The Briefing 03-22-16

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2016 presidential race continues to highlight ideological divide along geographical lines

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Even as the political parties polarize, a noticeable shift is taking place to the left

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Should Trump's inconsistencies and patterns of attracting violence concern Christian voters?

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Intellectual insecurity on display in new atheist billboard campaign against Creation Museum

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 22, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, March 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

2016 presidential race continues to highlight ideological divide along geographical lines

A political challenge is a challenge of ideas, and that means, as Christians understand, it is a worldview challenge—inevitably so, every time so—and never perhaps more so in terms of our ability to look at these issues than in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. A recent example of this comes in a headline story from the Washington Post. The headline is this:

“How Trump vs. Clinton could reshape the electoral map.”

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It’s an interesting article, of course, as looking forward to the November election and anticipating that it just might be a face-off between the Republican candidate Donald Trump and the presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. And as the article by Dan Balz makes very clear, the interesting thing is not how much would be at play, but how little. That has to do with the fact that there are 18 states currently considered as solidly Democratic. That’s 18 states plus the District of Columbia, and together their electoral votes add up to almost 240. Only 272 are needed for the election in the Electoral College to be President of the United States. That is a decided blue wall as it is known for the Democratic Party, but at present gives it an electoral advantage over any Republican candidate, no matter who that candidate might be. And as Balz makes clear, the ideological polarization in this country, the political polarization in one sense, is now so clear that when you look at the election in 2000 versus 2012, in 2000 there were 12 states that had a margin of difference between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates of less than five points. But in the year 2012, there were only four states. That means that you’re looking at a reduction down to four states in the entire union in which the distinction between the Democratic and Republican presidential vote was less than five points. In other words, in 46 states out of the 50 in the federal union, there was not even a close election, not close at all, the margin of difference between the Democratic and the Republican presidential vote was greater than 5%.

Those looking at this electoral map now think that there may be in the 2016 race only four states that are genuinely purple, that is neither read nor blue. Those states are probably Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Colorado. In most presidential elections, that would mean that the Republican would have to carry virtually all of those in order to be elected President of the United States and furthermore, in most election cycles that would mean that both candidates, both parties, give primary attention to those four very strategic swing states.

But the 2016 election may reshape all of that, and that’s because even as Democratic strategists are looking at the race, there is, they feel, the risk that Donald Trump could actually break through that blue wall in some Midwestern states. That’s because Trump’s messages seem to have resonance in states that have a high population, a high percentage, of white, middle-aged, unemployed men, and that includes some of those blue wall states in terms of the American Rust Belt or the Midwest.

And yet we have to recognize that what we’re looking at here is that there is a vast polarization in the United States that is within the parties and more importantly between the parties. Within the parties, a really interesting article appeared on the front page of USA Today indicating that if you look at the Democratic side, and you look at the race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it has broken down, very clearly, even between ZIP Codes in highly Democratic neighborhoods.

Fredreka Schouten and Christopher Schnaars, writing for USA Today, say that the Democratic candidates are showing a considerable amount of variation in terms of the ZIP Codes to which they have appealed. Bernie Sanders counts college town, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ithaca, New York, among his top ZIP Codes. As the USA Today says,

“A snapshot of the ways Sanders’ unorthodox campaign has expanded the fundraising landscape beyond the donor-rich corridors of New York, Los Angeles and Washington.”

Which is to say the ZIP Codes that have highly favored Hillary Clinton. The patterns are starkly different when you look at Clinton’s side, as USA Today says the analysis shows her biggest financial fuel coming from the nation’s two centers of power: six of the ten Zip Codes providing the most campaign cash to Clinton sit in Manhattan, from Chelsea’s art gallery-filled streets downtown to the upscale neighborhoods uptown that abut Central Park’s green expanses. Neighborhoods in Washington and one of its wealthiest suburbs, Chevy Chase, make up the four remaining ZIP Codes on Hillary Clinton’s top 10 list. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks political money, said that the Zip Code comparison is,

“A little microcosm of the race.”

Now what makes this really interesting is that when you look at the American political map, we’re accustomed to seeing it divided into red states and blue states and a fast diminishing number of so-called purple states, the states that are not so predictable when it comes to a presidential election. For many years in recent presidential cycles that electoral map has favored the Republican Party, a great deal of the nation has been in red; but increasingly, it has been blue. And Democrats have won a significant number of recent presidential elections, having created that so-called blue wall of predictable Democratic electoral votes. The interesting thing about that is that this USA Today story shows that behind that blue wall there is still variation. It’s a variation between those who are generally liberal, those who are mainstream liberal as they’re defined here, and those who are more socialist, more open to the more revolutionary and radical ideas of Senator Bernie Sanders.

So when you’re thinking about worldview, it’s easy to say, well, the big polarization is between the red and the blue, and that of course is true. But it’s also true that in the red and in the blue there is increasing polarization, and that’s very clear in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and the surprising energy behind that candidacy when it had appeared early on that Hillary Clinton was going to have something of a cakewalk to the Democratic presidential nomination. It has turned out to be anything but.

One of the more interesting things in this USA Today article is how the left is divided over some very significant issues—the young going primarily to Sanders, as a matter of fact, overwhelmingly, millennial liberals are heavily for Bernie Sanders. When it comes to the issue of women, what’s really interesting is that though Hillary Clinton, if elected, would be the first female president of the United States, an incredible number of Democratic women feel no obligation to back her over Senator Sanders. When it comes to other issues, there are also some surprises. When it comes to those in the LGBT community, a powerful block in the Democratic Party, they are solidly for Hillary Clinton. The USA Today article cites an LGBT activist by the name of Jay Pagano and he was explaining why the LGBT community has backed Hillary Clinton rather than Bernie Sanders. He said,

“Gays feel that she has been with us all along and deserves our support.”

As USA Today says, that’s despite the fact that “Clinton did not announce her support for same-sex marriage until 2013, soon after she left her post as secretary of State.”

Pagano said,

“I think that a lot of the country evolved and evolved very quickly on the issue of gay marriage,” Pagano said. “I don’t think Hillary was a laggard.”

That is a stunning statement, but it shows you just how strange political bedfellows can be. Here you have the LGBT community offering explanations and rationalizations for why their favored candidate such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were so late to endorse same-sex marriage. The same is true, of course, for President Bill Clinton who opposed same-sex marriage and actually while President signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. He did so at night so there were no cameras around, but he did it nonetheless. And yet, President Clinton, of course, has evolved as President Obama has evolved. He evolved just in time for his reelection race as President. And Hillary Clinton evolved, but even as USA Today notes, she didn’t evolve until conveniently a few weeks after she left her post as Secretary of State.

But all that really points to the fact that on the Democratic side it is not a question of whether you are in favor of the LGBT agenda, but how in favor you are understood to be and how long that favor has been expressed politically. When it comes to the abortion question, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not only pro-choice, they are pro-abortion, with both candidates actually calling for a repeal of the Hyde amendment that prevents taxpayer dollars being used to pay for abortion. Both Clinton and Sanders believe that United States taxpayer money should be used to fund abortions to pay for abortions for the women who otherwise would not be able to afford them. In coming days, we’ll look at the similar pattern amongst Republicans.

Even as the political parties polarize, a noticeable shift is taking place to the left

We also need at this point to note a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that appeared entitled,

“The Great American Disconnect.”

It’s about the great sort that is taking place in America as people who have similar worldviews have actually moved to live closer to one another. This is particularly true along the coast and in America’s more urban concentrations, they have simultaneously become far more liberal concentrations. It so happens that it turns out that liberals prefer in the main to live with other liberals and conservatives tend to want to live amongst other conservatives; and that’s not just, perhaps, to avoid an argument at the checkout lane in the grocery store. It’s because when it comes to policy and to the very style of life that is being demonstrated in neighborhoods and communities, like tends to cluster to like. Political scientists have called this “The Big Sort.” As a matter fact, the article in the Wall Street Journal cites a study done last year by two Rand Corporation analysts who suggested that up to a third of the increased polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives—by the way in the House of Representatives incumbents are likely to be reelected primarily because almost all of the congressional district in this country are solidly either red or blue—but as the Wall Street Journal says, these two Rand Corporation analysts,

“suggested that up to a third of the increased polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives over the past 40 years came from ‘geographic clustering.’”

Again, it is the fact that people who want to live in a red community tend to cluster there, and those who want to live in a blue community do the very same. That’s why there’s a big difference between Lincoln, Nebraska and Portland, Oregon; it’s not just the geography—the geography has come to be an important player in the interplay of worldviews. You can also take statistics available by these research centers and overlay that geographical worldview distinction with patterns of churchgoing and, once again, that distinction is very clear. You go along the two coasts and you go in the urban centers and the percentage of persons who attend church services in any given Sunday goes down rather significantly; social liberalism goes up along with the secular worldview; social conservatism goes up along with patterns of churchgoing. And thus, when we are looking as Christians at the pattern that political scientists see in the geographical clustering or the big sort, we come to understand that far more is involved than politics. That’s an interesting observation, because as it turns out if you are listening to the major news networks, you would hear this as a merely political dynamic. Of course, it is a political dynamic. But this is where Christians understand that undergirding the political dynamic is a far more important worldview issue and that worldview reality is what defines how people make their political decisions. It works that way, and not the opposite.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Wall Street Journal also had another very interesting article that came accompanied with a chart on how the parties have changed in terms of worldview. And this too is interesting because what it appears to affirm is the fact that the country in general is moving left, and probably has been now for a matter several years. In terms of ideology, Republicans are deep red with 34% in 2012 saying they are very conservative, 33% saying they are somewhat conservative, and 33% saying that they are moderate. But wait just a minute, go just four years later to this year, 2016, and only 33% say they’re very conservative, 25% say their moderate—the vast growth has been in the middle of this conservative worldview, those who identify as somewhat conservative. You can tie that almost assuredly to the popularity of Donald Trump in terms of the Republican primaries.

On the Democratic side, there has been also a shift to the left, but this is the left shifting left. In 2008, 19% of Democrats identified as very liberal, this year that’s up to 25%. Back in 2008, 30% said that they were somewhat liberal, that’s the middle of the liberal spectrum, but that’s now up to 35%. That’s a huge jump, and those who have identified as moderate, that’s the huge decrease: that has gone down amongst Democrats from 51% in 2008 to 39% in 2016. So the Democratic Party on the left has shifted further left, and the Republican Party that had been solidly conservative is now at least somewhat less so. The big question is, what is the direction of both parties as we look to the future?

Should Trump's inconsistencies and patterns of attracting violence concern Christian voters?

Next, shifting to the Republican Party, again the big issue there has to do with the surprising surge of Donald Trump and what that represents in terms of the Republican Party. One of the big issues at stake has been just how committed Republicans are to the socially conservative convictions that have framed that party now for the last nine election cycles. That includes a very clear definition of the family and marriage, going to marriage as the exclusive union of a man and a woman. That means opposition to same-sex marriage, and it means a set of legislative priorities that would honor marriage and honor family in every way. It also goes to the pro-life conviction that has been at the center of the Republican Party ever since the 1980 election. That comes, as you’ll remember in the aftermath of the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion.

But one of the interesting things we have had to note is how the supporters of Donald Trump seem to be far less interested in those moral issues and in the general agenda associated with American conservatism. And one of the big questions has been just how committed is Donald Trump himself to those things. Trump has said that now he’s in favor of what he called traditional marriage, and he has said that he is now holding to a pro-life position, but previously Donald Trump had not held to a pro-life position. And even now he has said that when it comes to Planned Parenthood, it is an organization that, in his words, “does many good things.” But now there’s a story that broke in USA Today also over the weekend in which it was revealed that 10 years ago, Donald Trump made a statement on his own website that was very much in favor of same-sex marriage, even though now he says he is against it. Paul Singer writing for USA Today said,

“Ten years ago, Donald Trump had a pretty open mind about gay marriage.”

He wrote about the marriage of Elton John and his longtime partner David Furnish, writing on the website of what was then Trump University. Donald Trump wrote personally,

“If two people dig each other, they dig each other. I’m very happy for them,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the Trump campaign, Americans have had to face the reality that for the first time in decades, violence has broken out at political rallies for a major presidential candidate. Peter Wehner, writing an article for the review section of the New York Times over the weekend described Trump as,

“The Man the Founders Feared.”

Donald Trump said “I think you’d have riots” when he was asked by CNN about what he thought would happen if he arrived at the Republican convention this summer. As Wehner said,

“A few delegates short of the 1,237 needed to win outright and didn’t set forth from Cleveland as the party’s nominee.”

Wehner, a veteran of the Bush and Reagan administrations, then wrote,

“It is stunning to contemplate, particularly for those of us who are lifelong Republicans, but we now live in a time when the organizing principle that runs through the campaign of the Republican Party’s likely nominee isn’t adherence to a political philosophy — Mr. Trump has no discernible political philosophy — but an encouragement to political violence.”

Wehner goes on to say,

“Mr. Trump’s supporters will dismiss this as hyperbole, but it is the only reasonable conclusion that his vivid, undisguised words allow for.”

In Wehner’s article that again was published in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, Wehner goes quote by quote through things that Donald Trump has said to encourage or to explain the violence that has broken out at political rallies in his name. As Wehner writes,

“As the examples pile up, we should not become inured to them”—that means immune to their moral impact.

Wehner then cites Donald Trump as saying,

“‘I’d like to punch him in the face,’ Mr. Trump said about a protester in Nevada.”

Mr. Trump said,

“‘In the old days,’ Mr. Trump fondly recalled, protesters would be ‘carried out in a stretcher.’”

Speaking of another protester, Mr. Trump said,

“‘Maybe he should have been roughed up.’ In St. Louis, Mr. Trump sounded almost wistful: ‘Nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.’ About protesters in general, he said: ‘There used to be consequences. There are none anymore. These people are so bad for our country. You have no idea folks, you have no idea.’”

As Wehner says quite simply,

“Talk like this eventually finds its way into action.”

And then he documents where that action took place. Wehner rightly points back to the year 1838 when a 28-year-old state legislator delivered an address at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. That young man was Abraham Lincoln.

“Lincoln warned that a ‘mobocratic spirit’ and ‘wild and furious passions’ posed a threat to [American democracy and republican, that’s little ‘r’] republican institutions. He also alerted people to the danger of individuals — ‘an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon?’ — who, in their search for glory and power, might pose a threat to American self-government.”

Later, in Wehner’s article he points to one specific example and then to Trump’s explanation when he spoke to CNN. Wehner writes,

“When he was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about the sucker-punching episode, Mr. Trump responded by saying, ‘People come with tremendous passion and love for this country, and when they see protest — in some cases — you know, you’re mentioning one case, which I haven’t seen, I heard about it, which I don’t like. But when they see what’s going on in this country, they have anger that’s unbelievable. They have anger. They love this country.’ In many respects, he added, ‘it’s a beautiful thing.’”

Christians observing the 2016 presidential election have so much about which to think, but the candidacy of Donald Trump presents us with a moral challenge that simply cannot be avoided. Wehner I believe is right when he says that this is the kind of candidate that the founders feared when they considered the future of a constitutional government. And when it comes to the violence that has now become so much a part of the headlines in America’s 2016 presidential election, though there may be many people involved, it’s very interesting that the violence has appeared at one candidate’s events. And that just has to tell us something.

Intellectual insecurity on display in new atheist billboard campaign against Creation Museum

Finally, we look to an article published in the Courier-Journal here in Louisville, Kentucky. Reporter Chris Kenning wrote,

“An atheist group is planning a billboard campaign in Kentucky to protest the $92 million Noah’s Ark replica theme park, set to open in July.

“The Tri-State Freethinkers group said it raised more than $3,000 to erect several billboards titled ‘Genocide & Incest Park: Celebrating 2,000 years of myths.’ In a rendering, the billboard shows people drowning around an ark.”

As if it needed explanation, the reporter then goes on to say,

“The campaign is meant to argue that ‘it’s a genocide park that celebrates the destruction of humankind, minus whoever was on the ark,’ said Freethinkers spokesman Tony Arnold, including “repopulation through nefarious means”’ in his critique.”

Well, what we’re looking at here is something that I find continually fascinating. Who has a thin skin America? It turns out that it is the so-called Freethinkers are atheists who seem to have the thinnest of skins. If Christians were being thin-skinned—and unfortunately sometimes some Christians are—we would look to an article like this and be primarily offended. We would see a billboard like this and see it as something that is meant and calculated to offend as many Christians as possible. Well, that might be the calculation behind it, but what’s really interesting is this: What it really demonstrates more than anything else is the intellectual insecurity of atheism as a worldview. By the way, this is a story about billboards for which a group raised a stunning $3,000. $3,000 in today’s economy is hardly big news. But what is big news is that here you have a Freethinkers organization, as it identifies itself, that represents not just one, not just two, but three states that is able to come up with something this insipid as a response to the new development of the Noah’s Ark Park here in Kentucky.

The thin-skinned nature of this ad indicates the intellectual insecurity of atheism and why atheists continue to be driven to derision by the fact that when you look at the Creation Museum here in Kentucky, and now you look at the Noah’s Ark Park, they are likely to be two of the largest tourist attractions in the entire state of Kentucky and in the entire tri-state region. As a matter of fact, people have come in large numbers from all over the world to the Creation Museum, which is a straightforward defense and representation of the full truthfulness and historicity of all that is revealed in Scripture about the creation of the planet earth and the cosmos.

Well, let’s just say that no one is tracking in large numbers to those famous atheist destinations and that is something that reveals a very great deal about even this very secular age. People want an answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And the biblical worldview explains not only why matter exists, but why human beings exist, and that is what is so unsatisfying about the atheist worldview. It can’t explain the existence of matter or of morality and, most importantly, it can’t explain the existence of me. What that insecurity does explain is the existence of this billboard campaign.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing