The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 11, 2023

It’s Thursday, May 11th, 2023.

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

Part I

Failed Cities, Failed Policies, Failed Ideologies: There Is a Reason Our Big Cities Are Failing

As we often discuss, liberalism is not evenly distributed across the country. As you look at the United States, just to take one country, it is not evenly distributed. For that matter, red and blue are not evenly distributed, they are geographically concentrated, and they’re sometimes geographically predictable. We discuss the fact that whether you’re looking at moral liberalism, you’re looking at political progressivism, or you’re looking at a more secular culture, the reality is that the closer you get to a campus, the closer you get to a coast, and the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to the engines of all three, progressivism, liberalism, and secularism. So one easy way to look at it is that if you have a city with a campus on the coast, well you got a recipe for a pretty progressive mix these days, and there is no city that represents that better than the city of San Francisco, California.

The reason we’re talking about this today is that we are looking not only at the geopolitical map and the real potential of failed states, we’re looking at the new potential of failed cities in the United States of America. Now, the fact that we’re having this conversation will be shocking to many people, because real estate prices in a city like San Francisco have over the course of the last half century been spectacularly high, and yet there’s a big problem right now. Indeed, there’s an entire collection of big problems, and they’re all bills coming due right now in a city like San Francisco. Cross the continent and on the other coast, the city of New York is also having some similar problems, but as you might expect we really are looking at San Francisco as the most interesting test case at the moment.

So what’s going on in San Francisco? Well, for one thing, the downtown of San Francisco had been a very lively and expensive residential and retail area for the last several generations. Downtown San Francisco had a lot of people working in a lot of office towers, and they were very glad to be in San Francisco. They were very loud about their support for San Francisco’s culture, they liked the vibrance, they liked the food, they liked the retail, they liked the residents, but evidently right now not so much. Because what we are seeing is that these very liberal cities are suffering a breakdown, and the breakdown is largely traceable to the politics.

Now, some people hearing this a few generations ago would say, well, this must be about taxes, that would have to be what this is about, because these liberal cities offer all kinds of services and that requires a very high tax base. And so for the last several decades there have been people who’ve been saying these big cities are going to become unlivable simply by the cost of living, and the tax rate is going to be a big part of it.

But here’s something you need to think about In the United States of America, if you have enough money, you can live anywhere. Money is not captive. And so a city like San Francisco may have been taking for granted for the last several decades the fact that rich people are going to live there and they’re going to pay the taxes and they’re going to put up with the rest of it, because after all they want to live in the city of San Francisco.

But here’s where we need to note that one of the things happening right now in the country is an evacuation of so many of these cities by those who have the greatest financial means. And if they are not leaving entirely, they’re leaving in terms of at least where they spend a lot of their time and a lot of their money. And it’s not just the highest echelon of those with economic means, it’s also those who have been defined as the upper middle class.

Now, something else you might just want to take note of is the fact that in most metropolitan areas, that is the leading indicator. Where is the class known as the upper middle class? That means professionals, those who have some ability, those who are counting on their IRAs and their retirement plans, they are net investors in the economy, perhaps most of all through real estate, which means that a fall in real estate prices also leaves them incredibly vulnerable, and even more likely these days to be looking for somewhere else to live.

But the other reason we’re looking at San Francisco is because over the last several decades San Francisco has been, if anything, more known for its moral liberalism, its sexual liberalism, its cultural liberalism, than even for the fact that it was a very progressive city with all kinds of taxes and with escalating real estate values. Now, the moral issues have really taken front seat, but it’s interesting that right now the big issue really is not so much about sex as it is about crime in San Francisco. San Francisco thinks it’s pretty much passed any argument over sex, but it is also perhaps passed in an argument over crime, which may leave only those who are criminals or those who are trapped left in the city.

Let me tell you about who’s leaving. At the top of that list, Nordstrom. The Washington Post recently ran an article by Jaclyn Peiser with a headline, “Nordstrom Leaves Downtown San Francisco Joining Big City Retail Exodus.” Now here’s something we need to look at just a moment because there is an exodus of retail from big cities across the United States. And yet you might think, well, the big reason there has to do with COVID-19, it has to do with the fact that during those years in particular, and even thereafter, fewer people are working downtown, that means fewer people are doing their retail buying downtown. And it’s important to say that that’s not an irrelevant issue, but it also is tied to the fact that one of the reasons why people do not want to go back to work in these areas is because the very same timeframe has also seen an escalation in all forms of crime in virtually all of these big cities.

And something else has happened, and that is that these big cities have very liberal politically progressive governments, and under the rule of those progressivist ideas they have basically made it impossible to put any significant limitations upon crime. For example, you look at what’s happened in the state of California, San Francisco here the most extreme example perhaps, you have prosecutors who simply won’t prosecute people for something like routine thievery.

It’s very difficult to get arrested for something like shoplifting in a city like San Francisco because you have to take what in other jurisdictions might be enough to constitute a felony before law enforcement in San Francisco even gets interested. But the point made by Nordstrom and others is that even then law enforcement in San Francisco doesn’t appear to be all that interested, and one of the reasons why has to do with the fact that there are other crimes also taking place that, if anything, probably demand more urgent police attention.

What we are actually looking at here, I mentioned the category of the failed state, that is a state, that is a government, that can’t fulfill government functions. We’re looking increasingly at these big cities in the United States becoming more and more unlivable, and they are also, of course, ungovernable, in the sense that the government’s not working. Let’s also look at the city of Chicago, a city which, again, is reporting all kinds of vacant real estate, especially when it comes to retail and office space, and that’s correlated with a rise in crime and with a basic breakdown in the competence of Chicago government.

Now Chicago, like a lot of other big cities, is basically a one party stronghold, and unquestionably it’s the Democratic Party. And what you’re looking at in Chicago is the fact that the outgoing mayor, Lori Lightfoot, had run for reelection, but she didn’t win the runoff, she didn’t even come in second, she didn’t make the runoff. And yet at the same time, the person elected to replace her is if anything more liberal, making even more progressivist promises than she made. A recipe for further disaster.

But Nordstrom leaving San Francisco really is very big news. Nordstrom indicated that COVID was very hard for the company and that there has been a general shift in retail away from the big downtown shopping areas to more distributed areas in the suburbs. But the company also is very honest about the fact that the rising crime rate has had a double effect, and that double effect comes down to the fact that they are experiencing a lot of theft. And as you’re looking at the margins in retail, they can’t afford a lot of theft. The other thing is, is that the crime rate is actually scaring off the paying customers. There’s a reason why you have an increase in the retail activity in the suburbs at the great cost of retail activity that had been taking place downtown.

The Wall Street Journal, similarly a headline, “Nordstrom is Closing San Francisco Stores As City’s Retail Pain Grows.” The subhead in this article, “Lower levels of foot traffic, perceptions about crime, cloud picture for merchants in large cities.” But here’s where we need to note that those two things are often related. One of the reasons many people give for not wanting to go back to the office space in those city centers is because they do not feel safe there, and because the quality of life has gone down very significantly because an awful lot of businesses are closing up, and at least some of those businesses, including restaurants and services, have been what had attracted workers to the downtown area in the first place.

And so what you’re looking at here, like the situation in a failed state, is the fact that I think we are looking at a fundamental reordering of the way Americans live. It is hard to imagine right now what would bring about a conservative reform in these cities and a way of dealing with crime in these cities with a new realism and a determination actually to deal with the problem, it’s hard to imagine how that would come about under the increasing left-wing one-party rule that dominates in almost all of America’s big cities, certainly across the arc from the East Coast, northward over to the West Coast.

Yesterday’s front page of the Wall Street Journal offered a story with this headline, Retailers Leave Cities for Suburbs. According to this article, “Pedestrian foot traffic in US urban downtowns was down about 25% in April compared with the same month in 2019.” So yes, intellectual honesty means you factor COVID into it. But one of the issues that complicates that is the fact that we don’t know how many people would’ve returned to those downtowns after the COVID shutdown if the crime rates had not shot up at the very same time.

Peter Grant, reporting again for the Wall Street Journal, tells us that right now you have a 300 million San Francisco office tower that is mostly empty and is open for offers. According to this article, the building, this one building, is expected now to be sold for something around $60 million, and that means a loss of 80% in its value over the last four years. An 80% loss in value.

Similarly, you’re looking at a markdown of famed real estate such as the old Sears Tower, then the Willis Tower in the city of Chicago, and you’re also facing a very similar story in New York City, another very liberal city that is growing even more liberal under its current government. And the New York Times offers us a headline again, just in recent days, 26 Empire State Buildings Could Fit into New York’s Empty Office Space. The next sentence, “That’s a sign.” Well, you bet it’s a sign, and yet it’s not the kind of sign that becomes a signal that is likely to bring about political change in those cities.

Because here’s where Christians also need to understand that when you’re looking at a political reality like this, the opportunity for correction generally comes before this kind of decline. Let’s ask ourselves a question, why would that be so? Why would the opportunity for correction generally precede an awareness of this kind of problem? It is because when you have people who have the economic means leave, they don’t tell you in advance why they’re leaving. But once they have left, they generally leave behind an electorate that is markedly more liberal than when they and their neighbors had remained in the city.

That is exactly what political scientists can trace as the reality in Chicago right now. It is what had happened in San Francisco even a few years earlier. It is right now happening in Manhattan. It’s not to say there are no political conservatives there, it is to say that the conservatives in general have already moved out by the time people figure out the problem is this bad, but the people who remain in the electorate are those who will tend, in pattern, to represent the political left and to be growing only further committed to the left.

This is a sad commentary on the moral reality of politics. By the time you understand that some problems are as bad as they are, the people who might have helped to solve those problems are already gone. You are also looking at the fact that when you have people invested in the problem, rather than fixing the problem, there’s very little motivation to do anything other than make the problem worse, or allow the problem to become worse.

There in the San Francisco Bay Area it is not just San Francisco, it’s also the city of Oakland. Oakland, by the way, has made headlines on the sports pages because of the loss of professional sports franchises, which has come as a great embarrassment to that city. But Oakland has also been a city that’s been identified with political progressivism, even the ideological left over the course of the last several decades, not in every case, on every issue, but in general Oakland has represented political liberalism in the United States, and its school system just about the same.

For example, headlines are now coming about action from teachers and the teachers union in the Oakland Unified School District, and the most recent headline has to do with the teachers strike. Guess what they’re striking for? Climate justice. Now just to make the point clear, Oakland is not separate from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is not separate from California, which is not separate from the North American continent. So here you supposedly have a teacher’s union in the Oakland Unified School District that says one of the main reasons it is striking is over climate change. We’re also told that the union “wants the district to repurpose vacant school buildings for homeless housing and to landscape schoolyards with drought resistant trees.” Now again, what we’re told is that this is why the teachers there in the Oakland area are on strike.

Just a day later a report came from local media there in the Oakland area that the school district and the union were still deadlocked on negotiations. We should be clear that at least a part of the strike action has to do with salary and benefits for teachers, but in the main the biggest issues getting the headlines are the demands of the teachers that are really coming from the radical ideological left. And these days, the sad thing is that’s not really that much of a surprise.

Just across the bay in San Francisco, the schools are also once again in the headlines. We talked about naming controversies, and even tumult on the school board there just in recent months. But now you have similar headlines telling us that in San Francisco the big debate right now has to do with whether or not middle schools are going to see a return of algebra one. Now you’re wondering, how can that be so ideologically laden?

Well, it is because of this. It is well documented that if those students capable of doing algebra one, beginning algebra in middle school, don’t begin then, they are at a significant disadvantage when they get to high school and begin algebra only in grade nine and above. But there are those who have been arguing that there are too many students in San Francisco who aren’t ready for algebra in middle school, and so the students who are ready for it need to be held back in order to achieve equity. That’s the word, to level the playing field.

But by that definition, and according to those rules, you have to wonder if there would ever be a point at which Algebra one could be taught in the San Francisco schools period, because at what point would you have an acceptable number of students who aren’t up to the level of doing algebra one? The fact is that’s never going to be 100%, and in many cases it’s unrealistic to think that it would be 90%.

So what would be the acceptable percentage? At this point we may never know. But this also points to the fact that if you have enough money and you decide to stay in San Francisco, it’s almost a sure thing that you put your children in a private school, and if you can’t afford all that you just leave San Francisco and you find an area which is far less marked by this kind of controversy.

So in worldview terms, understand that the three C’s really do matter, the campus, the coast, and the city, and understand you could add to that the cultural creatives. So lots of C’s going on here, and they all add up to social liberalism. What doesn’t add up right now is any way out of it.

What doesn’t add up right now, what isn’t clear right now is any corrective to this, and that’s a very sad thing not only for these cities, but for the entire country, because the reality is that as you look at the American economy and at American society, two other factors also prevail. Number one, the cities have an outside political influence in the United States of America, and the cities have an outside political influence on major companies in the United States of America, and you’re also looking at the fact that the cities have been major engines for the economy in the United States. So if you have failed cities, you’re actually going to look at significant damage to the entire country.

But here’s something else, the rest of the country right now is rather politically unable, without any power to make correctives in these cities. The cities are pretty much under their own direction, but, we need to note, buttressed with an awful lot of federal taxpayer money.

Part II

How to Light Your Brand on Fire: Anheuser-Busch Becomes a Case Study in How to Destroy Your Customer Base

But as we continue and as we seek to understand the worldview implications behind these big news stories, I mentioned the corporations, and the fact that a part of the dynamic in this particular culture is that the big cities have an outsized influence on American corporations, and that might explain why some American corporations do some of the most ridiculous things that lead to harming their own brand. Need I say, Bud Light.

The backlash against Bud Light because of the controversy over Dylan Mulvaney, identified as, “A transgender social media star,” you pretty much know about that controversy, Bud Light ended up hurting itself, and in one sense catastrophically perhaps damaging its brand, by deciding to send a custom can to Dylan Mulvaney and thus to send a signal about the company, the brand’s identification with the transgender revolution, and in particular with this individual, Dylan Mulvaney, that’s also complicated by the fact that he keeps talking about his so-called girlhood, that was what made this particular man so famous, identifying as a transgender female.

But Bud Light, let’s remember, has been spending decades building it’s brand, and it has built that brand largely in a consumer base that is overwhelmingly men, and let’s just take the obvious, they are not likely to be attracted to a website or to a social movement in which a biological male, otherwise known as a man, is speaking about 365 days of his girlhood.

But just yesterday, news came that Bud Light has not only dropped as a brand in sales, and the sales, according to recent statistics, are down at least 21.4%. Now in this kind of market, 21.4% loss in one quarter like this, after this kind of controversy, represents an existential threat to a brand. This means the brand is in big trouble. But just yesterday National Review reported that the financial firm HSBC, “Has officially downgraded the stock of Anheuser-Busch InBev to a hold, that is a hold on buy, amid growing concerns that backlash against the company’s partnership with a transgender social media influencer, Dylan Mulvaney continues to hamper sales.”

The article at National Review continues, “Carlos Laboy, a managing director with the bank’s global beverage sector.” Yeah, there is such a thing, “admitted in a note written on Wednesday morning that Anheuser-Busch is currently in the midst of dealing with a Bud Light crisis and that there are deeper problems than ABI,” that’s Anheuser-Busch InBev, “admits.”

You just have to look at all this and understand that eventually morality shows up everywhere, and if you try to defy moral principle, and if you are trying to live in denial of the moral law, and if you are trying to deny reality to the point that you are a man trying to show up as a girl, yeah, if you associate your company with that, it just might come at a cost.

And as you’re looking at the current consumer market, you might not be able ever to recover from that kind of wound, from that kind of injury, from that kind of controversy. Jennifer Maloney also writing in the Wall Street Journal tells us, “The maker of Bud Light said it would triple its planned US marketing spending on the brand this summer, and is providing financial support to frontline teams and wholesalers who’ve taken the brunt of a backlash to accompany promotion with a transgender influencer.”

Now it’s also interesting to look across to financial media and see that there’s open questioning now as to whether or not Anheuser-Busch and the Bud Light brand now becomes an example of how not to trumpet your moral progressivism. The problem is, as so many in the mainstream media have pointed out, other companies differ from Anheuser-Busch in this respect, mostly in the fact that those other companies have extremely liberal progressive rules and policies in place, and also consumer outreach to the LGBTQ community. But the fact is they’ve been more muted about it, and the problem for Anheuser-Busch is that it was so clumsily loud about it.

But for those of us looking at this from a Christian perspective, the bigger question is what is the end result of this kind of controversy, or at least what’s the next stage in this kind of controversy? Because at this point, what Anheuser-Busch has not even put on the table is reconsidering its posture on these cultural issues in the middle of cultural controversy, the only question is about its brand promotion and its advertising.

And this is where Christians need to understand that this kind of controversy over advertising and social media is not irrelevant, but if the underlying principles of the company don’t change, a change in advertising strategy is actually hardly a victory.

Part III

Hey Navy, Take a Hint From Coach (Sen.) Tuberville: Virtue Signaling on Trans Issue Is No Way to Recruit Young Men

But next, at a level of even deeper importance for most listeners to The Briefing, what if your brand isn’t Bud Light, what if your brand is the United States Navy? Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican senator from Alabama, has been putting a hold on many military promotions precisely because of his concern about military policy on many of the same issues, and military advertising, as in this case you have the United States Navy responding to the fact it’s an all-volunteer force and it’s trying to attract new people to join the ranks of the Navy, and yet it’s doing so in much of the same way that Bud Light was using Dylan Mulvaney to try to attract supposedly consumers for Bud Light. Guess what, that backfired, Senator Tuberville is pointing out the Navy’s effort is going to backfire as well.

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, the senator spoke directly to this writing that, “Late last month the Navy posted a video of Lieutenant JG Audrey Knutson, a legal assistance officer who describes herself as non-binary, meaning neither male or female. Speaking about her deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, Lieutenant Knutson boasted that the highlight of her first deployment, I’m reading it exactly as Senator Tuberville wrote it, of the first deployment, “Was reading a poem to the entire ship during an LGBTQ spoken word night.” Now, that’s aboard a United States Navy aircraft carrier.

The Senator continued, “Not surprisingly, the video went viral. Along the same lines,” says the Senator, “it was reported that the Navy tapped another self-described non-binary sailor to become the Navy’s ‘first digital ambassador.'” Now what the Senator writes next is just really important, “As I told the Navy’s top officer, Admiral Michael Gilday, in a Senate hearing last month, ‘I respect everyone who serves this country. My issue,’ said the Senator, ‘isn’t a sailor’s sexual orientation or gender. My concern is that our new national obsession with sexuality, race and gender is focused on self rather than on purpose, ability, or service.'”

Now, as we close, one thing you need to keep in mind is that Senator Tuberville was previously well known to people in the world of college sports as the former head football coach at Auburn University. Just to state the obvious, Senator Tuberville has a background with some knowledge about how to recruit young men to do something. Now just keep that in mind when Senator Tuberville then writes, “What the Navy is doing isn’t a good recruiting strategy.” The Senator continued about a Senate hearing in which Admiral Gilday, “Doubled down,” and he said that even as the admiral was celebrating the Navy’s “floating LGBT poetry slams,” the Senator went on to say, “And he wonders why he’ll miss his recruiting goals this year.”

For Christians, the big issue here is just to recognize that God has established a creation order, and if you defy it, there will be a cost. If you try to celebrate defiance of that creation order, that cost is just going to escalate. If you identify your brand with that cause of rebellion, your brand is going to suffer, whether it is Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light, or the United States Navy.

But it’s a good thing for Christians at all times to keep in mind that if you revolt against God’s creation order, it will come with a price.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by go into For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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