March 7, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, March 7, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
2016 Republican presidential race reaches level of unprecedented coarseness and crudeness
The 2016 presidential election has indicated that America is undergoing a seismic political revolution among both Republicans and Democrats, and it is yet unknown where that political revolution is taking us. But over the last several days something has become very apparent. This particular political revolution, especially right now in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, is taking us into the sewer. What we’re seeing now is nothing less than a coarsening of the culture, and we are seeing this now on the part of candidates who are running for the Republican presidential nomination. We have seen in just a matter of this one election cycle things that would’ve been unthinkable, unhearable, and unimaginable in American political discourse become the fodder for the kind of exchanges we see on televised debates and with candidates throwing this kind of language at one another.
Biblically-minded Christians and authentic conservatives should note with horror the fact that the American left is now looking down, morally speaking, on the American right, or at least on the Republican Party. The article by James Poniewozik is pointing to the crudeness of the debate that took place among Republicans on last Thursday night. He then wrote,Show Full Transcript
“I might have been shocked, once, at this whole debate — the hooting audience, the barking candidates, the NSFW content — but those days are over. The memory is already fading. This is our life now.”
That’s a shocking statement. It’s one we ought to note with care and it’s one we ought to look at with some detachment. Let’s step back for a moment. Is this a statement that is grounded in reality? The horrifying analysis must come. It appears to be, it appears that what Poniewozik is pointing to here is something that is a new political normal and we are seeing it happen over and over and over again. We are witnessing a crudeness taking place in the Republican presidential nomination the likes of which has not been seen in any modern American history, and likely in the entire history of our nation.
This deep dive into the crude in the culture has caught the notice of even some outside the United States. The Financial Times, a major British newspaper, over the weekend ran a headline that was declaring that the current White House race is simply too childish, too juvenile to be taken seriously. And yet it is a very serious indictment of this nation and its emerging political culture.
Adding insult to injury, coming from the cultural left in the United States, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has described the Republican Party as the new vulgarians in American culture. He writes,
“It was William J. Bennett, education secretary in the Reagan years and the Republican Party’s premier moralist, who embedded a phrase in the American consciousness when he bemoaned the fact that “our elites presided over an unprecedented coarsening of our culture.”
Now before going further in Dionne’s article, let’s look at the argument that was made by William Bennett. In every respect it was an accurate argument. William Bennett was not only Education Secretary in the administration of Ronald Reagan, earlier in that very administration he was head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Later he became the first Drug Czar, a cabinet-level position under then President George H.W. Bush, now known as Bush 41.
William Bennett is an astute observer of the culture and he looked at what had happened over the 60s and the 70s and the 80s, especially in the 60s and 70s, driven by the cultural left. And what he identified was a process of leading America’s culture, especially its popular entertainment culture, into lower and lower depths of coarseness and crudeness, and that is easy to document. You can simply look at television standards over these decades and see how show after show, producer after producer, pushed the envelope. You can see the same thing in terms of American advertising, the big films that come up from the movie studios and other dimensions of American culture. But the painful thing in this analysis is the E.J. Dionne, writing from the left, is absolutely right that it was conservatives in America who understood the moral danger of this coarseness and crudeness. Dionne went on to write,
“The 2016 Republican primary campaign is now on track to be the crudest, most vulgar and most thoroughly disgusting in our nation’s history.”
Next Dionne wrote,
“A policy wonk who has spent nearly two decades in politics was watching Thursday’s GOP debate with his two teenage daughters and was horrified when one turned to him and asked: ‘Is this what you do?’ The dad didn’t want to be named because he didn’t want to embarrass his daughters.”
Dionne concluded his essay,
“For decades, conservatives have done a great business assailing liberals for promoting cultural decay. Sorry, guys, but in this campaign, you have kicked away the franchise.”
Looking at the 2016 Republican race, it is clear that not all candidates are equally guilty in this respect. Donald Trump has largely pioneered this dissent into the crude, but he has been followed by at least some other Republican candidates attempting at least to neutralize him in the Republican presidential primaries. But as important as the 2016 presidential election is and certainly will be, the reality is that this dissent of the culture into this level of crudeness is something that if unchecked is likely to be a far longer and more damaging consequence. The 2016 Republican race has now injected nativism and populism and a basic anger into the political equation that is going to be very difficult to restrain and impossible to satisfy.
But it has also redefined the political culture in the United States and a form of machismo that is absolutely crude and unprecedented and extremely dangerous. Whether or not some of these candidates deserve to be elected, the reality is they certainly deserve to have their mouth washed out with soap.
Christians observing this process have to ask some really hard questions. One is: To what extent does this reflect the character of the participants in this kind of accrued exchange? The reality is there is no way to absolve character from this equation. As the Bible is very clear: What comes out of the lips reveals the actuality in the heart. We also have to ask some very hard questions about how in the world a society recovers on the other side of this kind of coarsening and crudeness. In this respect, we have to wonder if the 2016 presidential election right now, especially looking at the Republican side, is some kind of horrifying reality show from which the culture will emerge. But there are reasons to believe that what’s taking place is not just driving the culture but reflecting the culture, and that’s a far more dangerous situation.
It’s absolutely fair for E.J. Dionne to point to American conservatives now and ask if we actually believe what we were saying through all of those decades of warning about the coarsening of the culture in the hands of the liberals. If this pattern continues, not only will it justify any kind of charge of hypocrisy coming from the cultural left, it will destroy any kind of coherent cultural vision for the future of the United States on the cultural right.
To put the matter bluntly, it’s absolutely insane that this is the way to make America great again, when the America that would be produced by this kind of culture could not be described as great in any honest terms. At just about every opportunity, I encourage America’s parents to sit down with their kids, especially their older children and teenagers, and watch the American political process in order that they can be well-informed citizens and in order that these things can be considered through the lens of a Christian worldview. But these days you have to wonder if the Republican presidential debates shouldn’t themselves be rated “R.” What we’re witnessing is now a deeply disturbing reality that we must fear is a sign not only of the present, but of even worse coming in the future. After all, there are yet more debates coming.
Georgia's Republican governor pledges to veto religious liberty bill on religious grounds
Next, turning to the state of Georgia, we have covered the fact that the legislature there has been considering a bill that would protect religious liberty when it comes to those who are Georgia citizens whose consciences might be violated by certain aspects of what is driving the LGBT revolution. And as we’ve seen, we have now turned a corner in this nation where the term religious liberty is now put into quotation marks in the headlines of America’s newspapers. But then the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comes out with an article that tells us that the Governor of Georgia has now made a public declaration that he will veto any such bill if it were to emerge from the Georgia legislature. The headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is,
“Nathan Deal makes a forceful, biblical case against Georgia’s ‘religious liberty’ bill”
Now that makes the article really interesting. Reporter Greg Bluestein, reporting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says,
“Amid a growing outcry from powerful corporations over Georgia’s ‘religious liberty’ proposal,”
—again, religious liberty is put in quotation marks—
“Governor Nathan Deal issued his strongest warning yet to lawmakers who are debating controversial legislation seen as a conservative answer to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.”
The article goes on,
“In stark terms, the Republican said he would reject any measure that ‘allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,’ and urged religious conservatives not to feel threatened by the ruling. He also called on his fellow Republicans pushing for the measure to take a deep breath and “recognize that the world is changing around us.”
This is the kind of language we are now accustomed to hearing from the cultural left, but now it is coming from the elected Republican Governor of Georgia. And as the headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, the governor attempted to make a religious case—indeed a biblical case—for a threatened veto of the legislation. The governor mentioned that he is an alumnus of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, a more liberal institution, historically Baptist, from which the State’s Georgia Baptist Convention had severed all relations over a theological dispute with the University. After citing the fact that in his required curriculum was a class in both Old Testament and New Testament, the governor said,
“What the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts, the ones that did not conform to the religious societies’ view of the world … We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”
But a closer look at this argument reveals that it’s not only not so biblical after all, but it is itself not a very serious argument. Here, the Governor of Georgia is saying that he doesn’t want anyone to discriminate against anybody. That’s the kind of moral evasion that comes disguised as a serious moral argument. The reality is that every governor, every state, every citizen discriminates. The question is, is it a legitimate ground for discrimination? Anyone who’s hiring a babysitter discriminates between those who are more qualified and less qualified, and that includes moral considerations. The reality is that even when it comes to sexual morality the State of Georgia still discriminates on the basis of sexual behavior and even what might be called sexual orientations. But now, even as the governor appears ready to endorse the LGBT revolution, at least in terms of the policies of his state, the reality is that he is using the kind of language to which we have become accustomed. People who say they don’t discriminate against anyone, they don’t want anyone to discriminate against anyone. But what they are doing in using that language is simply saying that they don’t want to discriminate on the grounds that are currently considered illegitimate for discrimination. But that’s not what the governor said. Speaking of a passage from the Gospel of John the governor then went on to say,
“What that says is we have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”
Now once again, just look at that sentence. What in the world does it possibly mean?
“We do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”
How in the world would the governor define undue discrimination? That is to discriminate unduly. He went on to say,
“We are not jeopardized, in my opinion, by those who believe differently from us.”
Now that again is not the issue in terms of this legislation. The governor then said,
“We are not, in my opinion, put in jeopardy by virtue of those who might hold different beliefs or who may not even agree with what our Supreme Court said the law of the land is on the issue of same-sex marriage.”
Now here again he simply turns the table. But the governor never explains who is now not to be understood as being in jeopardy because of the conflict in the culture and in morality over the question of sexuality and even the definition of marriage. The governor also said,
“I do not feel threatened by the fact that people who might choose same-sex marriages pursue that route.”
Now notice something else in the governor’s discourse: how often he goes back to I, the first person singular, and how often he says, even in excerpts included in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, how often he goes back to “in my opinion,” or “I do not feel threatened.” He then said also,
“I hope that we can all just take a deep breath, recognize that the world is changing around us, and recognize that it is important that we protect fundamental religious beliefs.”
Well, the Governor has just announced a position that will endanger fundamental religious beliefs. He says nothing in terms of his statement that would defend fundamental religious beliefs. The statement in full as reported in Atlanta’s paper is this,
“I hope that we can all just take a deep breath, recognize that the world is changing around us, and recognize that it is important that we protect fundamental religious beliefs. But we don’t have to discriminate against other people in order to do that. And that’s the compromise that I’m looking for.”
Well Governor, that isn’t a compromise, it is an abject surrender. But in this case the Governor’s proposed compromise doesn’t appear to be much of a compromise at all, not unless you’re defining that in terms of compromised religious liberty. Remember, this is the very state where in the capital city of Atlanta, the Fire Chief lost his job merely for holding to a biblical understanding of the definition of marriage and having the temerity actually to publish a little booklet defending that biblical understanding.
Before leaving the story, once again, we have to underline the fact that this is not Seattle; this is not Newark, New Jersey, this is Atlanta, Georgia and that tells us something.
US Military to begin recruiting women for combat, ignoring physiological differences
Next, in yet another ominous development, ABC News reported over the weekend,
“The military services are already beginning to recruit women for combat jobs, including as Navy SEALs, and could see them serving in previously male-only Army and Marine Corps infantry units by this fall, according to new plans endorsed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and obtained by The Associated Press.”
The report by Lolita Baldor tells us that some of the services predict that only a small number of women will volunteer or get through training courses, but the Marine Corps estimates 200 women a year will move into ground combat jobs, and U.S. Special Operations Command said it anticipates a,
“…small number of volunteers by women for its commando units.”
All of the services, according to the report, say they have made required changes to base bathrooms and other facilities to accommodate women, and they also say they’ll be monitoring training injury assessments and possible sexual harassment or assault problems. The report coming from both ABC News and the Associated Press reminds us that it was the Department of Defense that announced through the Defense Secretary Ashton Carter back in December that all combat jobs were to be open to women. The order coming from the Secretary of Defense came after the Marine Corps had initially sought to keep certain infantry and other jobs closed to women. And as the story says the court did so,
“…citing studies showing combined-gender units are not as effective as male-only units.”
However, the article makes very clear that the Obama Administration rejected that plea from the Marine Corps, and that was announced by Secretary Carter and also Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Almost immediately after the Department of Defense made this announcement that all combat positions be opened to women, the question immediately came as to whether women, along with young men, would also be required to register for the draft. The emerging political consensus is that there is no way to answer that question negatively once the Department of Defense has opened all positions to women. It simply doesn’t make sense for women to be allowed into positions they would not be ordered into, and that raises the fundamental issue. Once again, we see the worldview issues here very plainly. We are watching an entire moral order stood on its head. A society that would send women into combat, frankly either on a volunteer basis or by direct order and command, has turned the moral order on its head.
John McCormack, writing for The Weekly Standard recently, pointed out why this is such a problem, just with one example. He wrote,
“Put young men and women together day and night for months in close quarters: No amount of social conditioning will prevent some from becoming romantically involved with each other. No amount of social conditioning will teach men to ignore their natural instinct to protect women. And the problems that necessarily arise from gender differences in this context—favoritism, jealousy, resentment—will lead to much worse consequences in infantry units that face more stress and danger than support units do.”
Now you’ll notice that that argument is written from at least an explicitly secular perspective. There’s nothing so much in this argument about right and wrong, but about the fact that this will lead to very dangerous circumstances that will be unavoidable. But it also points to a moral reality, and that is this: Just take this consideration, in a situation of combat what McCormack is arguing is that there will be no amount of social conditioning, no amount of political indoctrination, no amount of political correctness that will keep most men from trying to protect most women under the conditions of combat as in any other moral situation. But that raises an issue that should be flashing before this culture as if in flashing neon lights. How can a culture argue that there might be situations in which it would be right for men to protect women, but not when it comes to combat where that instinct is to be overridden? To put the matter bluntly from a biblical perspective, any society that even attempts to override that instinct is tampering with the basic order that God has given us in creation and for our good.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94, leaving influential yet complex legacy
Finally, news came yesterday that Nancy Reagan, the wife of former President Ronald Reagan, the former First Lady of the United States, had died at age 94 of heart failure. Like her husband President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, formerly Nancy Davis, as a Hollywood starlet had found her initial popularity in Hollywood movies, and she kept a sense of that Hollywood style and translated it into her role as first lady. By any measure, she was fiercely loyal in every conceivable way to President Reagan, for whom Nancy Reagan was the second wife.
But it also became clear that in Nancy Reagan’s view, one of the ways she wanted to protect her husband was by consulting an astrologer during the time that President Reagan was serving in office. By the time the Reagan Administration came to a close, that astrologer, Joan Quigley, was claiming to have had extraordinary influence in the administration, and in particular on the President’s schedule. It came no doubt as a shock to most Americans that the President’s wife was consulting an astrologer in order to advise the President and his administration on the President’s schedule.
Like her husband, Nancy Reagan understood that statecraft is at least in part stagecraft, and she understood that perhaps better than any other first lady of the United States with the possible exception of the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Dying Sunday at age 94, Nancy Reagan was a witness in the front row to much of history in the late 20th century, and especially to eight of the most momentous years in the history of the United States: the eight years of the administration of Ronald Wilson Reagan as President of the United States. Those who are close to the couple understood that you could not explain Ronald Reagan and his strength even to run for office without the companionship of Nancy Reagan. But the death of Nancy Reagan also points to a very interesting pattern, and that is in recent Republican president’s wives on social issues and moral issues being decidedly more liberal than their husbands. It’s probably accurate to say that Nancy Reagan was not only a witness to history, in her own way she made history.