The Briefing 12-06-16

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The Electoral College, Federalism, and the genius of America's Constitution

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The tragedy of the Oakland fire points to the good of government in public safety regulations

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Why is the left infatuated with communist dictators? Abortion, prostitution, and Fidel Castro's legacy

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What does it say about America that the suburbs are growing faster than city centers?

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Transcript

The Briefing

December 6, 2016

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

It’s Tuesday, December 6, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

The Electoral College, Federalism, and the genius of America's Constitution

Calls to ban the Electoral College stand in defiance of the American constitutional tradition, but some of them are gaining traction, especially because it may well be that a majority of Americans do not understand even how the Electoral College works. But even as we are now facing the electoral decision made in the Electoral College by the electors who had been chosen by the American people, it’s also important to recognize that the loss of the Electoral College would mean a fundamentally different America. That was acknowledged by William M. Daley, former White House Chief of Staff, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and most importantly the former campaign chairman for former Vice-President of the United States Al Gore.

Back in the 2000 election, you may remember, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidency to George W. Bush precisely because he lost the Electoral College and George W. Bush won. You might think that Secretary Daley, himself having shared the Gore campaign that won the popular vote but lost the election in the year 2000, might likewise call for the elimination of the Electoral College, but in an important article in the Washington Post Secretary Daley did exactly the opposite. He says it will be a very bad idea to dump the Electoral College, and he brings in a new argument that very much deserves our attention. He writes,

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“Now that Donald Trump has won the presidency despite losing the popular vote, there’s a growing cry to rethink, or even abolish, the Electoral College. This would be a mistake.”

He goes on to say that the Electoral College is a tempting target for two reasons. First of all, Democrats have very sore feelings about it after having now lost the 2000 and 2016 elections winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College. The other reason he says is because most Americans probably do not even understand how the Electoral College works.

In the days after the recent election, I pointed to the fact that the Electoral College is an affirmation of the importance of the states, and that’s really important as a break upon unbridled federal power. The issue of federalism is really, really important. It’s at the heart of the genius of the American constitutional system, and the Electoral College is at the heart of the entire idea. Presidential candidates must win states, not just the nationwide popular vote in order to be elected President of the United States. At present, the crucial number is 270 electoral votes. And as we pointed out after the election, without the Electoral College you would have candidates merely pandering to the giant populations on the two coasts ignoring, justifiably in terms of the electoral numbers, everyone who lives in the inland United States. This would also mean that the big states would effectively elect presidents of the United States, and the smaller states by population would simply be passive bystanders. Presidential candidates would not even need to visit those states they would be electorally insignificant.

But Secretary Daley points to a different danger if the Electoral College were to be abolished, and that is that any number of self-funded billionaires could basically, plausibly, be elected President of the United States. That’s because the destruction of the Electoral College would effectively also destroy the two major political parties. All that would be necessary for a person to be elected President of the United States would be to win a plurality in terms of the national vote. As Secretary Daley writes,

“Aside from the Democratic and Republican nominees, a handful of billionaires could run campaigns focused especially on, say, Texas and Florida, or California and New York. One of them could win the presidency with a narrow slice of the vote. With so small a plurality, and no major party’s support, this president would face fierce head winds.”

Not to mention the fact that American democracy might be fatally wounded. Secretary Daley also points to the fact that the Electoral College itself is a break upon unbridled national power also has a break upon it, and that is that if the electors are not able to reach that 270 number, the question is then thrown to the United States Congress. If we were to abolish the Electoral College and make the election of presidents entirely upon a popular vote, then Congress would eventually have no ability to correct what could be a disastrous electoral result. Our current constitutional order calls not only for the Electoral College to vote protecting the interests of the smaller states, but it also requires that if the electoral college were to break down that rescue would come from the United States Congress. This series of breaks of firewalls within America’s constitutional order points to the wisdom and the basic conservatism of the framers of the U.S. Constitution and to the fact that in an amazing way they looked not only to the past and to their present at the end of the 18th century, but looked all the way into the future.

And that points to another headline story that should have our attention, this one coming from Italy. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy had given the Italian people the question as to whether or not to support one of his major political initiatives. The Italian people responded with a lack of support. They did so devastatingly to his electoral prospects and his ability to govern. Matteo Renzi yesterday announced that he will be resigning as Prime Minister. Why does the resignation of the Italian prime minister point to the importance of the Electoral College in the United States? Well there’s a bigger lesson here. That bigger lesson is the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers and in its basic respect for the necessity of the states, and for the fact that the leadership in the United States must eventually be accountable not only to the people, but for the people to a Constitution. The thing to note here is simple math. Matteo Renzi’s fall means that there have been 63 different governments in Italy that have fallen since the end of World War II.

Donald Trump will serve as the 45th President of the United States, going back to the ratification of the Constitution that that has stood since 1789. Since 1789, there have been 45 presidential administrations in the United States just since World War II. In just the last 70 years, there have been, depending on the count, either 62 or 63 or 64 governments of Italy, and every one of them has fallen. Just in terms of the Christian worldview, we have to recognize that the survival of an Italian government is now on average slightly over a year. That points to a constitutional system that is fragile at the core and weak at the center. In a parliamentary system of government, those who are invited to be Prime Minister have the requirement to establish and to form a government. Thus the election of the Prime Minister means an entire new government in the nation, so 63 Prime Ministers have fallen and with them the governments that they have appointed and put together. That is cultural chaos.

Again from a Christian worldview perspective, the thing for us to recognize is the wisdom of the framers of the U.S. Constitution in establishing a constitutional order that has stood and has stood with stability ever since 1789. That is no small achievement, and it also points to the fact that that achievement should not be undermined in the name of immediate political expediency. It also affirms something else, and this is something that Christians especially should note. The American constitutional order only makes sense on the foundation of a Christian understanding of humanity and of culture. It is that understanding of the sinfulness of humanity, along with the responsibility in stewardship of government, that led the framers of the U.S. Constitution to recognize that there must be a separation of powers, lest there be an autocratic power that would emerge from within them. That means, as Lord Acton famously, said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The other interesting thing from a cultural perspective is that the Italian constitutional order was put together in the aftermath of the embers of World War II. We should be very thankful that the United States did not come out of a disaster like World War II as modern Italy has done with the collapse of the regime of Benito Mussolini. All of this should serve to remind American Christians of the fact that every Constitution is the embodiment of a specific worldview. And it is also thus a warning that the American constitutional order will not survive the demise of the worldview that brought it into being.

The tragedy of the Oakland fire points to the good of government in public safety regulations

Shifting here to the United States, another story with Christian worldview implications about the power and responsibilities of government. Christians are often very rightly concerned about the growing reach of government and about the encroachments of government into areas in which it does not belong. One of the biggest problems in this country is the jump of the federal government, that is the national government, away from the enumerated powers that are delegated to it explicitly in the U.S. Constitution. But the Christian worldview also reminds us, as based in Scripture, for example most classically in Romans Chapter 13, that there is a responsibility that is given to government. And when government fails in that responsibility, human flourishing is inevitably harmed.

The horrifying headline comes from Oakland, California. As the New York Times reported, death toll continues to climb at Oakland artist “tinderbox.” We’re now told that at least 36 bodies have been retrieved. There are many who are still missing. Some of the victims are as young as 17 years of age.

Reporters for the New York Times tell us that the origin of this tragedy was an electronic dance party that was held in an artist collective in a warehouse that was not to be used for parties or also not to be used as a residential facility. Evidently, it was being used for both. We’re now being told that the victims are from countries in Europe and Asia, again some as young as 17. We’re also told,

“The building, which was known as the Ghost Ship and has been under investigation for code violations, had a permit to function as a warehouse, but not as a residence or for a party.”

We’re also told their criminal investigation began on Sunday. Evidently, the fire began, we are told now, on the second floor and spread so quickly it was as if a flamethrower were being employed. However, it also appears that the building itself was a tinderbox filled with all kinds of material. Staircases had been improvised by residents made out of pallets simply stacked up and layered. And we were also told that there were no available exits, no fire sprinkler system, nothing in order to limit the damage and the deadliness of this kind of fire. Some who were present said that in just 10 to 15 seconds fire seemed to spread from the second floor to the first and with an obviously and horrifyingly deadly result. The New York Times reports again,

“The Ghost Ship was one of these illegal living spaces” spreading throughout much of California. “Residents and visitors described it as both a haven for artists and a fire trap, with a warren of trailers, broken pianos and stacks of wood and a complex network of electrical cords and generators.”

While praying for families that have suffered such loss in a community wounded by such headlines, there are looming questions here. But the important thing from a Christian worldview in terms of this story in the role of government is for Christians to remember that we do need government to fulfill certain essential functions. And in a modern society, some of those functions include the protections that are related to public safety. And even though we sometimes understand that zoning laws and building codes can violate human freedom, they can also offer a basic assurance of the fact that we can be safe when we close our eyes or when our young people go into a building. Furthermore, we take for granted the fact that if we take a pill, it actually is the pill that it’s advertised to be, something that Americans do not recognize is often not the case around the world also with deadly results.

Operating out of a Christian biblical worldview, Christians understand that government is necessary, according to Scripture, for the restraint of sinfulness, the restraint of evil behavior, for the punishment of the evildoer, and furthermore for the establishment of the necessary level of justice that is required for any society or civilization to function.

Government is responsible for establishing the basic rules by which human flourishing can be honored, but then not to get in the way of that flourishing by excessive regulations or by governmental overreach into the domestic and private lives of its citizens. So many headlines remind Christians of the fact that government is so often unrestrained in our society today and that that is a real threat to human liberty. But so also is the absence or failure of government where government has an essential function to perform. This is a hard question that’s now being asked urgently by those who are living in Oakland, California. But it’s a good thing for Christians everywhere to recognize this is an important question for all of us.

Why is the left infatuated with communist dictators? Abortion, prostitution, and Fidel Castro's legacy

Next, we’ve discussed the death and the legacy of Fidel Castro just in the hours after his death was announced by the Cuban government, but after nine days of mourning Fidel Castro was buried in Cuba on Sunday. And this affords yet another necessary opportunity to revisit the life and legacy of someone who was one of the most long lasting dictators of the 20th century, of course, into the 21st. But of course from a worldview perspective, it’s also really interesting to note the response to Fidel Castro to his life and to his death on the part of many especially in the west. We discussed the fact that in the hours following the announcement of the death of Fidel Castro the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, offered tweets in which he had acknowledged that Fidel Castro was one of the great leaders of the 20th century. But there was an immediate backlash not only in Canada but around the world. There was also a predictability to this, not only did Justin Trudeau honor Fidel Castro as so many on the political left honor dictators and autocrats, but he was following in a pattern that had been established by his father, the late former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s major newspapers, Clifford Orwin, who’s a professor of political science and senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto, accused the Prime Minister of coddling the Castros—notice the plural. He points out that not only did the Prime Minister cite tributes to Fidel Castro in terms of his tweets, but he also tweeted out a tribute to the current dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro’s brother Raul Castro. Orwin writes,

“That the Castro regime was politically repressive requires no elaboration: for details just peruse Amnesty International’s reports on the country. Economically Cuba functioned as well as other command economies (now mercifully extinct everywere else but North Korea). Having freed his country from the ambit of “American imperialism” Fidel Castro became a loyal client of the Soviet variety, sending Cuban boys to die in Russia’s African wars. Having confiscated U.S. property, thereby incurring an economic boycott, he depended on Soviet subsidies to sustain an inefficient sugar industry from which Cuba never successfully diversified. Of her neighbours almost all are wealthier than Cuba both absolutely and relatively than they were in 1959. Ten years ago some Old Leftist neighbours of ours took their children there so they could vacation in a socialist society. They were distressed to notice that the local economy ran entirely on U.S. dollars, and that the only obvious occupation besides tourism was prostitution.”

Orwin then writes,

“Yes, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that Fidel Castro was a ‘controversial figure.’ Not surprisingly, he credited his ‘significant contributions to the health care and education of his island nation’ These were the bright spots of the Castro regime. But why go on to flatter the 85-year-old Raul Castro?”

The Prime Minister had tweeted that it was ‘a real honor to meet Raoul Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.’ Why issue a statement,” he says, “implying Canada’s indifference alike to basic political and religious freedoms and to basic economic ones? One that included not a word of encouragement for the transition to a democratic Cuba?”

The professor then goes on to note that in making these statements in public, the Canadian Prime Minister had effectively placed himself to the left even of the Democratic administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, both of whom had made headlines because of what they claimed was a new opening to Cuba. But at this point it’s really interesting to note that Professor Orwin says,

“After Mr. Trudeau fires his speechwriter, he should take a long look at himself. Yes, he is a Trudeau, whose father consistently whitewashed not only Fidel Castro but (much worse) Mao.”

Professor Orwin concludes,

“Justin Trudeau just missed his chance to jump this particular family ship. Allegiance to the best in one’s heritage is admirable; remaining mired in the worst is not.”

What this points to in the aftermath of the official mourning period and now the burial of Fidel Castro in Cuba is the fact that much of the political and ideological left remains infatuated with communist dictators.

The truth was at least told in the Americas Column of the Wall Street Journal by Mary Anastasia O’Grady when she wrote,

“Castro left a once-prosperous and promising land in dire poverty. But his legacy is far worse than the material ruin of a nation. His insatiable appetite for absolute power was manifest in an obsession with hunting down every last nonconformist, stripping away the human dignity of the population.”

O’Grady goes on to point out what many American liberals have never acknowledged, and that is that in Cuba Fidel Castro and his regime did everything possible to separate children from the influence of their parents, something found in many other communist regimes. Children were often taken away from their parents for up to nine months at a time and put in official state education centers. As O’Grady says, they were nothing less than indoctrination centers.

One of the things that O’Grady notes is that the separation of children from their parents was intentional in terms of the moral influence of parents upon their children. One of the explicit ambitions of the Cuban regime was to bring about a new sexual morality on the part of the nation, and that meant separating children from the influences of their predominantly Catholic parents. And thus we should not be surprised that in Cuba there is a skyrocketing abortion rate among adolescents, and as O’Grady also makes clear, in many cases the response here is a state-coerced abortion.

Then we have to go back to that article in the Globe and Mail by the Canadian professor who mentioned that his old leftist neighbors took their children to Cuba in order to have a socialist vacation only to discover that the only two vocations that were visible were the vocations of those involved in tourism or in prostitution.

O’Grady, writing in a completely separate article, points out that on the streets of Havana and other Cuban cities, teenage female prostitutes are very common. Abortion, she writes, is also a key regime tool for what is styled as healthcare, pointing out that one of the ways that Castro drove down the international reporting of infant mortality rates was to make certain that the infants were never born. Tragically, however, many in Europe and in North America on the left celebrate, pointing to the lower infant mortality rates in terms of Cuba than its neighbors, without acknowledging that much of that is brought about by abortion. Infant mortality rates disappear for infants who were never allowed to be born.

What does it say about America that the suburbs are growing faster than city centers?

Finally, we see regularly in the media stories that are laden with worldview importance without any obvious recognition of that fact. One of these appeared yesterday in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The headline was this,

“Suburbs Outstrip Cities in Population Growth, Study Finds.”

Laura Kusisto, writing for the Wall Street Journal, tells us,

“Big cities may be getting all the attention, but the suburbs are holding their own in the battle for population and young earners.”

She points to a report to be released this week by the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing—that’s a nonprofit real estate researcher group—indicating that the majority of the population growth and of the housing growth in the United States in the last few years has been in the suburbs and not in the cities. The most surprising aspect of this study is the fact that younger Americans are increasingly choosing the suburbs rather than the inner cities for their own residential choices, something that you wouldn’t see in terms of the popular media and American entertainment. You also wouldn’t be told by the powers that be that it is the suburbs that are increasingly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity rather than the city cores.

As the Wall Street Journal says,

“Research shows that suburbs are continuing to outstrip downtowns in overall population growth, diversity and even younger residents.”

Now looking at the study in this news report, there may be many who would say, “What exactly are the worldview implications there?” Wel,l it comes down to this: we now know very clearly that the further one lives from the inner city core, the more conservative one’s worldview is likely to be. We also know that the further you get from the downtown areas of major metropolitan cities, the less secular residents are likely to be, which is to say that there is a very clear pattern in the United States of those who live in the cities, especially in the downtown areas, being more likely to be unmarried and without children and to be non-churchgoers than those who live in the suburbs.

Now you put all that together, and you come to understand that worldview is eventually inseparable from both demographics and from the larger culture and its politics, which is to say this housing report has at least something to say about the 2016 presidential election and why so many in the cultural and media elites were surprised.

It turns out that in terms of worldview as well as sociology there’s a great deal of difference between a downtown of a city and its suburbs. The reports also tell us something that should simply makes sense. Once younger Americans get married, and once married they start to have children, they start to look for the rather traditional trappings of family life and home ownership. They begin to want a backyard and a swing set in that backyard. And from a worldview perspective, it’s very important to recognize that once there is that swing set in the backyard, there is often a political swing in voting patterns as well.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing