The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 31, 2022

It’s Monday, October 31st, 2022.

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

Part I

Lula is Back: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Elected Again as Brazil’s Next President —Revealing Major Issues Between Populism on the Right and Left

Two absolutely explosive political stories as we go into the new week, the first from Brazil, the second from the United States. In Brazil, Lula is back. The presidential runoff election there in Brazil, which is after all, Latin America’s largest democracy in the fourth largest democratic government in the world, that runoff election means that the leftist former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is headed back for Brazil’s presidential office. And he’s doing so by a margin, it appears as of this morning, of a couple of million votes. Now, out of the total votes cast, that is a small percentage, but it is a decisive percentage if the numbers stand as we know them now. The story behind this is also absolutely important.

The fact that Brazil has as its official language, Portuguese, reminds us that during the age of exploration, Portugal was one of the major seafaring powers and it was the Portuguese who settled what we now know as Brazil. Eventually, Brazil gained its independence and it became a large self-governing nation. Under much of Brazil’s history, it was ruled by the military. But at least in more recent years, it has functioned as an electoral democracy, and that turns out to be really important because Brazil has not only a very large economy, it has a very large political influence not only in Central and South America, but throughout the world.

Brazil is a political powerhouse, and thus when Jair Bolsonaro, a candidate of the populist right was elected in the last presidential election, that form of conservative populism, or more properly a populism of the right, began to be apparent in other nations. And of course, it was Bolsonaro who was elected during the same time that Donald Trump was president of the United States and similar, more conservative, or at least more rightist, populist movements were emerging elsewhere around the world.

When you’re talking about Lula, you are talking about a man who had represented perhaps more than anyone else in recent Latin American history. He represented the left. Before becoming president, he had been president and organizer of a major leftist workers party, a labor union basically, but also a political party there in Brazil. He entered office as Brazil’s president in the year 2003, and he served until 2010. And yet after he left office, Lula continued to be a focus of controversy and political interest there in Brazil. And that controversy extended to the fact that he was convicted of criminal charges of corruption. And basically by the way, he didn’t deny much of the corruption. But even as he was sent to prison in 2017, by 2019, Lula had been released from prison. The appeal was based upon the fact that the court that tried him was not competent to try those specific charges. And so 2017, sent to prison. 2019, released from prison. 2021, he regained his civil rights and thereafter regained the right to run for office.

But that was not abundantly clear until just a matter of months ago. And then what became very clear is that in election in Brazil of epic proportions was shaping up. On the right, the incumbent president, a former man of the military, Jair Bolsonaro, and he represents a rightist populism. And then Lula as he is known simply by that one name, representing a leftist populism.

The important thing for us to recognize is that the Brazilian election was really about two forms of populism facing off, one from the right and one from the left. Both of them highly populist. Lula does not even have a high school diploma. He was educated for several years, but then he left school in order to enter the workforce, and he identifies more than anything else as a worker. And as a man of the left, he is at least driven by neo-Marxist and neo-socialist, if not outright socialist impulses.

He denies that he wants to end capitalism entirely or end private property, but he’s very clear that he’s following a very leftist plan. That’s the plan by which he operated 2003 to 2010. In his former terms as president and as he was running for election this time, he made very clear that he’s a man of the left. He pledged to raise taxes on the rich and he intends to be the sponsor of massive increases in public spending. His campaign was under the theme, putting the people in the budget.

Now, something to notice is that even as he is offered just outright cash to the Brazilian people in the form of annual income, it’s also very clear that there’s going to be a big difference economically speaking between this Lula term and his previous two terms in office. Remember those years, 2003 to 2010? Well, 2022 is a very different game. Back during his first two terms, Lula was able to use money that came from Brazil’s economy that was centered in commodities. And commodities were big money during that period, particularly the first decade of the 21st century. But the world economy is very different now. Brazil’s economy is in a very different place, and it was strain on that economy that more than anything else might have meant the eventual defeat of the incumbent president, a populist of the right, former Army officer, Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro was also identified as a man of the people, but as a man of the people who wanted order, a man of the people’s Army. Both of them populist. Both of them appealing to popular sentiment and to a particular vision of the past, the present and the future of Brazil.

Now, one of the reasons we need to pay attention to this in the United States is not just because we care about what goes on elsewhere in the world, not only because Brazil is the world’s fourth largest democracy and thus unlikely indicator of sorts of what might happen in other democratic forms of government around the world, but we also need to note that as we are looking at Brazil, we are looking at issues that are in many ways more like the issues we face in the United States and some of the political instincts and intuitions of our own time than unlike them.

We are not looking at a race in the United States that includes Jair Bolsonaro and Lula, but we are looking at many of the same issues, and it just reminds us that the arguments coming from the right and the arguments coming from the left are not limited to individual nations, but more generally are found just about everywhere in the advanced economies of the world.

You really are looking at many of the same issues. How much do the government spend? How large should the government be? How should we understand the right ordering of the economy? Should we put a prize a top priority on liberty or on order? And which has to come first, order or liberty? There’s a conservative answer to that question, and there is a liberal or progressive answer to that question. And election by election, in most nations where elections truly have consequences, one of the decisions that has to be made by the voter is whether or not the voter wants to see that more liberal vision of government put in place or the more conservative vision of government put in place.

But here’s one of the other realities we face. When you talk about a matter of just a few years, and let’s face it, this is 2022, we are only less than a quarter century into the 21st century, the reality is that the government doesn’t realign election by election as much as people might think it would. And so as you’re looking at this, if you go back and forth between a far right populist government and a far left populist government, you really are setting up an experiment in national chaos.

It also tells us something that when you compare Lula in his first two terms with at least the Lula who was running for office this time, Lula was clearly presenting himself as less of a leftist, but most people in Brazil believe that was merely an electoral strategy. Brazil’s about to find out. But one thing we know is that whenever this kind of leftist regime has actually gained power, it has not only failed to deliver on its economic promises, but it failed, in many cases, actually to honor the only way that an economy actually works. But then again, at least a part of the reason that President Bolsonaro did not win his effort to be reelected is that he was not credited by many Brazilians with running the economy very effectively either.

Another political principle just to watch and observe when things go well, the incumbent generally gets at least part of the credit, but when things go badly, the incumbent generally gets a lot of the blame, and that is as true in the United States of America as it is true in Brazil. But just remember, the big issue here in the left-right dichotomy is an argument between how much control over the economy, how much control or ownership over property should the state have on its own. Lula says a lot. Bolsonaro said not nearly so much. But Lula won. Now we’ll see what he does with this win.

Part II

Violence within a Political Context: Paul Pelosi Attacked in San Francisco — Does This Mark a New Era of Violence Against Political Leaders in the U.S.?

But next we have to come back to the United States where sadly enough the big story, politically speaking, in the United States in recent days has to do with an attack upon the husband of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Now, the Speaker of course is Representative Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California. And with her district there in San Francisco and her husband Paul Pelosi, a businessman, both of them by the way are age 82, who in the early hours of Friday morning San Francisco time was evidently attacked by a man in his own home–the speaker by the way was back in Washington D.C.–who demanded to know, “Where’s Nancy?” And by the time the police arrived on the scene, it was Mr. Pelosi who was being assaulted by the man who was eventually arrested for the crime and accosted by police. He was assaulting Mr. Pelosi with a hammer leading to a skull fracture and other injuries from which at least at this point, we are told Mr. Pelosi is likely to recover.

But we are talking about a serious attack. We’re talking about a hammer, a hammer that was used with intent to do damage and injury, if not to kill. We are talking about a skull fracture and other injuries. We’re talking about violence, and clearly this is violence within a political context. And that should be a matter of grave concern for all Americans.

For one thing, let’s just look at the actual fact. If all we know is that an 82-year-old man was assaulted in his home by a man with a hammer, well, that’s actually all we need to know to understand that we’re looking at an evil act. Now, the fact is we don’t know everything about what took place in San Francisco over the hours of Thursday night and Friday morning. The story does not yet come clearly into focus. One of the things we also need to recognize is that it is not surprising that in cases like this, particularly where the political stakes are very high, it takes some time to figure out what exactly did happen. How many people were in the room? How exactly did this assault happen?

The context itself defies imagination, so we have to suspend judgment in some sense until we have further information about exactly how all this happened, what exactly was the sequence, what exactly happened, at least insofar as it can be reconstructed step by step, what explains how the police got there at exactly this moment. There are all kinds of issues that just simply have to be answered, and eventually they are likely to be answered.

But right now, here’s what we’re looking at. This is an act of violence undertaken within a clearly political context. We may find that there is more to the situation than that, but at the very least we know there is not less to the situation than that. So morally speaking, Christians are intellectually accountable to deal with what we do know. And by the way, there’s a great deal more that we do know at least about the man who was arrested for the assault. His name is David DePape. He is 42 years old. And what we are told is that he has a very interesting, and you won’t be surprised by this, troubling background. He had grown up in Powell River, British Columbia, we are told. And then he went to San Francisco in order to follow a much older girlfriend. That eventually did not go well. He settled in Berkeley and we are told that eventually he came to light because of his political activism. As a man of the left or a man of the right? No, first of all, he was a man of no clothes.

The Associated Press report about the man who was arrested says this, “Daniel DePape was known in Berkeley as a pro-nudity activist who had picketed naked at protests against local ordinances requiring people to be clothed in public.” Now, I state that not just because it’s interesting and I certainly don’t mean it as a diversion, I simply want to mean we are looking at someone who is, let’s just state the obvious, outside the contours of what we might consider to be respectable political debate in the United States of America. At least at this point it’s not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s not a liberal issue, it’s not a conservative issue. It might be revealed that it turns out to be laden with some kind of political ideology. But when it comes to an incident like this, one of our first assumptions is this is someone who is outside the political mainstream. And certainly he is.

But even as the Associated Press reports, he was also at least at one point identified with some of the movements and themes of the left. But in more recent times we are told that he had been involved with the online community known as QAnon, and that will be on the far right. So here’s a man who was known for his nudist activism and at least with some activity on the left who in more recent months has shown up on the right and now all this has shown up in violence in this San Francisco home of the Speaker of the House of Representatives with the violence being carried out against her 82-year-old husband.

Also in the report from the Associated Press, we read this, “A pair of web blogs posted in recent months online under the name,” and it’s his own name, David DePape, “contained rants about technology, aliens, communists, religious minorities, and global elites.” But Christians, and in particular Christian citizens in the United States, need to take a closer look at this and ask ourselves some hard questions. The media immediately jumps to the fact that this is political violence indicating a new age and a new threat of political violence, and many in the media are already saying primarily from the political right.

Now, we’ll consider whether that’s true or false, but let’s just say we are looking at an alarming rise in political violence in the United States, and this is where Christians have to start out by saying that we know that violence in this kind of context is just entirely wrong. Violence is never the right answer to the question unless the question is how do I defend someone who is facing an imminent threat of some kind of danger. When you’re looking at an assault like this, we’re looking at something that every Christian should understand is, in its essence, evil. There may be more details or more about the context we will learn, but there is no situation in which it is appropriate to use a hammer on an 82-year-old man. Period.

So let’s be really clear about that. Let’s start there. Let’s start with clarity and then let’s try to move from that. I want to look at two analyses of the situation coming from two major newspaper editorial boards. One, the Washington Post, rather more liberal. One, the Wall Street Journal, at least in comparison with the rest of the major media, considerably more conservative.

First of all, the editorial board of the Washington Post ran a statement simply entitled, “How to Respond to the Horrifying Pelosi Attack.” The editorial board began this way, “There is much we still don’t know about the Friday attack on House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s house, but the facts that have emerged so far are horrifying and raise a question Americans have had to ask too often in recent years, ‘Can the most powerful country in the world protect its leaders and their families?'”

There’s a great deal of analysis in this piece before the editorial board turns to write this, “The danger is neither new nor one that is confined to a single party. In 2011, a gunman grievously wounded Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona as she met with constituents outside a Tucson area, Safeway. He then turned on bystanders and hit 18 more people killing six. A half dozen years later, Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana was shot at a congressional baseball practice by a man carrying a list of several Republican lawmakers in his pocket.”

The editors then summarize, “Since those episodes, threats and intimidation against politicians have continued to escalate amid the toxic rhetoric that has come to pass for political discourse and against the backdrop of a deeply polarized landscape.” So that’s a rather reasonable response from the editors of the Washington Post.

Another very reasonable response from the editors of the Wall Street Journal. Speaking of the man who was arrested, the editorial board of the journal says this, “The U.S. is full of such people and their political targets are on the left and right, Democrats and Republicans, the gunman who nearly killed GOP House Whip Steve Scalise in 2017 at a congressional baseball practice was a Bernie Sanders supporter. The man with weapons and ill-intent arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home this year was angry about the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

The journal editors concluded, “The risk of violence will grow as the election nears and passions get hot and as more people come to mistakenly believe that any one election will determine the country’s fate. Small D, Democratic tolerance,” say the editors, “is in short supply these days, but it behooves everyone in public life to practice it.”

Now, a couple of things we need to note. First of all, let’s ask the question, when both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post editors come to the conclusion that politics is a factor here and that politics can and does contribute to an incendiary context, is that right is that wrong? Well, to some degree it is right. Now what we need to note is that that does not mean that your average citizen active on either the left or the right is in any kind of immediate danger being triggered into some form of violence. What it does mean is that our political discourse on both the right and the left.

But I’ll take responsibility to say particularly I want to speak to those on the right, to conservatives. We bear responsibility for weaponizing language in a way that can mislead by the very use of, say violent imagery, can mislead someone who is diluted or troubled into thinking that the answer to a political problem is some form of violent act. That is something we simply must keep in mind. The incendiary context of social media, many of the memes and themes and much of the language that is being used is not going to age well, and it just might serve as a reminder that we have better watch our language.

We must take ideas seriously. We must hold to our convictions tenaciously. We must advocate for our own political party and candidates and the positions we want to see enacted in law. We must see our moral convictions articulated and defended. And when it comes to politics as in any other area of life, but especially in politics, we have to make very, very clear that what we are not to do is to give ourselves into the danger of personalizing this to the point that we demonize our political opponents to the point that at least some hearing us would think that what we’re saying is that we would be well off without them on the political scene. The answer to that is an election, not a hammer.

But then we ask ourselves the question, who is contributing to this? Politicians? Yes, many politicians bear responsibility for this, on the left and on the right. We don’t have time to document that. You know it’s true. On the left and on the right, there are people who say things that are over the line. And some of them get a lot of attention on both the right and the left for saying things that are clearly over the line. So politicians in one sense, or at least many politicians, are responsible here. What about political parties? What about political organizations? What about those who are paying for political advertisements? Yeah, a lot of irresponsibility goes around.

But it’s also very important to note, and in this case to be appreciated, that the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal comes back and points the finger also at the media, the leftist media in particular for demonizing people such as, to give an example, which the editorial board does, you are looking at such dangers as the demonization that many in the mainstream media have directed towards the conservative justices who sit on the United States Supreme Court. The editor said this, “The political and media classes can help by avoiding hateful rhetoric aimed at their opponents. They can also say the editors not pile on Justice Samuel Alito as some did this week after he said that the leak of his draft Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs abortion case led to the threats against Justice Kavanaugh. Justice Alito was right, but left wing Twitter treated him like a paranoid complainer.”

Christians are indeed called to be active in the culture, active in society, and yes, active in politics, and we are to contend for justice and righteousness, and we are to take political convictions and make political decisions based upon our own theological and biblical convictions. No apology there. And there is no apology for criticizing those who we believe represent the antithesis of those policies and those who oppose us when it comes to these convictions. We understand that argument is a part of politics and sometimes that argument gets hot, but that argument must not become violent. And we must be clear about that, especially those of us who have influence and those of us who bear responsibility as leaders. One of the responsibility of leaders is to call out the best in those who will follow us, not the worst.

But it is also unfair to point to at least what we know right now about the situation in the attack on Paul Pelosi there in San Francisco by this man and fail to understand the fact that we’re starting with a very weird story. And when we’re talking about this man, his own former activism, need I say again, nudist activist, reflects someone who is not exactly a part of the responsible ongoing political discourse in this country, and this just raises the fact that in this age, yes, we as a people are going to have to take more responsibility to attend to the safety of those elected to represent us.

Part III

‘Remember People, Guns and Diet Mountain Dew Don’t Mix’: Woman Objects to Her Father’s Favorite Diet Soda with a Revolver

But finally, sometimes we just have to be reminded about the foibles of human nature. And for that, I’m going to turn to a story from Gastonia, North Carolina. Over the course of the last 24 hours, I’ve been traveling and preaching in the state of North Carolina and also in the state of Tennessee. Passing through North Carolina, I picked up a copy of the Charlotte Observer only to find this news story, the headline, “Police cite woman who didn’t want dad drinking Mountain Dew.” Yeah, that’s a real headline in a very real and responsible newspaper, the Charlotte Observer.

Joe Marusak is the reporter telling us, “Gastonia Police cited a 64-year-old woman this week for firing a revolver at four Diet Mountain Dew bottles in her backyard because she didn’t approve of her dad’s choice of beverages. The police said in a statement, “I kid you not. We totally understand that not everyone is a fan of the Dew, but we can’t stress enough how dangerous this is.” They went on to say, “There are much safer alternatives to disposing of beverages that you don’t like instead of using full bottles as target practice in your backyard, in your neighborhood, surrounded by other homes and people.” Police cited the woman with a criminal charge for discharging a firearm within the city limits of Gastonia. “After officers responded to reports of multiple shots fired in a residential neighborhood.”

The police, at least at this time, have not named the woman or the neighborhood, but then the Charlotte Observer tells us that the police there in Gastonia “couldn’t resist mixing in a bit of humor.” On the Facebook page, the official page of the Gastonia North Carolina Police Department, they issued a directive, “Please don’t DEW this.” D-E-W. “Don’t DEW this.” The Charlotte Newspaper tells this, “Police didn’t say if the woman revealed what soda brand she felt her dad should have chosen.” We’re also told the reaction for local residents on social media was swift. The response was also about what you would expect. One woman posted, “Come on people. This is Gastonia. Sundrop only!” Another woman wrote in to say, “I would’ve fully understood if it had been a Dr. Pepper.” A man responded, “If it were Diet Sun Drop, it would’ve been a Class 1 felony.” He went on to say, and those of you who understand the South, understand exactly what he was saying. “They just need to have an RC Cola and moon pie summit on the back porch and work things out.”

That reminds me of a teacher I had in college in Birmingham, Alabama who at the conclusion of class said, “All right, y’all go out and get an RC and a moon pie.” My response to that in light of what I have just said is this: just do it.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Knoxville, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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