The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, June 9, 2022

It’s Thursday, June 9, 2022.

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

Part I

Political Earthquake Reverberates Through San Francisco: Very Liberal Voters Recall the Very Progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin — How Did This Even Happen?

A political earthquake caused by voters in San Francisco should be reverberating through the entire nation. And in this case, it was about a recall election. Now, in our constitution, state by state, even locality by locality, you have different jurisdictions with different kinds of provisions, and in some cases, no provision at all for a voter recall. The state of California, interestingly enough, the most liberal state in the United States as well as the most populous, it has a rather archaic constitution that has a very low threshold for putting on the ballot the removal of a constitutional officer from that office.

Now, this led to the fact that just a matter of months ago, there was an abortive effort to try to remove California’s very liberal Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom from office. It failed. But when it came to a big vote that took place on Tuesday of this week in the city of San Francisco, arguably one of the most liberal jurisdictions on planet earth, the voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly turned out a liberal district attorney who was emblematic of a new effort on the political left known as the progressive prosecutor movement. They turned out a prosecutor because, after all, he was basically elected and operated in office more well known for what he wouldn’t prosecute than for what he would.

Now, in order to understand this, let’s just put it in a bigger picture. What actually happened, Chesa Boudin, who is the district attorney in San Francisco, has been turned out of office by a vote of about 60% calling for his recall. And we just need to look at the fact this is San Francisco, again, one of the most liberal cities imaginable, but they kicked this guy out. Why? Well, you could say the most proximate issues would be a rise in crime and also a rise in homelessness. And the two, by the way, do go together. The pathology of homelessness and a culture’s response to what’s described as homelessness, that has a great deal to do with the level of crime in the city. All you have to do is visit San Francisco to know we have a problem. Houston, we have a very big problem.

And when it comes to San Francisco, you are also looking at a population that is really earnestly trying to be as liberal as possible. And that’s why they elected Chesa Boudin as the district attorney. He had been a defense attorney. He crossed the courtroom, as they say, to become the prosecutor. But he was elected not so much to prosecute but not to prosecute. How in the world did we get there? How did San Francisco get there? Well, this requires a story. The story goes back to the 1960s. In the 1960s, in the American academy, and for one thing even more importantly, in America’s law schools, there arose a different way of looking at the law. The assumption was that if you look at social inequalities or what are sometimes called inequities, they are the cause of big societal forces, not because of personal behavior.

And so, as you’re looking at that, you would say that if there is a disparate pattern of crime, and prosecution, and jail terms, it must be because of some kind of social oppression, some kind of racial or ethnic discrimination. Well, is that possible? Well, of course, it’s possible. You can just look at American history and see that at times, that has been possible. But when it was actual, it was also very visible. But what you’re looking at now is that during the period of the ’60s to the ’70s, many on the left developed the theory that if there is a pattern that is imbalanced in terms of say a certain number of defendants classified as this, a certain number of defendants classified as that, if there is a disparate outcome, it must be because of some kind of injustice in the system.

Now, that led during the 1970s to what became known as critical legal studies or CLS. You say that sounds like critical race theory, was because CRT goes back to CLS. Critical legal studies is really the beginning of it all. In critical legal studies, you had a group of very liberal, indeed fairly radical, they would later call themselves progressive legal theorists, who came to the conclusion that the law itself, and you’ll recognize in this a Marxist analysis, the law itself represents an effort to oppress. Now, I mentioned Marxism because the basic idea or intellectual dynamic of the ideology of Marxism is that society as it exists must be evidence of demonstration of an effort to oppress people, the weak oppressed by the strong, the poor oppressed by the rich, the workers oppressed by the management, the owners and the citizens oppressed by the government.

And then, you would look at this same kind of progressivism saying where you find a concentration of power such as in the United States military or in the government and especially in say the police force and then the allied prosecutorial forces, then what you see is a massive instrument of oppression. Critical legal studies emerged out of an effort to try to use a basic Marxist critique in order to say, “We need to deconstruct the law. We need to deconstruct the prison industrial complex. We need to reform the entire government, the entire power and establishment structure,” the power elite as one of these rather leftist theorists called them, and by the way, they became the reigning power elite.

But nonetheless, the claim was, “We need to go to the government, deconstruct. We need to start with the prisons, we need to start with the prosecutors, we need to start with the police.” PPP, prisons, prosecutors, police. And so, you had the effort to end what they call the incarceral state. That was a language that also came up just in the last several decades. The incarceral state is supposedly a state that is trying to oppress certain kinds of people by putting a disproportionate number of those people in prison. So, Chesa Boudin was elected as a progressive district attorney. District attorneys, in most jurisdictions, whether they’re given that title or something very similar, they are the elected prosecutors that have the chief responsibility to prosecute crimes committed within their jurisdiction.

Now, throughout most of American history, to be honest, most jurisdictions have sought to elect prosecutors who say, “I’m going to be eager to prosecute crime and criminals.” That’s what they are actually to do in terms of their constitutional responsibility. But if you do hold to this idea that America has been transformed into an oppressive carceral state, if you do want to claim by critical legal studies or some other kind of argument that the entire government is oppressive and that prosecutors are one of the main engines of oppression along with police, then you want to take power away from the police, you want to take power away from prosecutors, or you want to elect prosecutors who, after all, are not going to prosecute the crimes that they don’t want to prosecute.

But you will not be surprised that where you have these progressive prosecutors, not only is there a fall off on prosecution, there’s a rise in crime. And that includes not just ordinary street level crime, but violent crime as well. Now, we’re going to be looking at some of the excuses given, some of the defenses given for Chesa Boudin. But what we really need to recognize is that from a Christian worldview perspective, one of the chief responsibilities of government, an incredibly important responsibility explicitly assigned to government in Romans 13 is the prosecution and the punishment of evil doers. That’s exactly how the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write to the church in Rome concerning government. The government rightly holds the power of the sword and it rightly punishes the evil doer.

Now, there you look at a basic distinction in worldview because as you’re looking at the worldview of secular progressivism in the United States, let’s just state the obvious, it doesn’t begin with a biblical understanding of humanity. By the way, the abortion crisis reminds us that it doesn’t begin with the understanding that every single human being is made in God’s image. But this particular crisis points to the fact that they do not believe that every single human being is a sinner, and thus, that one of the main responsibilities of a civilization of a functioning society is to restrain evil and to punish the evil doer. And it starts with a very optimistic understanding of human beings, and for that matter, a very untenable understanding of human dignity.

I just come back to the fact, in a fallen world, do we believe that prosecutors can and do make mistakes? Yes, of course. Do we believe the police can and do make mistakes? Of course. Do we believe that there can be patterns of wrongdoing among prosecutors or police, or for that matter anyone else in the entire society? Of course, we don’t believe that’s impossible. But the Christian worldview is based upon the fact that what is necessary is a demonstration, some kind of evidence of a pattern that is wrong and needs to be corrected, but at the same time, you are not going to correct anything wrong with government by taking away one of its most important God-given responsibilities which is to resist sin and to punish the evil doer.

Part II

Who Is Chesa Boudin?: The Weather Underground and the Boudin Family Legacy in American History

We are taking some time today on this because it is really a huge issue. It’s a huge issue in the news telling us that even a city as liberal as San Francisco has decided to recall a so-called progressive prosecutor or district attorney. But there’s a much bigger story here in Christian worldview significance. When it goes back to who this particular prosecutor is, his own story and what that story tells us not only about the American left but about American history, what do we need to learn? Well, for one thing, we need to understand this. Chesa Boudin did not come from nowhere. He came from one of the most famous or infamous leftist families in the United States.

Now, that points to something very interesting, by the way. To parents, when you do have a moral influence on your children as parents must and should, that moral influence is going to have effects as the Bible makes clear generation to generation. You have what is taught by parents to their children, taught by those children to their children, there are lives and half-lives to the moral influence that comes by parenting children. When it comes to Chesa Boudin, we’re going to have to look at his parents. His parents were actually David Gilbert, that was his father, and Kathy Boudin, his mother. They were at that time, not married. What they were, both of them, was members of the Weather Underground and domestic terrorists in the United States.

His mother and father, but most crucially in this consideration his mother from whom he got his name, she eventually would serve a term in federal prison for murder and bank robbery as a part of the Weather Underground. Now, what was the Weather Underground? It was a radical group of young Americans in the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s who sought to topple the establishment in the United States and its rightful constitutional government by using bombings, other forms of terrorism, and yes, eventually organized crime including murder and bank robbery in order to further their ends. So, as you’re thinking about someone who might be the very liberal, very progressive district attorney of San Francisco, well, at least a part of this might be the fact that he has also been a big defender of his own parents.

His mother died, by the way, on May the 1st of this year during the time she was in prison serving time for murder and bank robbery. She graduated from Columbia University, eventually getting a doctor of education degree from Columbia University. And when she was eventually paroled, and paroled by the way with support of very liberal, democratic political figures, she eventually took a post teaching at Columbia University. Again, she was basically very much involved in these issues and still with a very leftist agenda all the way until her death on May the 1st of this year. But we’re also looking at something else. It’s a dynasty. Because as you look not only at Chesa Boudin just kicked out of office by San Francisco voters, you look at his mother now, the late Kathy Boudin, serving time in prison for serving in the Weather Underground and for murder and bank robbery. She eventually, by the way, issued a guilty plea when she was apprehended.

But Kathy Boudin’s father, Leonard Boudin, was also a major liberal factor in the United States, in legal circles, and in American politics. He became perhaps best known for being the attorney for Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case back in the 1970s. You can go back even beyond that and other members of the family were translators of and popularizers of the theories of the major Bolshevik revolutionaries in the Soviet Union. So, you just look at that and you recognize there’s a family tradition here. There’s a dynasty of sorts here. Chesa Boudin was not created in a political vacuum, I mean the political figure, Chesa Boudin. And, of course, he came from a family and, by the way, even as his parents were serving time in federal prison for murder and bank robbery, he was raised by two other radicals who had managed, even as they were also members of the Weather Underground, to avoid prison.

Next week on The Briefing, we’re going to give attention to the rise of the new left in American politics about 60 years ago, as a matter of fact, almost precisely 60 years ago, what became known as the new left had emerged. And the new left was different from the old left in that the old left in the United States was explicitly anti-Marxist. And that that would be for instance the old left, the old liberalism of someone like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Harry Truman. But as you had the new left develop, and by the way, the most interesting thing about the new left is that it rejected not only the old liberalism of FDR and Harry Truman, it was a rejection of John F. Kennedy. In other words, it was a rejection of any mainstream liberalism. It was an attempt by the left to reconceive the left in far more radical, even violent and yes, Marxist terms.

So, as we bring this to a close today, when you’re looking at the recall election in San Francisco, keep a couple of numbers in mind. The first number is 60, 60% of those who have voted so far in the San Francisco recall election of the district attorney voted to recall the so-called progressive district attorney. The reasons given by so many in this are that it was this conditions of COVID-19 that created a certain kind of social combustibility, or you’re looking at a phenomenon of homelessness over which the DA had very little control. But the reality is, the voters there in San Francisco knew exactly who they were dealing with, they knew exactly what they were doing.

And even a city as liberal as San Francisco, well, it has its limits. And one of those limits is a rise in crime, an actual rise in crime which means you actually need to call the police and you actually want indeed need prosecutors to prosecute. I said, first number 60, the second number 85. Why 85? Well, just keep this in mind, 85% of voters in San Francisco in the 2020 Presidential Election voted for Joe Biden. That just might be the most lopsided vote you’ll find just about anywhere, 85%. So, you’re looking at a city that voted 85% for the Democratic Party, that just voted by 60%, to kick out a progressive prosecutor. A lot of lessons there to be learned. The question is, will they be?

Part III

Higher Education Is Growing Fully Closed to Conservatives Professors and Conservative Voices — Recent Evidence? The Case of Georgetown Law Center and Ilya Shapiro

But next, another really big story and this one just happens to be fairly close. We’re actually talking about a theme today. And what we’ve seen are the limitations of progressive prosecutors even in a very liberal city like San Francisco running up against reality. But the other thing we need to note is that as you are looking at the ideas behind all of this, those ideas really are very much in power, indeed, intolerantly in power in certain places where voters can’t reach. The most important of those is higher education. Voters don’t get to recall universities, they don’t get to recall professors, but that’s where you will find so much of the energy behind progressivism and radical thinking in the United States today.

You also find victims. You find very real victims, people who are simply canceled. That’s the word that’s being used by so many. They’re fired, they’re silenced, or they are warned. Conservatives in the academy are a declining species nearing extinction in many institutions. And by the way, you say that’s probably an exaggeration. No, it’s not. Just Google the results of faculty polls on American politics in terms of who voted for what and what election. In some universities, or look at partisan identification, in some universities, there are entire schools that have only Democrat or even further to the left, political affiliation, not a single Republican in some departments, in some schools, and where you might have one or two, they are vastly outnumbered.

Look at political contributions given by faculty members at American universities to say they are imbalanced. Well, there’s not even a word adequate for it. But the big story right now comes down to Georgetown University. And remember it, that’s an historically Catholic school. Now, you have to put a qualifier on that because it’s been an historically Jesuit school. And over the course of the last several decades like so many of the Jesuit institutions, it’s basically extremely liberal. Also a little footnote here, remember that Pope Francis, a generally progressive pope, is the very first Jesuit pope ever. Not a coincidence. But as you’re thinking about Georgetown University, it has a very elite law school, also known as the Georgetown Law Center.

And as you’re looking at Georgetown Law, you are looking at an outsized influence. You’re also looking at the fact that the Georgetown Law School there is right in Washington, D.C., it’s right in the center of political action, and it is a center of political action. The headlines these days have to do with someone who’s not teaching there, not someone who’s teaching there, but someone who is not teaching there and actually never taught a class there as a professor. We’re talking about Ilya Shapiro. Now, Ilya Shapiro have been hired to teach law at Georgetown and also to head a new center, a Center for the Constitution. Ilya Shapiro, a constitutional scholar, a good, very considerable legal mind, he was a natural for that kind of position.

And by the way, I have done a Thinking in Public with Ilya Shapiro. You can find that conversation, I’ll mention this to the end, at You’ll perhaps listen to it with particular interest given this week’s headlines. Ilya Shapiro is in the headlines first of all this week because he retained his job. He didn’t lose his job. He wasn’t fired. But then again, he was back in the headlines just about 48 hours later because he resigned because as he said, the cost of remaining in his job was simply intolerable. Anemona Hartocollis reported for The New York Times this way, “On Thursday, Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar, announced his victory in the campus free speech wars. After a suspension and an investigation over a series of tweets, he was cleared to take his new job as a senior lecturer and executive director at Georgetown University’s Center for the Constitution.”

“But the reinstatement,” says this report, “was not an unequivocal vote of confidence. Under fire for writing that President Biden would nominate a lesser Black woman for the Supreme Court, he had been cleared on a technicality that he was not yet employed by the university when he posted the tweets. That turned out not to be enough.” So, on Thursday, Georgetown announced that he was going to take his job. On Monday, Ilya Shapiro announced no, he is not going to take his job because of the intolerable circumstances in which Georgetown and its administration had left him. Now, there was something embedded in this news story. Let me go back and read it and then we’re going to clarify it. The article said that Shapiro had been “under fire for writing that President Biden would nominate a ‘lesser Black woman’ for the Supreme Court.”

Well, is that right or is that wrong? Well, in one sense, it’s factually right. But lacking the context, it’s a misrepresentation of what Ilya Shapiro actually did. Now, what he did, he later agreed was inartful. It was not the right way for him to have expressed what was after all a very legitimate political position. He was arguing that a particular person, in this case, someone of an Indian that is South Asian background, was the most qualified person to follow Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement on the Supreme Court. But President Biden said as a candidate and later as president that he was committed to appointing a Black woman to the post. Now, again, he said that it was inelegant. He said he should have phrased it differently.

But in the context, what he was saying is that by saying that he was going to appoint only someone qualified at that point by being a Black woman, he had limited his choices such that given his own statement, President Biden would be forced to choose a candidate less qualified than another because of the particular identity politics that he had given himself to. Now, trying to understand this, I would have to say that Ilya Shapiro basically apologized for the way he said what he said. But he said that he would hold to a similar position. If he had said it better, he would not have withdrawn the statement. So, in other words, the use of a phrase like a “lesser Black woman” was not an appropriate way to express what he was trying to argue.

But the point is, and this is a very crucial point, even if he had avoided making the statement the way he stated it, the fact is that the offense, according to so many at Georgetown University’s Law Center and beyond, is that he would hold to such a position in the first place. But as Ilya Shapiro said when he announced he will not be taking the position, he said he was unwilling to go through life standing on eggshells, understanding that the left will be trying to find a ground to remove him at any point. Now, there are two other things we need to look at here. One is the fact that the left has translated harm into a form of hurt that is emotional. And so, you have people saying that if someone makes an argument that I don’t like, it is a form of harm to me.

And then, the professor is told, and it’s almost always a conservative in this case, what you’ve just said is harmful. Now, Ilya Shapiro is absolutely right. That is a game you can’t win. Because eventually, as he said, what happens when the Dobbs decision is handed down by the Supreme Court? And I say that it was rightly decided. Now, all of a sudden he says, and he was right, he would be jumped upon by people on the left and there would be cries again for him to be silenced or removed. One of the things we need to note is that so many in power in these liberal universities and most of them, yes, are very liberal, they do not want merely to silence conservative voices, they want to remove conservative arguments. And the only way you can do that is to remove conservative professors. And that’s why, by and large, there are so few at so many academic institutions.

But finally on this, if you want to confront this kind of argument, just consider the source, Alicia Plerhoples, teaches at Georgetown Law Center. She’s also the head of the Social Enterprise and Nonprofit Law Clinic there. She wrote an article in The Washington Post saying explicitly that free speech can’t trump every other value on campus. Now, when you see that kind of argument, understand what’s at stake. What’s at stake here is the argument that free speech has to go if I don’t like that speech. Plerhoples wrote this complaining about Georgetown’s announcement that Ilya Shapiro was actually going to take the job, the job that he actually just a few days later turned down.

But nonetheless, Plerhoples complained, “This is not the first time we’ve seen the sort of thinking that went on at Georgetown. On campuses and in other public squares across the country, free-speech rallying cries typically come at extraordinary costs to marginalized groups.” She continued, “Elevating freedom of speech while discounting every other value often means accepting the denigration of women, people of color, and indigenous people.” Now, you just have to notice that this argument would shut down any argument against abortion, any argument against any kind of ideology that will be claimed as necessary to the emotional security of those identified as members of marginalized groups.

You’ll notice one other argument here before we bring this to a necessary close. Plerhoples went on to argue that putting Ilya Shapiro in control of the Center for the Constitution would mean that students who might disagree with the professor or in her words, students who might come from some kind of minority perspective, and that means not only ethnic, but also ideological, she says that those students “would have not only suffered mental anguish as they internalized yet another authority figure belittling their capacities,” but she went on to say they might also have faced “possible adverse career consequences should they have avoided Shapiro’s center.”

So, you’ll notice the logic here of the left. Conservative voices have to stop being conservative. If they keep being conservative, they have to be silenced. And even when silenced, those who voiced those perspectives need to be removed. Ilya Shapiro was absolutely right, that even as he was told he could retain his job, it was so conditional. It was in such a context that he never really would’ve been enabled to fulfill the responsibilities for which he was hired. I’ll simply close by saying that it’s tempting to think only citizens in San Francisco are going to have to address the issues that San Francisco voters voted on Tuesday, or perhaps maybe only colleagues or students at Georgetown Law Center are going to have to confront those issues.

But as I end, let me give you some depressing news. You would be wrong because what’s happening at Georgetown Law Center is going to happen in the fourth grade classroom at the local school near you. And what’s happened in San Francisco to which voters put on a break, the reality is the accelerator is being pressed elsewhere.

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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