Monday, December 5, 2022
It's Monday, December 5, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
To Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution of the United States: That is the Presidential Oath of Office, and No One Should Enter that Office Who Contradicts It
The United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 states this: "Before he enter on the execution of his office," he, meaning the President of the United States, "shall take the following oath or affirmation. I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That is the oath of office that was administered to our nation's First President, George Washington, and to every president at every inauguration or taking of the oath of office thereafter. That was the oath of office taken by the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump in January of 2017. It is the same oath of office and the same constitution, though the Constitution by its own mechanism has been amended several times since George Washington was President of the United States.
Our constitutional form of government is just that, the Constitution is the basic foundation. It's constitutional. It constitutes the nation in one sense. It represents what the consent of the governed looks like for a government of the United States of America. It is something that requires a certain amount of reverence and devotion, even what historians have referred to as a constitutional piety. And by that, it doesn't mean worshiping the Constitution or worshiping according to the Constitution. It means understanding that a certain sense of reverence and an awesome sense of respect must be invested in such a written document if it is indeed to be the compact upon which a great nation is to be established. An oath of office that pledges to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as the only requirement of office simply points to the fact that when it comes to the President of the United States, that is the first and singular executive responsibility to the best of the President's ability to execute the office of President of the United States and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution is thus not only a matter for our respect but it is the limiting document. It is the authorizing document and it has to be both of those things at the same time. Just consider so many of the controversies and the developments throughout American history or today's headline news. When we talk about the Constitution, we talk about whether something is authorized by the Constitution or forbidden by the Constitution. That is a constitutional action that is an unconstitutional piece of legislation. All of this only makes sense if we know what the Constitution is and we share a basic commitment to it, and we elect presidents who are committed to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Now, through the history of the United States, the nation has sometimes entered into difficult territory. No one was basically concerned that the First President, George Washington, was going to violate either the letter or the spirit of the Constitution because in fact, the Constitutional framers had basically established the office of President around the person of George Washington. That wasn't a major concern, but the concerns arose rather quickly. And by the time you reached the administration of President Andrew Jackson, you had open warfare between the three branches of government as to whether or not the president was acting in ways that were constitutional. The accusation was that some of his actions were unconstitutional.
This has been an ongoing controversy, but the point is everyone has been in agreement that the basic question is what does the Constitution require? What does the Constitution authorize? What does the Constitution forbid? There have been arguments about what is forbidden and what is authorized. There have been arguments about what is constitutional and what is not constitutional or even unconstitutional, but there has been no basic debate, certainly no public debate among the political class of leaders in the United States as to whether or not the Constitution was to be defended.
There have been moments when the Constitution was clearly stretched to its limits and sometimes beyond. Consider the trauma of the Civil War and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. He sought at times to take unconstitutional action in order to defend the constitutional union. Now, let's just put it this way. Had Abraham Lincoln failed in that effort, he would likely been remembered as a trader, but he did protect the constitutional order.
Similarly, by the way, skipping across the Atlantic from the United States, similar actions have often been undertaken by constitutional officers and other nations as well. One of the most important to those during the 20th Century was Winston Churchill as he sought to fulfill his constitutional office as the British Prime Minister. Now, Britain's situation is complicated by the fact that it has no written constitution. It is a body of tradition, but the American Constitution by contrast is written when a President of the United States or another constitutional officer, but we're talking mostly about the executive office. We're talking about the President of the United States. When a President of the United States swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, that references a text. It is a text with words, with words, and sentences and propositions and punctuation.
Now, once again, there have been very urgent debates and very important debates throughout the history of the United States over how the Constitution is to be read and interpreted. And we have given a great deal of consideration to those issues on the briefing, and we will again on an important case coming before the Supreme Court today. But we need to understand that there's a basic and categorical distinction between arguments over how the Constitution is to be interpreted, and on the other hand, whether the Constitution is to be considered in force.
The Danger of Recklessness in Leadership: We Need Qualified and Courageous Conservative Presidential Candidates
Now, just as a matter of clarifying issues that have developed over the last several days, I return to the oath of office for the President of the United States, including this language. I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Then reference this posting by the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, that came over the weekend on his own platform known as Truth Social. "A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution." He went on to say, "Our great founders did not want and would not condone false and fraudulent elections!"
Now, the point to be understood is this. The language that the Former President articulated in that social media posting is a direct contradiction of the oath of office for the President of the United States. Now, he is not now president of the United States, but he has announced that he's running once again for the office as president of the United States. And this represents an extremely dangerous development. It's a dangerous development even as measured in contrast and comparison with what President Trump has said and done before, both before he was president, while he was in the White House and now subsequent, and once again, a presidential contender.
Now, numerous thoughts or options come to mind when thinking about this statement from Donald Trump. One is he doesn't actually mean it the way he said it. It can't be what it looks like, but this is a man who's been saying things right up to the brink of this kind of statement for some time now, and this statement represents a certain amplification or hauntingly, maybe even a clarification of what he has meant in previous statements. But the most important thing we need to recognize is that this is a form of recklessness incompatible with serving as President of the United States.
Now, is this a recklessness that is just now emerging? Is it a recklessness that is a form of political posturing? The point is when we talk about the Constitution, the Constitution is not a matter for political posturing and respect for the Constitution and the presidential responsibility to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution is not a matter for negotiation on social media. But perhaps the greatest signal of what all this means is that at least as I speak these words, there is no evidence that President Trump, the former president, has stated that he didn't mean what he said, which at least by implication, given the controversy, means that he did mean what he said.
The list of presidents who have tested constitutional limits and the very boundaries of presidential authority, that would be a very long list, but the list of presidents or even serious presidential contenders who have used language like this is at least at this point a list of one. We are in uncharted political territory here, but it ought to have the attention of conservatives and it ought to have the attention of Christian conservatives because this kind of language is incompatible with a conservative cast of mind, a conservative disposition and a conservative understanding of the Constitution.
It is by no means conservative to say we will put the Constitution on pause if we feel that we have adequate cause.
Anti-Semitism is an Ever-Present Danger in Public Life — Conservatives, and Especially Christians, Must Reject It and All Who Support It
All this came just days after other controversy, important controversy erupted over an event that had taken place at Mar-a-Lago, the former president's Florida residence where he had hosted a dinner with the celebrity, formerly known as Kanye West, now, at least by his own choice, known merely as Ye, who had brought a guest with him, also hosted at the dinner known as Nick Fuentes.
And you have the two of them together, and Fuentes represents an unapologetic white supremacist who has also been a Holocaust denier, and he was with Kanye West, who lately has been making statements that are blatantly and unquestionably openly antisemitic, even celebrating Adolph Hitler and Naziism.
In an interview last week, it was on Thursday, with far right controversialist, Alex Jones, he himself, of course, has earned his own headlines in recent days, Kanye West or Ye said, "I like Hitler." He also said, "I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis." And this came after a series of statements by Kanye West or Ye that had also been explicitly unquestionably antisemitic in a classical sense.
Now, those who have tried to explain away these statements point to basic mental distress experienced by Kanye West or Ye, whatever he goes by these days, but the point is none of that explains how that dinner took place and how those statements were made with someone having just had dinner with the Former President of the United States and having brought with him an avowed white supremacist. Now, reports of the conversation at the dinner are conflicting. That's not even the point. I don't know what was said at that dinner. I do know that dinner should never, ever have taken place.
Christians must be the first to recognize that when there are statements of antisemitism or any sort of racial supremacy, the entire system of moral credibility simply evaporates. If one hosts such people for dinner, one bears responsibility for having done so, and for the public controversy that ensues, and there is no public or private justification for such an act. Now, there are some who simply say, well, this is just another example of Donald Trump's recklessness, and that recklessness of course is legion. He built his reputation on that kind of recklessness. But the point to be made is this. It should be impossible for anyone who has been President of the United States, is President of the United States, or once again to be President of the United States, even to be allowed to be in the physical presence of persons who represent such reprehensible ideas and convictions.
Now, what does all of this mean for the 2024 presidential election? Well, that's a long way off, but here's the point we need to make now. The 45th President of the United States who wants to be elected president again, Donald Trump, is sending every signal of a basic recklessness, irresponsibility and contradiction of the Constitution of the United States and the presidential oath of office. That is quite a way to begin a political campaign.
But we're also looking at a couple of historical facts. Fact number one, the only person to have been defeated for a second term in office and to come back and later win the presidency was Grover Cleveland. And Grover Cleveland won that second term in office in the year 1892. Let's just say it's been a while. Especially in a media age, presidential candidates age poorly over time. There are very few repeat acts in American politics, and right now, we are looking at two aged candidates who are expected in some sense to face off in 2024 or in some process leading up to 2024. That is the disaster, who is the current President of the United States, Joe Biden, and what we've seen as the disastrously behaved Former President of the United States, Donald Trump.
We will talk more about the Democratic side in days to come, but it's important at least at this point to recognize that there are alternatives as we look to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. For one thing, it has become abundantly clear that as you look at Donald Trump as both the candidate and as the orchestrator of campaigns, he has had a significant and long line of defeats. Going back, especially to the 2020 presidential election, it is very, very difficult just in observational terms to imagine how a candidate defeated, as you saw in 2020, come back after subsequent political defeats and win the nomination and then the White House again. And conservatives need to recognize, Christians, I believe, need to recognize the moral issues at stake and with gratitude and recognition for everything President Trump as president in those years did for those issues including nominations to the Supreme Court.
The fact is that those who care about those issues now are likely to have to find a different candidate, a different standard bearer, someone who will not contradict the oath of office of President of the United States, someone who will bring policy as well as political determination to this fight. And yes, someone willing to fight the fight. And here we look at several persons who could fit that bill and could fulfill that role, including most importantly, the current governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis.
Just looking at a contrast right now between Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, you will notice that no one is able to put up embarrassing dinner pictures or references to dinner with the Florida governor. No one is able to put up statements contradicting the oath of office for the President of the United States as required by the Constitution. And furthermore, as you look at someone like Ron DeSantis, you recognize someone who is quite willing to fight and has proved that, but has also proved that he is able to expand his electoral base while giving up nothing in that fight.
It is way too early to make commitments about how one will or will not vote, but it is not too early for Christians, understanding what is at stake, to take the full measure of candidates as they appear on the scene and as they behave right before our eyes. But we do have to recognize that if our goal is to extend conservative gains and to prevent further conservative losses, we cannot afford to waste an election. We cannot afford another major loss. And morally speaking, we cannot afford to let statements like these go by and behaviors like this be expressed without those who actually are committed to our constitutional form of government. And that is a formal conservative principle without such people speaking out and saying that's wrong, categorically wrong, unacceptable, always was, always will be.
And as we think about these issues, we must understand that the need of the hour is not for a candidate less conservative than Donald Trump, but for one more conservative than Donald Trump, certainly more conservative than his recent words and his recent behavior. But also just in transition, we need to remind ourselves of the constant danger that is represented by antisemitism, the constant temptation, the constant contagion of antisemitism.
And yes, it takes form on both the right and the left, but what we see right now, and this is where we as conservatives have to take responsibility, what we see is that we are being tested as to whether or not we will allow such sentiments and such statements to be made and someone still to be considered a responsible agent of conservative discourse. That simply is not allowable. And for Christians, the issue is far deeper because that kind of hatred towards human beings based upon religious or ethnic identity is a basic denial of the imago Dei and of the fact that every single human being is by definition our neighbor.
LGBTQ Revolution Collides with Religious Liberty and Free Speech: SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on 303 Creative Case Today
But finally, for today, big news will come out of Washington, DC. We'll talk about it tomorrow, and the oral arguments of a very important case coming today before the Supreme Court of the United States, oral arguments are going to be heard. We'll be talking about them tomorrow in a case that once again demonstrates the inevitable collision between the LGBTQ revolutionaries and religious liberty. In this case, it is a Christian website designer who is having to go to the Supreme Court to protect her ability not to be coerced into making speech statements with which she is not in agreement. And that is a fundamental American liberty. That is a fundamental constitutional liberty.
Respect for the Constitution means respect for religious liberty and also for freedom of speech. And freedom of speech is explicitly at the center of this case, but the LGBTQ issues and the larger issue of religious liberty also front and center in this case. It's going to be a fascinating exchange between the justices and attorneys for both sides in that case today. We'll be listening to it and ready to talk about it with you tomorrow.
But just as you anticipate these oral arguments, recognize this. If the state of Colorado can force this website designer to say what she does not mean to say then freedom of speech is simply an artifact of the past. And if they can make her express these messages, they can somehow, at least in whatever state you reside, state authorities there can try to make you say what you don't believe as well. And this is of course not just a matter of politics. It is a matter of truth. And yes, we conclude with this.
Once again, it's going to come back to an argument about how the Constitution of the United States is to be rightly interpreted and rightly applied. That's what's at stake.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com, you can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.