The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, December 7, 2023

It is Thursday, December 7, 2023.

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

Part I

Moral Rot of the Academic Elite Exposed: Three Elite University Presidents Reveal Ideological Corruption of the Left

I think most of us know we’re living in consequential times, but sometimes it seems that we’re living in very urgent times. Just over the course of the last several days, several things have happened that have helped to focus the moral and worldview crisis of our times. Sometimes this comes down to a matter of life and death. And as we’re looking at these issues, we need to go to the United States Capitol this past Tuesday, just two days ago when three of America’s most influential university presidents appeared before a house committee to speak to the issues of anti-Semitism and even calls for genocide on their campuses.

What’s most remarkable from all of this is that all three of those presidents failed in the most basic task of human decency in stating that it would not be allowable on their campuses for openly anti-Semitic calls to be made, even calls for genocide. These statements made by these three university presidents that represent the elite of American academic life, they are patently, immoral and unacceptable; but it tells you a great deal about the rot of America’s higher education. It also underlines the incongruity of so many conservative Christian parents and students who think it would be a great achievement to get into these universities where basically they would be surrendering themselves to a moral swamp.

The three presidents were the president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, the president of MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sally Ann Kornbluth, and the president of the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Magill. Now, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard are both of course Ivy League schools, but MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology located very close to Harvard is also in the very top ranks of the academic elite. So Ivy League or not, you’re talking about three academic powerhouses in the United States, three at the very top of the pyramid of the most elite academic institutions in the United States, and yet you’re also looking at a moral rot that became very, very evident.

It’s interesting that a headline published by the Washington Post was this, “How Harvard, Penn, MIT Leaders answered or skirted questions on anti-Semitism.” By the time yesterday came around, you had the New York Times where the headline, “Republicans try to put Harvard, MIT and Penn on the defensive about anti-Semitism.” Now, quite frankly, I consider that to be an extremely inadequate headline. Here we’re told that it’s partisan Republicans, and then the next word is “try”–try to put Harvard, MIT, and Penn on the defensive about anti-Semitism. Now, just in terms of the power dynamics in the room, those presidents were on the defensive, but in terms of the moral dynamics in the room, these presidents were not trapped into this problem. These presidents are the cause of these problems and frankly, they’re also indicative of the moral swamp that is elite higher education in the United States.

At this time, the central issue is anti-Semitism, but the question of genocide, actual genocide was raised directly with these three presidents. Some of those morally clarifying moments came with direct questioning that was undertaken by representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, who pressed the questions to all three of the university presidents. For example, representative Stefanik addressed to President Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, “This calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct, yes or no.” Ms. Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania responded, “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment.” Representative Stefanik came right back, “I’m asking specifically calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?” Now, there was a bit of time, a give and take, but at the end of the day, the president of the University of Pennsylvania said, “It can be harassment.” Representative Stefanik responded with moral clarity, “The answer is yes.”

So before we go any further, let’s just remind ourselves of the vocabulary that is at stake here. We’re not just talking about anti-Semitism, but let’s just remind ourselves what it is. What is anti-Semitism? It is an ideology of hatred towards the Jewish people. Now, Semitism is a larger category, but in this context that’s exactly what it means. It means specifically against the Jewish people and genocide, let’s just remind ourselves, is the mass murder of a particular type of person, a particular identity category. That’s where the G-E-N, as in genus comes–this is an intentional mass homicidal approach. In the case of Nazi Germany, the genocide was against the Jewish people with the stated intention to kill all of the Jewish people certainly within the reach, the power of the capability of the Third Reich. It was murderously successful into the millions of victims, and you would think that if anything, the clarification that came in the middle of the 20th century on anti-Semitism and genocide, it might last. Say for a century in American higher education, if you made that assumption, you would be wrong.

The moral confusion, the secularization, the radicalization, the ideological corruption of American higher education has never been on more clear display than when those three women, all presidents of America’s most illustrious academic institutions, all three of them failed this test. All three of them failed the test catastrophically. All three of them failed it in public in real time as Americans were or could have been watching. The pattern on all three was basically the same, and that is when asked if calls for genocide, the eradication of the Jewish people would be wrong, the presidents tried to shift from any categorical statement. And indeed they resisted making any categorical statement that this would be wrong, that it would violate the rules, the speech principles, the code of conduct of their universities, and all three of them in one way or another tried to say, “Well, if it is translated into conduct, that could be harassment.” That’s exactly what the University of Pennsylvania said.

All right. Let’s think about that for just a moment. What is going on here on the left? That is one of the biggest questions that we should all be asking. If you just take the political ideological left in this country, what in the world is going on? Now, some of us have seen this coming for a long time, but right now it is just deadly urgent that all of us, all the listeners to The Briefing and beyond that every honest American citizen come to terms with what was said, what wasn’t said, and what this means.

Every one of these universities has been absolutely obsessed with language games over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. Every one of them knows how to play the language game, but you’ll notice that the failure to play the game, in this case under direct testimony in public before a congressional committee, it demonstrates the fact that these three presidents are afraid of someone. They’re afraid of some force, they’re afraid of some side. This is where on the left, as we’ve seen you have this further radicalization, this further infusion of a poisonous ideology.

First of all, on these campuses you have people who are just openly, publicly, blatantly, anti-Semitic and they’ve been tolerated for a long time. Furthermore, in the name of inclusivity and academic freedom, you have had the open welcome on these campuses to so many representing various progressive causes, and it’s hard to tell at times whether it’s the students driving the faculty or the faculty driving the students. What isn’t contestable is the direction that both are driving and it is to the left and further to the left.

Now, that means something political. Means something ideological. But one of the most important worldview points that I think needs to be made is that that is a direction that is threatening to human dignity in every way. And in this particular case, you had three presidents, not one of whom was willing to say categorically that calls for the genocide of the Jewish people on that president’s campus would be wrong, would be intolerable, would be actionable.

The President of Harvard, Claudine Gay did say that some of this language was, “Personally abhorrent to me,” but that’s an evasion. The president’s responsibility is not to speak of what’s personally abhorrent to her, but rather to say what’s acceptable, unacceptable, what’s allowable and not allowable on the campus of Harvard University, and you’ll notice there was a studious attempt not to answer that question, but let’s be very honest, the non-answer is an answer.

Listen to this. Representative Stefanik asked this question of the Harvard president, “Do you believe that type of hateful speech is contrary to Harvard’s code of conduct or is it allowed at Harvard?” President Gay said, “It is at the odds with the values of Harvard.” Now, representative Stefanik recognized that’s not really an answer saying that something is at odds with the values of Harvard. Something tells me that selling low and buying high on the stock market is at odds with the values of Harvard. That’s not really a moral statement. That’s a moral evasion.

So Representative Stefanik came back and said, “Can you not say here that it is against the code of conduct at Harvard?” And President Gay said, “We embrace a commitment to free expression. Even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation.” Now, we need to look a bit more closely at that statement, at that sentence because that turns out to be something of vital moral importance. She said, again, “It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation.”

Now, there’ve been arguments on the right and the left about such things for years, and I want to go back to one of the arguments that emerged first on the left, and I’m not saying this for blame but for credit because in this sense the old left was actually making a quite legitimate point. When you had liberals in a previous generation who said that speech is an act, that speech does come with consequences, and so clearly there’s a distinction between just saying something and doing something.

So even in a Supreme Court argument, you had the judgment that it’s one thing to say that there’s fire and it not be true. It’s another thing to say there’s fire in a crowded theater in which people get hurt. Those words were not mere words they led to personal injury, but you’ll notice that that famous example from the history of American law, that’s inadequate to this because we’re not just talking about fire–we’re talking about genocide, we’re talking about the intentional elimination, the intentional killing of an entire class of human beings. Articulating that is not itself merely the evocation of words. It is the making of an argument, and in this case the category of speech-act is extremely important. This was speech, but it was nonetheless a morally significant action.

Part II

The Needed Change Unlikely to Come to the Academic Left: Why Donors and Alumni Calls for Action Likely Won’t Be Enough to Bring Long-term Change

Now, it’s also important to recognize that this has not aged well over time, and even on the left there are some who are saying, “That was not a good move. That was not a good look. That was a very bad move. This has exposed us. We are now in the open on these issues.” Now, here’s where things are going to get really interesting because you can’t have these major universities, you can’t have the most elite of America’s elite academic institutions without a ton of money, and I mean a ton of money. You’re not just talking about millions. You’re not just talking about hundreds of millions, you’re talking about billions of dollars. That requires an awful lot of private money. There have to be some very rich people willing to pay some very big bills at these universities and at all three of these schools there are some very restless, very troubled donors, but example A in this case has to be the University of Pennsylvania. It’s also important to recognize there were some very prominent Jewish donors at the University of Pennsylvania who’ve had enough a long time ago.

Marc Rowan, who is the chief of the Apollo group, and he is also the board chair at the Wharton School, that’s the graduate business school there at the University of Pennsylvania. He’d been calling for the board to take action against the president of the institution for some time. In the wake of this most recent controversy, Mr. Rowan asked the question, “How much damage to our reputation are we willing to accept the call for fundamental change at UPenn,” that’s the University of Pennsylvania, “Continues.” Major donors had indicated that they were going to stop giving to the University of Pennsylvania. I think you’re going to see that in some of these other institutions as well, but I’m going to make a prediction. Unless those donors and their financial impact add up to billions and billions of dollars, I’m going to tell you there are more powerful influences on those campuses when it comes to the students and particularly the faculty and what can only be described as the administrative state that has grown up within all those institutions. They’re going to be more powerful than the donors until the institutions can’t pay the bills.

It’s also interesting that in Pennsylvania there is one other very troubled person who is now breaking with the president of the University of Pennsylvania, and that’s the state’s governor that is Governor Josh Shapiro. He said the UPenn’s president’s statements were, “Unacceptable.” He went on to say this, “It should not be hard to condemn genocide, genocide against Jews, genocide against anyone else.” He went on to say, “I’ve said many times, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test.” Now, the governor of Pennsylvania actually sits on the board as a non-voting member of the University of Pennsylvania. That’s less significant than the fact that the sitting governor, democratic governor, the state of Pennsylvania here has basically said that the president of the University of Pennsylvania has failed a crucial moral test.

Now, let me also give you a little inside baseball here in higher education. There’s a way out for these universities that doesn’t change anything and that’s just fire these three presidents and hire someone else who will do almost exactly the same thing. Offer some fig leaf of a defense or take some representative action, but unless they’re going to change something at the fundamental level in these institutions, then they’re simply going to continue along the same morally bankrupt directions. I’ll make the prediction that in all likelihood, not one of these three women holding this job will be holding it in fairly short order. It’s just going to become politically untenable. All three of them gave plenty of video in terms of the testimony before this congressional committee that frankly is so morally disastrous and for that matter so politically insipid that it’s hard to imagine how they can survive. Nonetheless, we’ll be watching.

It’s also interesting that there’s been a change just over say the last 24 to 36 hours where many in the mainstream media thought the story was and they were presenting the story as mean Republicans go after elite academic presidents trying to put them on the defensive. Now that the video’s out there, it’s interesting to see how many, even in the mainstream media are changing their tune. It just tells you again how things work, where the academic elite and the media elite are basically on the same team until for some reason a self-preservation, one of them figures out that at least in the short term, they’re going to have to create some distance.

Part III

Are American Jews Being Betrayed By Their Fellow Travelers on the Left? Senator Chuck Schumer’s Historic Speech Reveals Massive Questions

But even as we will continue to track this story, we need to go back now about a week.

We need to go back to last Wednesday and not in the House of Representatives, but rather in the United States Senate because last Wednesday they’re in the Senate. The Senate majority leader New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, he gave a speech that quite frankly demands the attention of every morally sensitive person in the United States. We need this in our moral awareness. We need to understand what was going on because Senator Charles Schumer, better known as Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate, he went to the floor in order to condemn a turn towards anti-Semitism in the United States of America. He was very clear that this is not just some theoretical anti-Semitism. This is the hatred of the Jewish people, and he pointed to evidence and some of that evidence by the way, was on the campuses of America’s elite academic institutions.

This came the week before the absolute failure of those three university presidents to reach any moral clarity on the question of genocide. But last Wednesday, Senator Schumer was speaking of a level of shock and certainly grave moral disappointment and the fact that so many of those that he thought were his political allies had turned out to either demonstrate anti-Semitism or to be protecting or facilitating, enabling anti-Semitism. Saying what his speech was about he explained, “I want to describe the fears and anxieties in many Jewish Americans right now, particularly after October, 7, who feel there are aspects of the debate around Israel and Gaza that are crossing over into anti-Semitism with Jewish people being targeted simply for being Jewish and having nothing to do with Israel.”

So the Senate majority leader who’s been for years a Democratic figure in New York politics, first a member of Congress and now in the United States Senate, now as the leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate. He has long been associated also as a member of the Jewish community in the United States, and he’s been associated as a liberal. Now, when it comes to Chuck Schumer, he’s not the far left of his party, but I think it’s fair to say he enables the far left of his party and at least for some time, he’s basically run political interference for the far left of his party. He’s a classic liberal and frankly on moral issues and social issues, he’s pretty radically liberal. He’s an enthusiast for the LGBTQ revolution. He is all for abortion rights. You just go down the list, but he is now very concerned about this antipathy towards the Jewish people and open anti-Semitism in American culture.

And he also made some amazingly candid statements. Speaking of the open statements of solidarity with Hamas, the terrorist organization that had carried out the October 7 murderous attacks. Speaking of those who were unquestionably terrorists against the Jewish people, Senator Schumer said, “Many of the people who have expressed these sentiments in America, neo-Nazis or card-carrying clan members or Islamist extremists, they are in many cases people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.” It’s an incredible statement. It’s incredible for a number of reasons, by the way, because he’s saying, look, I’m not talking right now about anti-Semitism from the political ideological right. I’m talking about anti-Semitism from the left.

It’s being found now among people that liberal Jewish Americans, “Felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.” Now, here you have an open statement, a very honest statement coming from Senator Schumer that the great threat of anti-Semitism in America right now is coming from the left, and it’s exactly the anti-Semitism that appeared in the House of Representatives when those three university presidents we’re testifying. Remember this came before, but there’s something else in this. He said most liberal Jewish Americans, “Felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.” Now, that’s really interesting because the phrase fellow travelers has a history and that history has to do with the communist Marxist movement and calls for Marxist revolution. And when you go back to say the mid-twentieth century, there were those who were accused not of being open communists, but of being communist fellow travelers. It was a very negative statement, and yet it’s one that the left very clearly defended.

The political left said, “You have the right to be a fellow traveler of communism,” and I’m not saying that that in any sense is exactly what Chuck Schumer was citing here. But he nonetheless had to know as the Democratic leader of the United States Senate, as someone with as long a trajectory in democratic politics as Chuck Schumer has had, he had to know he was saying something when he said, “Most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously that these people were their ideological fellow travelers.” That’s a unique statement of ideological solidarity. In this sense, it’s a very powerful statement of moral outrage and a sense of betrayal coming from Senator Schumer. He is saying that the Jewish people in America now have to look at the actions of others on the left as being acts of betrayal.

He continued his argument saying, “Not long ago, many of us matched together for Black and Brown lives. We stood against anti-Asian hatred. We protested bigotry against the LGBTQ community. We fought for reproductive justice out of the recognition that injustice against one’s oppressed group is injustice against all.” He continued, “But apparently in the eyes of some, that principle does not extend to the Jewish people.” Notice what Senator Schumer did there. He clearly identifies the commonality being on the political ideological and moral left, the cultural left. He’s talking about solidarity with different movements including the LGBTQ movement and even the movement for abortion rights. So he’s saying, “Look, we marched together for these things, but now we’re standing alone with anti-Semitism, with open hatred to the Jewish people being tolerated on the political ideological left.”

Now, we’ll be talking more in days ahead about what is called the two-state solution or proposal when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian people, but what’s most important and has to be cited here is that Senator Schumer says he supports the two-state solution, but he also supports the state of Israel as a Jewish state. And here’s where you have so many Jewish leaders in the United States who all of a sudden seem to be surprised that the ideological left is against Israel, not in terms of its behavior, but against Israel because of its existence. And at least to his credit on this score, Senator Schumer said very clearly, he supports Israel. He said, “The reason why I invoke this history about the founding of the Israeli state is because forgetting or even deliberately ignoring this vital context is dangerous. Some of the most extreme rhetoric against Israel has emboldened anti-Semites who are attacking Jewish people simply because they are Jewish. Independent of anything having to do with Israel.”

Now, this is something experienced by President Biden who’s a Democratic president, remember, and now the Democratic Senator Schumer, who’s the majority leader. They’re both experiencing the fact that in their own party, younger voters, university-based voters, voters that might represent the majority in their own party are now openly embracing anti-Semitism. They’re openly embracing calls for the rejection of Israel and if not the rejection of Israel politically, then the undermining of Israel as a project and certainly as a Jewish state.

Senator Schumer went on. Again, this was a forty-minute speech and I think it will turn out to be one of the most important speeches in recent Senate history. I recognize that’s a fairly low bar of historical significance, but nonetheless, I think it does apply here. I think this speech will be long remembered. Senator Schumer said, “And when we see many people in news organizations remain neutral about the basic absurdity of these claims and actions were deeply disappointed.” He went on to say, “More than anything, we are worried quite naturally given the twists and turns of history about where these actions and sentiments could eventually lead.” He said, “Now, this is no intellectual exercise for us. For any Jewish people, it feels like a matter of survival informed once again by history in this case, very personal history.” And then at least to my knowledge, Senator Schumer did what he hasn’t done elsewhere and he described the genocidal effect of the Nazi regime on his own family.

Speaking in very personal terms, the Senate majority leader said this, “While my grandfather came to America and encountered opportunity, many of his siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles and other family members remained behind in Eastern Europe. When I was still a young boy,” said, Senator Schumer, “I was told why many branches of our family tree stopped growing forever. In 1941 when the Nazis invaded Ukraine, then part of Galicia, they asked my great-grandmother, the matriarch of the family and the wife of a locally revered rabbi to gather her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, and the porch of her home, which was in the town square. As more than 30 people gathered on the porch aged 85 years to three months, the Nazis forced the remaining Jewish citizens of the town to gather around and watch. When the Nazis told my great-Grandmother, you’re coming with us. She refused, and they machine gunned down every last one of them, the babies, the elderly, and everybody in between.”

Those words coming from the Senate majority leader were historic. They were urgent. They were so far as I know, unprecedented in that context, and you’ll notice that they came with another context, which was the context of the speech itself. This was a major declaration being made by a Jewish senator from New York about the betrayal of the Jewish people in this country now by the ideological and political cultural academic left. And he was trying to point to where this goes in an historical context.

Now, as we deal with these issues today on The Briefing, we do so in the context of a Christian biblical worldview, which takes evil with grave seriousness and understands that one of the longest historical representations of murderous genocidal evil has been the hatred of the Jewish people, which has so often been translated not only into prejudice, but into genocide, into murder, and as the 20th century made very clear orchestrated mass murder. It is an incredible moment when you have this Democratic senator speaking of a sense of betrayal by others on the political and cultural left in the United States.

Obviously conservative Christians looking at this, understand that much of what they’ve been working for together when it comes to the prized elements he described as the LGBTQ movement, pro-abortion movement. We understand that we’re talking about movements that are hardly movements that are consistent with human dignity and the sanctity of human life, and even as we recognize the temptation among ourselves to inconsistency, the temptation among ourselves to be blind to embracing a contradiction.

In this case, you just have to say, this is a contradiction that becomes very evident. It’s a contradiction that Senator Schumer seems now to understand is very deadly. There’s going to be much to watch in days and weeks ahead because what we are seeing right now is the breaking apart of an entire political coalition and a cultural movement. What we’re witnessing right now is something that could lead to a rethinking of many of these issues.

Then again, it could lead in a very different direction, but in any event, I think we all sense the future of our country is at stake in all of this. And it’s important that we recognize that Senator Schumer is essentially right about one most important morally urgent matter. And that is that when we’re talking about these things, now we better recognize as three of America’s most influential university presidents seem to fail to recognize that what we’re talking about here is nothing less than a matter of life and death.

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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