s the elites who would decide the rule over the public. They’re the ones he wants to see making all of the decisions, and that, rather sadly, brings us back to yet another version of George Orwell’s dystopian vision. Once again, just another version of the Ministry of Truth.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking today in Memphis, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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