October 20, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 20, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Final showdown before millions: In third presidential debate, candidates pressed on policy & character
The third debate of the 2016 presidential election was held last night on the campus of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The event was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox news, and it was a very interesting event. It’s interesting in part because it is very rare that one of these presidential debates actually changes the trajectory of an election cycle. It has happened, but it is very rare, and especially it’s rare when it comes to one of the second or third debates. So last night, the big question was whether or not the political picture would be significantly changed. That was underscored by a comment made Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Michael Bender and Laura Meckler.
“Final Showdown Before Millions” was the headline of the article about the debate.Show Full Transcript
But the reporter said this speaking of a game changer that was needed by the Trump campaign going into the election,
“It isn’t an easy task, political scientists say, because debates rarely provide a singular, game-changing moment.”
In the immediate aftermath of last night’s event, the big question was whether or not Donald Trump had actually delivered that game-changing moment when in a moment that will now be long recorded in American presidential history he refused to indicate that he would accept the result of the elections to be held on November 8. Nothing like that has yet happened in American presidential history. It is a part of America’s presidential and political culture that the candidate who loses the election concedes, and that is essential in terms of one of our democratic habits. It establishes a basic level of trust in our democratic process.
I’ll return to that issue in just a moment, but first a note about the moderator. Chris Wallace did the best job of any recent presidential debate moderator. The format last night points to the strength of having one rather than two or more moderators asking questions, and it also points to the skill that is involved. What made Chris Wallace distinctive last night was his willingness to go into the issues and to make his questions so absolutely specific. It was evident that Chris Wallace has tremendous political intuitions, but it was also clear that he had done a great deal of research that must have at different moments made the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump very much on alert, and the candidates had to stay very much on their toes.
But last night, there was more to just the expertise that was involved. It is to the credit of Chris Wallace that at the very beginning of this third presidential debate he got to some of the most important political, legal, and moral issues facing the nation. Specifically, he asked first about the Supreme Court of the United States and the kind of nominees that each of the candidates would make if elected president. Here we need to take a very close look at what took place in this third presidential debate. Wallace addressed the first question to Hillary Clinton, and she responded with what is described as outcome based law. This is hugely important. When asked about the kind of nominee that she would name to the court, Hillary Clinton didn’t actually mention the Constitution, not early in this conversation at all. In her response to Chris Wallace, she instead talked about the kind of result, the kind of outcome she wanted from someone that she would appoint to the Court.
This is a very dangerous trend. What we’re looking at here, however, is what the liberal wing in the American political spectrum has been working at for a matter of decades now. This kind of argument goes back at least to the early decades of the 20th century. It gained in terms of momentum in the last half of the 20th century, and most of the most significant liberal decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court are evidence of exactly what Hillary Clinton declared that she would do. She would make nominations based upon how she wants them to decide cases, that is the end result. That’s why this is called outcome-based law. This is to be contrasted with the understanding of the justice’s or the judge’s responsibility primarily to interpret the text of the Constitution and beyond the Constitution of statutory law that applies to a case, doing the very best within the judge’s ability to decide the case understanding the authority of the text and the rightful interpretation of that text according to those who framed it, ratified it, or adopted it.
Now looking just at Hillary Clinton at this point, because she was the one to whom the question was first addressed, not only did she advocate outcome-based law, but she did so without any hesitation whatsoever. This actually sets her apart from less candid Democratic nominees in recent election cycles. Just as much as Hillary Clinton, they also see the law in terms of its outcome. They’re just as committed outcome-based law as she is, but they understood that they had a political responsibility to be something less than candid about that. The importance of this issue comes down to the fact that Hillary Clinton in terms of this cultural moment feels no such necessity. She says right out that she wants to appoint justices that will strike down the Citizens United decision. She said candidly that she will only support nominees who will uphold Roe v. Wade.
These are the very kinds of questions that candidates have refused to answer in previous elections, precisely because they said we should not be choosing justices on the basis of their outcome, that is the outcome of the decisions that they will make. Hillary Clinton has thrown all that to the wind, and we should note, she must be doing so because she thinks that America has entered a new liberal moment when she can now afford to be candid about exactly how she sees the law, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court. She not only mentioned her support for abortion by signaling it with the Roe v. Wade decision in this part of the debate, she also went on to indicate that she would only make nominations to the court of nominees would solidly support the LGBT revolution as well. She spoke of it in terms of standing up to the powerful. She only actually mentioned the Constitution of the United States, which should be the very first reference in terms of the Supreme Court, when she talked about the process whereby nominees are appointed to the Court and then confirmed by the Senate. In terms of her understanding of the Court, the Constitution evidently matters most in terms of the president’s ability to appoint nominees who will, according to her worldview, also meet the expectations of the outcome that is expected of the Court.
When it came to Donald Trump’s turn to respond, he cited first and foremost the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, mentioning in particular the right to bear arms. Trump also didn’t really talk about the Constitution until a crucial turn in his first response. He made very clear that he would appoint conservative jurists who would he said interpret the Constitution as the founders had intended. He said it would be actually about what the Constitution says. In that sense, Donald Trump accomplished something that many recent Republican nominees have not. He made abundantly clear the fact that there is a dramatic distinction in terms of the Court nominees, but what was missed last night on the part of Donald Trump was exactly the kind of description of what’s at stake. He never actually turned to Hillary Clinton and said, “Here’s the problem: she’s really talking about outcome-based law.” He didn’t say, “Did anyone notice that Hillary Clinton hasn’t mentioned the Constitution? Isn’t that what the Court is duly bound to interpret?” Instead, he also offered his own outcome-based form of law. He just has a conservative outcome, such as support for the Second Amendment, but Trump did at least mention the Constitution. And he did so straightforwardly and to his credit he also indicated his expectation that a nominee to the Court that he would make would be obligated to interpret the Constitution as the founders had intended.
At this point, many recent moderators in these presidential debates would have moved on to another subject entirely. But to Chris Wallace’s credit last night, he went on to the even more fundamental issue—yes, connected to the Supreme Court, but even larger in terms of worldview and of course moral significance. That is the question of abortion. He addressed this question first in the second round to Donald Trump who offered a rather short response, but in that response went back to the Supreme Court saying that as president he would appoint pro-life judges who would make their rulings according to a pro-life philosophy. And then the question went to Hillary Clinton, and at this point Hillary Clinton offered a very full, unequivocal, absolutely clear defense of abortion. And she did so, we should note, without the kind of language and hesitation and the kind of euphemisms that recent Democratic presidential nominees have used. When I say recent, it includes most of those recent candidates and nominees, but with the exception of Barack Obama, who was until Hillary Clinton, the most pro-abortion candidate ever to run for national office.
Now, however, we have to look back to her husband, Bill Clinton, elected president in 1992. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton famously said that it was his ambition to make abortion safe, legal, and rare. President Clinton actually spoke about what he called the tragedy of abortion—whether or not he actually believed it was a tragedy. That’s very much in question since in his administration, remember those three words: safe and legal and rare, well, as president he only acted in terms of keeping abortion legal. He seemed to forget those words safe and rare. But what’s noteworthy is that his wife, now the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, doesn’t even feel any moral or political obligation to use those words safe and rare. Let’s put the matter straightforwardly. The Democratic Party is not about in this generation to say anything about having any intention to make abortion rare. Instead, it has now adopted abortion as one of its central causes and abortion under any circumstances, for any reason or for no reason, and as we have noted, this current Democratic nominee and the Democratic Party platform in 2016 call even for requiring and coercing American taxpayers to pay for abortion.
Once again, credit goes to Chris Wallace because as he pressed this it was very clear that Hillary Clinton went on not only to defend Roe v. Wade and to defend abortion, but without even being asked she went on to offer unequivocal support of Planned Parenthood. But at this point, Chris Wallace then interjected, reminding her of the statement that she has made that the fetus has no constitutional rights. Hillary Clinton in response did not withdraw that statement. She didn’t hesitate it to the slightest degree. Wallace also reminded her that she had voted against a ban on late-term abortion so-called partial-birth abortions. She wouldn’t back off of that either. And in her response to the Chris Wallace question last night, what was really interesting was her use of the phrase “the pregnancy.” She spoke of a woman’s right to end “the pregnancy.” Absolutely missing from her response last night was the baby. The baby is simply not a matter of moral concern according to the worldview reflected in her answer.
There were other issues addressed in the debate last night, and all of them in one sense deserve attention. But what was most important from a Christian worldview perspective was how the debate began and then how it ended. One of the last questions asked had to do with whether or not Donald Trump would accept the outcome of the election in terms of the voter’s decision. In recent days and weeks, Donald Trump has been speaking of the election as rigged. It was interestingly clear last night that Donald Trump isn’t limiting that expression about the rigged election to the electoral process in terms of voting only. He’s also speaking of the entire context of the election. When he pressed his case, he went on to point to Hillary Clinton’s nomination, to the fact that she’s a legal candidate, to the fact that the FBI did not bring criminal charges against her in terms of the missing emails. It was a very big, a huge indictment of the American Democratic system of government. But what makes this historically important and important from a worldview perspective is that it brings to our understanding, to the forefront of our political consciousness, the necessity of trust.
We’ve talked about this just in terms of what makes civilization or society possible. A certain level of trust is absolutely necessary. The absence of that kind of trust leads to a situation as we have seen in other countries where there is a breakdown of societal order, where there’s a breakdown of law and order, of decency, of habit, of respect. And when that trust disappears, it is extremely difficult to rebuild that trust. It is likely that most of the people who hear Donald Trump speaking of a rigged election don’t even understand fully what he is saying. The problem is the toxins that are released into the political system by the use of that kind of language. We need to understand that political habits are themselves the evidence of a worldview.
One of the most important political habits in the United States has been the formal concession that has been given by the losing candidate in a presidential election to the winning candidate. In recent American history, most of these concessions, and then also the subsequent victory speech by the winning candidate, most of these have been made the night of the election. Sometimes they had been pressed into the early morning hours. That was true, for instance, in 1960. But the case many people think of is the year 2000, 40 years later when the candidates were George W. Bush and Al Gore. You may recall that George W. Bush was declared to be the winner about 10 o’clock on election night, and then Al Gore offered his concession speech and his formal phone call to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Later that night, however, Florida, it was clear, was in a situation in which the vote was so close that a recount would be legally triggered. At that point Al Gore called Gov. Bush and withdrew his concession speech. This led to one of the most tortuous periods in recent American history. But 36 days later, after the Supreme Court clarified the situation in the famous case Bush v. Gore, it was Al Gore, who in cooperation with Governor Bush, then President-Elect Bush, moved into the situation of how to formalize his concession speech. Al Gore said at the time, back then in December of the year 2000, that he did so precisely because the American people not only needed to see the winner claim victory, but also needed to see the losing candidate accept the verdict of the voters.
That’s what’s so important here regardless of how one voted in 2000. The important thing was that the American citizenry got to see the winner claim victory and also had the satisfaction of seeing the losing candidate accept that as the outcome of the voters and of the Democratic process. If what Donald Trump is talking about is the accusation that politics is full of what some might call shenanigans, then the point is actually obvious and right. Politics is filled with shenanigans. But that does not mean that an election is rigged in any sense in which the voters are not finally making the decision.
As of last night, given her candid statements in the third presidential debate, Americans have absolutely no excuse for not knowing where Hillary Clinton stands on an entire host of issues: where she stands in terms of her commitment to outcome based law, where she stands in terms of her absolute support for abortion on demand for any reason or for no reason, her support for Planned Parenthood, and her insidious, nearly unspeakable support for late-term abortion, otherwise known as partial-birth abortion.
To his credit, Donald Trump not only rejected that late-term abortion, but he twice went back to Hillary Clinton, making very clear that what she was supporting was ripping a baby from its mother’s womb even in the ninth month, even right up to the point of the baby’s birth. But what was also tragically noteworthy last night was Donald Trump’s massive missed opportunity to defend the culture of life, the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. He never actually gave a philosophical or worldview defense of why abortion is wrong. He simply stated that it’s wrong, and he stated that he would support only pro-life judges and justices. We need desperately a comprehensive case for the defense of life itself, for the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. Last night was a golden opportunity, but on that score, tragically enough, it was a missed opportunity.
Finally, in terms of the debate last night, it was interesting and noteworthy that Chris Wallace had to return to the character question. The reason for that is very straightforward. In both of these candidates, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the character issues loom so very large, and they are so very real. And the interesting thing from this perspective last night is that Chris Wallace asked questions that could have been asked and were asked in their own way in the second presidential debate, and the issues were actually present even in the first. What does that tell us? It tells us that in the sad commentary this represents for America’s political life, both major political parties in the United States have nominated a candidate who is understood by significant portions of the American people, if not each of them by a majority of the American people, to lack the character that should be expected of anyone who would have public influence, much less would hold the office of President of the United States.
Will the Society of Biblical Literature ban InterVarsity Press over historic Christian position on sexuality?
Finally, in recent days on The Briefing we’ve talked about the decision announced by the campus ministry known as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that it would expect its staff members to uphold its theological principles and convictions, including those on sexual morality. The ministry had adopted a major statement known as the theological summary of human sexuality that offers a very clear and very biblical summary of Christian biblical teachings concerning the nature of human sexuality, God’s purpose of marriage, and the gift of gender. That was simply too much, of course, for the secular left and for many who were on the evangelical left, or at least what calls itself the evangelical left, as well.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been one of the most central evangelical campus ministries on many both private and public campuses for a matter of decades now. But what’s significant is that it was only at this moment that the board of IVF, as it’s known, acted to adopt this statement, and of course there were those who immediately joined in the outcry that this was a form of discrimination and intolerance, and there were those who protested the decision.
As I stated back when I announced this development, this is exactly what any Christian ministry is going to have to do. As I’ve written before, there’s no place to hide. Every Christian church, every Christian minister, every Christian ministry is going to have to be extremely clear about where we are on all of these issues. Now one of the things I simply want to note is that the price of this kind of clarity is a prior theological clarity. In other words, an organization, a church, a school, or a ministry that has been unclear about any number of theological issues can’t expect there to be anything less than shock when it all of the sudden gets serious about being faithful to biblical sexuality.
But on the other hand, this is a wake-up call to every single Christian ministry, and that wake-up call got amplified, not only in terms of the story that addressed this new development at IVF in Time magazine by calling it a purge, but also by what was announced just in recent days, leaking a letter that had been written by John Kutsko, who is the executive director of the academic guild known as the Society of Biblical Literature, a letter that was written to InterVarsity Press, the publishing wing of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, in which it was said that that group would no longer welcome InterVarsity Press to its academic meetings to display books at least the beginning with the 2017 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature to be held in Boston.
Very sadly, what this tells us is that the intolerance of the secular left is not only mirrored by but perhaps even exceeded by the intolerance of the religious left. The Society of Biblical Literature has been trending in a liberal direction for a century now. And there are even those who have suggested that it should change its name to the Society of Ancient Near Eastern Literature to even avoid the word biblical with a reference to the Christian Bible. But what’s really interesting is the actual language used by the executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature in this letter threatening or disinviting InterVarsity Press. The executive director spoke of the society’s commitment to,
“a variety of critical perspectives, diversity, of participation and unhindered critical discourse, free inquiry, and free expression.”
Now just think about that for a moment. In the name of critical discourse, in the name of free inquiry, in the name of free expression, and in the name of a variety of critical perspectives, the group has announced that it will disinvite a group that is sided decisively with Christian orthodoxy on the question of human sexuality. The InterVarsity Press has not even said they will follow the same principles as InterVarsity Fellowship in terms of these very issues. But what’s really interesting is that that doesn’t even matter. That would be of concern to an entirely different constituency. What’s really interesting here is that in the name of tolerance, the secular left has long been intolerant. And the religious left, as we see, is if anything even more intolerant.
This goes back to the 1970s and Herbert Marcuse who talked about the fact that tolerance had to be redefined so that a group that wouldn’t be totally tolerant would no longer be tolerated. Well, that’s exactly what we’re facing today in the name of tolerance: intolerance. It’s one thing for that to come from the secularists. It’s another thing for it to come from a group that calls itself the Society of Biblical Literature, a group now that doesn’t even want to allow a display from any group that just might be committed to the truth of what the Bible has to say about marriage, gender, and human sexuality. The lesson is that you’re welcome to be a part of the Society of Biblical Literature unless, evidently, you believe the Bible’s teachings of sexuality to be true.