Tuesday, March 19, 2024

It’s Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

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

Part I

Why All the Drama for Russia’s Staged Election? Pomp, Circumstance, and Putin’s Version of Political Legitimacy

Well, here’s a big surprise that, of course, isn’t a surprise at all, Vladimir Putin was elected to a record fifth term as President of the Russian Federation. That came as a result of a multi-day voting process, a plebiscite that took place there in Russia, but no one believes that it is in the slightest bit a real exercise of the democratic process. No one believes for a moment that this is a legitimate vote, and no one believed for a moment before the election that it really mattered, except in one huge sense, and in our worldview consideration this one sense turns out to be really, really important.

If you are a government, then there must be some ground for your legitimacy. That’s a fact. When you’re talking about a nation as big as Russia, you’re talking about a nation that has a long history. You’re talking about a culture that has existed for centuries. It’s true of any government over time, but it’s particularly true of a government like a government of Russia, that it must have some measure of legitimacy. Now, you can say that democratic legitimacy is the only legitimacy you can have. But that’s not true. History proves that’s not true. You can have the legitimacy of force, which is to say that I am king because I am more powerful and more deadly than anyone else. My army is bigger than anyone else’s. It’s just a matter of force. You can make the argument that that’s exactly the way the Soviet Union operated for much of the 20th century. It held together the nation and the entire Soviet empire by force.

Until, of course, it was completely morally, economically, and politically bankrupted, it was exhausted, and it couldn’t maintain that control anymore. But that meant when the military power was gone, when the enforcement power was gone, the regime was inevitably gone. There are others who have claimed throughout history that the legitimacy of the government, for instance, the legitimacy of a throne is based upon a hereditary claim, and that’s exactly what you see in so many different places. That’s exactly why people talk about King Charles the Third of Great Britain. It’s not that they just chose the most absolutely gifted and obviously ready person for the job in Britain. No. It is his job because he was the firstborn son of the Queen, who was the son of a king, who was the son of a king, who was the son of a king, who was the son of a queen. You can pretty much tell where this is going.

The fact is, you can have the claim based in some kind of dynastic system, some kind of hereditary monarchy. In the United States of America, the issue of legitimacy is basically down to the fact that we have a constitutional legitimacy and a constitutional order that is based upon the consent of the governed. So there is no hereditary monarchy here. And the United States government, though it has a lot of force, it doesn’t exist with the legitimacy of force. But then let’s just go immediately to Russia. What does it mean that Vladimir Putin won an election that everyone knew he was going to win because it was a sham from the beginning? Even the three candidates against him were picked by the Kremlin, approved by the Kremlin to be Kremlin approved alternatives to Vladimir Putin. No one believed for a second that this was ever legitimate. But what if its point was never legitimacy, at least in terms of the legitimacy being based upon the consent of the governed as was represented through the electoral process? What if the legitimacy is something very, very different?

Now, this requires us to think a bit more than the mainstream media would encourage us to think. It means we need to think a bit more deeply than many of our political leaders want us to think. I’m going to argue ardently that the election was necessary or at least very useful to Vladimir Putin in establishing his legitimacy. Not because the Russian people believed for a moment that he really was going to get 87% of the vote. They knew from the beginning there is no way he was going to lose. They knew from the beginning he would have a record-breaking margin of victory because he said he would. And if he says he would, he does. It doesn’t matter how individuals might vote in a free election. He had a landslide victory, but it’s not an electoral victory like you have in the United States of America. Had by some stretch of the imagination, Vladimir Putin lost the election, I think you can rest assured he wouldn’t give up the office.

So why all the artistry? Why the play? Why make it into a giant drama that at times was tragedy, at times was comedy, at times was farce? Why? Why? Well, it is because one of the ways Vladimir Putin stays in power is by winking at the Russian people saying, “You know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m doing it for you and I’m doing it for Mother Russia.” Okay, so I’m going to tell you something I don’t think the mainstream media is going to tell you. The mainstream media is right. They’re absolutely right to keep on saying that this was a sham election. It has no democratic legitimacy. Vladimir Putin staged the entire thing right down to the massive rallies, even buying votes, massive contests with all kinds of generous awards to people who participated in the vote. It was, of course, a sham, but that doesn’t mean that the Russian people don’t want Vladimir Putin as their President.

I can remember back when the United States invaded Iraq and when Saddam Hussein was toppled, you had many people in the United States with a lot of confidence saying, “Look, we’re going to turn Iraq into a functioning democratic constitutional system of government.” I can still remember the columnist George F. Will of the Washington Post responding by saying, “Well, Iraq has everything needed for a stable democratic constitutional system of government except for Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison.” What he meant, was there is no democratic culture. So guess what? There’s not going to be any real lasting constitutional government. When you look at the political heroes of American history and you think of American Presidents, of course, you think of George Washington. The founders of this republic intended that you would think of George Washington as an example.

George Washington, he bore in himself the weight of knowing that he was establishing the precedents for the one who would occupy the office of President of the United States. But you think of others as well. You think of, for instance, Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, a controversial figure in history, but no one for a moment doubted that he believed that our constitutional system came down to the consent of the governed as represented in the American Constitution, which by the way, he saw as basically sacrosanct. You fast-forward to the 20th century and politically in most ways, I’m no fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but you have to stand back in amazement at four very strategic electoral victories. He was elected President of the United States four times. That demonstrates something incredibly powerful about his representation of the American people, what he symbolized for the American people.

But, of course, he died in office early in his fourth term and Washington left after his second term. And you look at Abraham Lincoln, of course, assassinated soon after his inauguration into a second term. But just to state the matter clearly, the model of the American President is not a political strongman, and certainly not a military strongman. This is not a Central or South American military junta. It’s a very different constitutional system. But then you go back to Russia. Let’s look at Russia. It’s about the Russian election. Why is it different there? Well, look at the heroes in Russia. We’re not talking George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We’re talking Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great. Let’s just say none of them were known as paragons of constitutional legitimacy. Of course, to the contrary.

So Vladimir Putin’s real hold on the Russian people is not demonstrated in the fakery of this vote. It’s not demonstrated in the fact that there was a vote held. It’s just a part of the constitutional pretense there in Russia. But don’t for a moment think that Vladimir Putin is staying in power in Russia simply by controlling and manipulating the electoral system. No one close to Vladimir Putin, no one close to Russia believes that for a moment. He has a real hold on the Russian people, and that’s because he styles himself as the successor to Ivan and Peter and Catherine. Not as the successor to a democratic tradition. But there’s one other big issue, and Christians need to think about this too. Vladimir Putin savagely invaded Ukraine in 2022, and the war has not gone as planned. He sees himself as the President or the leader of a resurgent Russia, reclaiming Russia’s imperial past. Ukraine is very much a part of that. He invaded Ukraine believing that Ukraine would crack and crumble and he would be in short order the military victor of a regained Ukraine.

Of course, that hasn’t happened. Ukraine has fought back. Russia has in many cases fought badly. But let’s face the facts. Russia is vastly larger. Its military reserves vastly larger. Its economy vastly larger for all kinds of reasons. Russia has structural advantages. But the point is this, the moral point is this, Vladimir Putin because of this election, although, yes, a sham election, it was a fake election, but nonetheless, he can now turn to his own people and he can turn to the nations of the world and say, “I was elected precisely because of what I had done in Ukraine and affirming what I had done in Ukraine,” rather than sending the message of reversing what Putin has done to Ukraine. So understand that in many ways, the real meaning of this election was that Vladimir Putin is now able, I’m not saying righteously able, but he is in practical terms able to say he now has the vast support of the Russian people.

And I’m going to argue it’s plausible that he has the vast support of the Russian people, and he can now claim that they affirmed him even after, or he might even say even in overwhelming numbers because of his invasion of Ukraine. That’s a very dark turn, but we would be very unwise to see the world without noticing that’s exactly what’s going on.

Part II

Kamala Visits the Culture of Death: She Becomes First U.S. President or Vice President to Visit an Abortion Clinic — As a Campaign Stop

But meanwhile, on an even deeper moral level, I want us to come back to the United States of America and consider what happened when the Vice President of the United States in recent days visited an abortion clinic. Now, if I could describe this just in a very short phrase, I would simply refer to this as Kamala visits the death camps. Now, I know some may consider those words incendiary, but I want you to know I state them with intentionality and I believe them.

I believe it was one of the most reprehensible political acts in all of American political history when you had the sitting Vice President of the United States visit an abortion clinic, in this case, a Planned Parenthood facility in Minnesota, precisely to celebrate what goes on there. The historic turn is reflected in the fact that the White House itself is claiming that no President or Vice President and American history had during their tenure in office visited an abortion clinic. I’m almost certain that’s true because, even as you come up to just the modern era, even as you come into the 21st century, abortion still has such a stigma to it that you had Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party basically head over heels for abortion rights. But they were trying in every way not to say the word, and they certainly weren’t going to abortion clinics.

But you see here the unfolding logic of the Biden administration and the Democratic Party and the political left in the United States. They are absolutely convinced that abortion is a winning issue for them politically, and that means winning at the ballot box. It means winning elections. And let’s just be honest, if you look at the electoral contests that have taken place, especially at the state level, since the Dobbs decision reversing Roe V. Wade was handed down in June of 2022, it is at this point an unbroken line of successes for the abortion rights movement, and where applicable to the Democratic Party, a comprehensively long list of losses for the Republican Party in a partisan contest, and for the pro-life movement in general. Every single one of them lost.

Now, one big question is, why, and we’ll turn to that not only later today, but in many days to come. But we also need to understand the what. And the what right now is that the Democratic Party sees the what of abortion as its way forward, a major way, one of the very few ways forward as they look for example at the challenge of re-electing President Biden and Vice President Harris in the November election. But it’s not just the top of the ticket, the White House. It is also statewide races for governorships and for the United States Senate, and perhaps even, more importantly, for the United States House of Representatives, key races the Democrats think they can win. And they think it’s such a winning issue that they’re actually trying to attach it in referenda, or in citizen initiatives, to put abortion on the ballot one way or another because they think it will bring out more democratic or likely democratic voters regardless of who the candidate might be.

And that just tells you how dark this is. It also tells you that another dark development is that the White House has been right up front, the President himself has been right up front, in assigning the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, the first woman elected as Vice President of the United States of America, as the point person for the administration in pushing the abortion rights argument. Very interestingly, it’s not just that Kamala Harris visited an abortion clinic in recent days. It’s that the White House is facing criticism from the Democratic left, we discussed this already on The Briefing, for the fact that even as he was pushing a radical vision of abortion rights in the State of the Union address, he didn’t use the word abortion, and the abortion rights folks, the people on the Left who still are marching left, they now believe that the American people are ready to support abortion rights in a comprehensive way and they want to use the word abortion.

And so Kamala Harris, not only is it about now the use of the word abortion, it’s about visiting an abortion clinic. And I don’t think too much can be made of this. So let me just state that. I don’t think that it’s overblown to say that this is an issue of vast seismic moral importance. Because, in one sense, it’s like a barrier has been crossed, a wall has been breached, and you look at this and you recognize, well, it’s now far more likely that a visit to an abortion clinic is going to become a normal part of the campaign strategy, a normal part of the staged events for democratic candidates for the White House. And that’s a massive development. It’s a really dark development. It tells us that the culture of death is winning and pressing its cause to such an extent in the United States that one of the two major political parties has decided basically to live in the culture of death and to go visit the death camps, the abortion clinics of the culture of death, and to do so in staged public events for maximum public effect.

Part III

Abortion is the Political Strategy of the Democratic Party: Don’t Believe It? Let’s Just Look at Their Own Words

Now, just in the raw politics, the math of the election process, it comes down to the fact that the White House and the Democratic strategists are absolutely convinced that the number of people who will be turned off by that visit that might be winnable by the Democratic candidate, are vastly outnumbered by the ones who are possible voters of the Democratic candidate who will be won over to the cause because of abortion. Now, I stated that very carefully. It’s not as if either candidate or either party, it’s not Joe Biden, it’s not Donald Trump, it’s not the Democrats or the Republicans, who think they have a shot at, say, 100% of the electorate. As a matter of fact, neither of them actually believes that he has a shot or that the party has a shot for 60% of the vote. How’s that for a shocking fact? Neither party expects to get 60% of the vote.

They certainly aren’t expecting a landslide. What they want to do is win, knowing that the win will be by a thin margin. But it is a very, very big thing that the Democrats have decided that one central issue, perhaps the central issue that will get them over the edge for that electoral win is the issue of abortion. So what happened when the Vice President visited the abortion clinic there in Minnesota? Well, she said some words. The head of the Planned Parenthood Center said some words. Other planned Parenthood figures said some words. Maybe we need to pay a little bit of attention to those words. Here’s what the Vice President said. “These attacks against an individual’s right to make decisions about their own body are outrageous, and in many instances, just plain old immoral. How dare these elected leaders believe they are in a better position to tell women what they need, to tell women what is in their best interest? We have to be a nation that trusts women.”

So there you see one particular angle on this. But words matter, words especially matter to us. So let’s go look at these words for a moment. First of all, she spoke about an attack against an individual’s right to make decisions about their own body. Well, let’s just say that, in any normal circumstance, this would be a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, and in any normal political presentation, the same words would’ve applied. So now we’re talking about people because, of course, the Democratic Party has to include all those who might be designated by that party according to the new gender ideologies, “pregnant people.” But the Democratic Party wants it both ways because they want to completely sell out to the LGBTQ movement. At the same time, they want to identify women as a key constituency.

And so they get back to women here pretty fast. She leaves the “their” to “her” pretty fast, or at least talking about women. She ended that statement by saying, “We have to be a nation that trusts women,” so all of a sudden people who might be pregnant now they return to being women. Anyway, the next statement she made was she spoke of the individual’s right “to make decisions about their own body.” Well, again, the big issue here is not what’s present, but what’s absent. What’s absent is a who. What’s absent is the unborn child. The unborn child is simply absolutely ignored, absolutely unspoken, absolutely unmentioned. And it’s not just that they say that a woman has rights, even if there is a human being, a baby, a fetus, whatever word they want to use, inside her. No, they simply ignore altogether the existence of the child. And that is so morally significant. We’re going to have to come back to this again and again and again.

When someone like Kamala Harris just speaks of a pregnant person, an individual’s right to make decisions about their own body, we have to be the people who have the moral reflex to say, “Hey, there are at least two bodies of unspeakable moral consequence here.” But then, and I have to wonder if the Vice President regrets using this particular language, she slipped into a certain kind of discourse. She got wound up in energy, and she spoke about many instances in which she said it’s “just plain old immoral.” Now, she uses very interesting language there, “just plain old immoral.” She’s speaking here about restrictions on abortion being plain old immoral. Well, you know what? If you’re going to raise the issue of plain old immoral, we might want to understand what throughout virtually all of American history was considered immoral. And until 1973, that included abortion, and that was a very clear moral determination.

And that’s been true going backwards. You could go back to some of the ancient medical texts where it was very clear that abortion was seen as immoral. You could go back to The Didache, one of the earliest forms of Christian teaching in the earliest ages of the church after the Apostles, and you will find there that Christians were told that they must abhor abortion. And so if you’re going to talk about plain old immoral, you better be talking about plain and old and immoral. That’s an argument that if understood in any honest sense completely backfires on the one who made it, in this case, the Vice President of the United States. It’s her comment actually about plain old immoral that is plain old immoral. But she ended that statement by saying, “We have to be a nation that trusts women.” And again, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, is getting a woman’s vote. That’s what it’s all about.

And by the way, it’s not just a woman’s vote, it’s a pro-abortion vote. And let’s face it, there are an awful lot of men for whom abortion is a big convenience. It’s a very dark truth, but it’s a truth we need to recognize. The New York Times got it right when the reporters said, “The image alone of the nation’s second ranking leader walking into an abortion clinic provided a vivid illustration of how the politics of abortion rights have transformed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade in 1922.” And indeed, that’s exactly what is demonstrated here. The politics of the issue were made very clear by Celinda Lake. She, by the way, is a very prominent pollster working for the Democrats. She said, speaking of abortion, by the way, “It’s the number one issue working for Democrats at every level in office. Everything from county commissioners to presidents are being elected around this issue.”

Once again, let’s just take the moral weight of that at face value for a moment and recognize we’re being told here by a democratic strategist and pollster that the number one issue from county commissioner all the way to the White House is the issue of abortion. It’s not as if it’s conservative Republicans or conservative Christians making this charge. This is stated as a matter of strategy, by a very prominent democratic figure. 

By the way, the Vice President was not alone going to the abortion clinic, the Planned Parenthood Center there in Minnesota. She was joined by Minnesota’s Democratic Governor, Tim Walz, and also a Democratic member of Congress, Representative Betty McCollum. The bottom line in all of this is that it is almost impossible to exaggerate the moral importance, the devastating moral significance of the Vice President of the United States turning to visit an abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood Center, and to do so in the midst of a campaign for reelection. What that leads to on our part is a very humbling understanding of the challenge we now face. Of course, life and death are hanging in the balance, but we now know that the challenge is even greater than we had dreamed.

Part IV

‘An Odor of Mendacity Remains’: The Big Issue Behind the Ruling on District Attorney Fani Willis in Georgia Case

But finally, we need to go down to the state of Georgia where just days ago, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee handed down a ruling the stated that Prosecutor District Attorney Fani Willis could remain on the case as the prosecutor against Donald Trump, on state felony charges there in Georgia, but that she could not do so if Nathan Wade, her lead prosecutor on the case, continued simply because there was, as the judge said, a very serious question about whether or not the relationship, including the sexual relationship, between those two people, had led to the invalidation of Fani Willis and of Nathan Wade as the prosecutors in the case, Fani Willis, most importantly, as she is the District Attorney there in Fulton County, Georgia, and frankly, a very, very public figure and one who has put her office and her reputation on the line in prosecuting Donald Trump.

Now, this doesn’t have a thing to do about whether or not Donald Trump is guilty of the crimes. It has everything to do with the credibility of the prosecution, and that is absolutely crucial. But I don’t even want to go through the politics of all this. I want to look at a very simple set of words that was used by the judge in this case that’s just incredibly instructive. And so the bottom line is the judge himself made very clear that Fani Willis, the District Attorney, was deeply involved in wrongful activity. But the only question was whether it rose to the level of being disqualified from the prosecution. That would’ve led by the way to other issues including her entire office being disqualified that would’ve led to, well, the big question is whether the charges will be prosecuted at all. And by the way, that still might be a question because the defense in this case, and that includes the former President and associates, has the right to appeal this decision.

And quite frankly, Fani Willis is not safe in her job or certainly in this prosecutorial role when it comes to the former President and these charges, but it’s the set of words I want us to look at. The judge in this case spoke of the District Attorney and spoke of what he referred to as “an odor of mendacity” that he says remains. An odor of mendacity remains. That’s an old moral word. We’ve been talking about morality because we have to, and in this case, we really are talking about a case, a controversy, headline news in which the morality is there everywhere you look. Everywhere you look, there is a moral dimension to this. The judge said that there is “an odor of mendacity: to the entire operation that was run, and the controversy attached to the District Attorney there in Fulton County, Georgia.

So what is mendacity and what would an odor of mendacity mean? Well, let’s just remind ourselves, in old moral vocabulary, mendacity means a tendency to lie or being marked by a pattern of lies. And so that’s a huge charge. In the old Southern expression, it was said of certain people that they lied even when the truth would’ve served them better. In other words, some people just lie. Their instinct is to lie, their recourse is to lie, and you know the way it works in a fallen world, one lie leads to another lie that leads to a complex of lies, and pretty soon it’s hard to tell what’s a lie and what’s not a lie. And it’s sometimes even hard to tell over time whether the liar knows what’s the truth and what is a lie. But when you talk about the phrase “an odor of mendacity” that the judge says remains, how in the world do you have a justice system?

When you have a judge say that an odor of mendacity, well basically falls over the prosecutorial team, that’s an amazing statement. And it was made specifically of the District Attorney. Certainly, this is going to be a very interesting story to follow, but I think that term “an odor of mendacity remains” should make us think for a while about what it means. 

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, go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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