The Briefing 05-10-17

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Making sense of the unexpected firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump

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What will South Korea's election of Moon Jae-In as President mean for the region—and the globe?

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Cohabitation story #1: Among younger Americans, it's complicated

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Cohabitation story #2: Among older Americans, it's even more complicated

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Transcript

The Briefing

May 10, 2017

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

It’s Wednesday, May 10, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Making sense of the unexpected firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump

There can be no doubt what the big story is as of this morning. It’s the same big story as of last night, and that was late yesterday the announcement that the President of the United States had fired the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The firing of an FBI Director in any context would be controversial, and the furor that was set off last night shows no sign of abating. We’re standing thus at the intersection of some of the hottest controversies in American public life and some of the longest standing questions in terms of our constitutional order.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and its Director do not appear in the Constitution of the United States. There was controversy in terms of the right and power of the federal government under the Constitution even to establish something like the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But by the time you get to the early decades of the 21st century, it’s almost impossible to imagine American government and American life without it.

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The FBI came into being as a national police and investigative agency for the federal government only when the federal government found itself up against a war it was not winning. That was the great mob war of the early decades of the 20th century. But the modern FBI has two major responsibilities: the first is in terms of domestic law enforcement, especially when it comes to federal crimes; and the second has to do with espionage, with the agency, the FBI, acting as the domestic agency responsible for preventing foreign espionage in the United States. That’s a twofold responsibility.

But there’s another twofold dimension to the FBI and to its Director. That position has always been primarily understood to be a law enforcement official, but that position is also intensely political. It has been that way ever since the birth of the modern FBI and its first major Director known as J. Edgar Hoover. Ever since then, every single Director of the FBI has, in one way or another, found himself at the center of controversy and often a very intense partisan controversy.

But in politics it’s not only history, it’s also contemporary context that matters. As the reporters for the New York Times reported late yesterday,

“President Trump fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

Now that’s the lead paragraph, and it’s similar to what has appeared in so many other major media. It has also been the focus of the most intensive conversation in terms of the cable news networks, but that raises a very interesting question. Can the Director of the FBI be reduced to one single contemporary investigation? That’s what so many of these stories have tried to do. What you have here is the major partisan divide in the United States evident in the fact that the President’s supporters point to the inadequacies of James Comey as Director of the FBI and his detractors suggests that he simply fired the FBI director in order to divert attention or even to divert the investigation itself in terms of the Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times coverage went so far as to say in the next paragraph,

“The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s nascent presidency drew comparisons to President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous Saturday night massacre in which Nixon purged the Justice Department in the middle of the Watergate investigation.”

Now I’ll simply state at the onset, that appears to be wildly overblown. This is indeed going to be a controversial decision, and it might have been handled clumsily by the White House. Furthermore, the timing doesn’t make the situation easier to explain because of the ongoing investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. But we also need to remember that some of the Democrats who are now criticizing the President for firing the FBI Director were the very ones who were calling for the firing of the very same Director after his involvement in the 2016 election when just days before the election he indicated that there was a renewed investigation into the email controversy concerning the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and it was also not a secret in Washington that many Democratic officeholders hoped that if President Clinton were to be elected, she would fire James Comey as one of her first acts in office.

So why would the Democrats be crying foul now that a Republican President has done what they wanted a Democratic President to do? Well, as we’ve said, context is everything, and in the great context of political division in the United States and particularly in Washington DC, everything becomes an incendiary football in terms of today’s politics.

In terms of the historical understanding, it might be argued that the job of being Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become almost impossible. That’s because everything is now political in this hyper-partisan age. But it’s also true that Director Comey had been controversial from the very beginning of his term. He is now just three years into a presidentially appointed 10-year term. And remember that that means that Director Comey was appointed to his current position by former President Barack Obama. Ever since then there have been controversies and bipartisan disappointment. And when it comes to Director Comey, it’s very important to recognize that his firing simply is not at this point historically parallel in any sense to the Saturday Night Massacre undertaken in the administration of President Richard Nixon. Why? It’s because in that Saturday Night Massacre, the President ordered the firing of virtually everyone who had been in leadership of the Watergate investigation. And that went all the way up to the eventual resignation of the Attorney General of the United States. This is a vastly different situation, for now.

One of the most interesting things we should keep in mind is this: the firing of the Director of the FBI is simply chapter 1 in this particular story. Chapter 2 will be the nomination of a new Director of the FBI.

We will almost surely in the future learn more about the why and the why now of President Trump’s firing of Director Comey. But we also need to recognize that the bigger question is, who will succeed him? And now President Trump who bears responsibility for the termination of the FBI Director that is within the powers of the presidency, now has the responsibility to appoint a successor to that very important position—important in terms of our national law enforcement, important in terms of preventing espionage by foreign powers in the United States, and also indeed the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. No doubt this conversation will continue in quite intense form in coming days. It’s also interesting to note that Tuesday is usually a very light news day in the United States, especially when it comes to our federal government. But not, as we learned, yesterday.

What will South Korea's election of Moon Jae-In as President mean for the region—and the globe?

Next, earlier this week we looked with the world in view at the meaning of the French election on Sunday, the election of a new French President, Emmanuel Macron. But now we also have to look with the world in view at the election of a new President of South Korea. The new President is Moon Jae-in; he is a human rights lawyer and, according to most in the national and international media, the big thing we need to know about the new President, President Moon, is that he favors dialogue with North Korea. The immediate media reports indicated that this was a victory for liberals in the South Korean government and indeed this is coming on the heels of the removal of a conservative President from office, and she is actually now facing likely criminal charges and a trial.

But the election of this new President of South Korea comes at one of the most delicate moments not only in the relationship between the United States and one of its key Asian allies, South Korea, but in the relationship between South Korea and North Korea, and at the very moment that the paranoid government of North Korea tends to be sending some of its most bellicose signals.

Choe Sang-Hun, reporting for the New York Times, explains it this way, saying that Moon’s election “immediately scrambles the geopolitics over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Even as the Trump administration urges the world to step up pressure on Pyongyang, it now faces the prospect of a critical ally — one with the most at stake in any conflict with the North — breaking ranks and adopting a more conciliatory approach.”

Indeed, the state-run news there in North Korea immediately sent signals that it was pleased with the election of now President-elect Moon, this even as the President-elect had condemned North Korea as a “ruthless dictatorial regime.”

But at the same time, the President-elect urged that South Korea must, in his words, “embrace the North Korean people to achieve peaceful reunification one day.”

Now in terms of worldview, what should we be learning in terms of observing the South Korean election? For one thing, what we learn is that after there has been a political scandal, there is almost always some kind of reversal, in this case reversal that puts a liberal candidate in office succeeding a discredited conservative government. The other thing we need to note is that old adage that was often attributed to the late former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill; his famous motto was,

“All politics is local.”

And when it comes to Korean voters, local means the Korean Peninsula, and they are far more interested in peace in that peninsula than with the security and foreign-policy goals of the United States.

But there is also the brutal reality that South Korea cannot survive without the United States and without America’s determination in terms of those security arrangements. So South Korea finds itself like many European nations: it might act in an election like this in order to distance itself from the United States, but it can only do so because of the umbrella of protection that is guaranteed by the United States. So a new liberal President will be moving into the South Korean presidential residence known as the Blue House. What this means for South Korea and what it means for the rest of the world we shall soon know.

Cohabitation story #1: Among younger Americans, it's complicated

Next, shifting back to the United States, the New York Times in recent days has had two very interesting and seemingly unrelated articles on the issue of the rise of cohabitation, that is non-marital cohabitation in the United States. The first of these articles appeared over the weekend in the Real Estate section of the New York Times, the headline,

“You may now kiss the roommate.”

The subtitle of the article,

“Moving in together is in many ways a bigger legal, financial and emotional step than marriage.”

Now looking at that subhead, we simply have to ask the question, is this really to be taken seriously? Are we really here being told that moving in together is a bigger decision even emotionally than getting married? The article itself does not substantiate the headline in that sense, but it does signal a major change, a vast moral change in the United States. There can be no question that cohabitation has displaced marriage in the United States among young adults as the first residential context with someone of the opposite sex. And even the data that has come more recently from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more Americans than ever are choosing to live together before they get married. But the other data that is coming in on this also indicates that it’s not just before, more than anything else it is instead, of getting married.

One of the things that has been observed by those who have been watching this pattern of cohabitation is that though in previous decades cohabitation generally came prior to marriage it is now coming prior to nothing. It is displacing marriage, and that is a fundamental change in American morality and in the way Americans live. The author of this particular article is Anna Goldfarb, and she’s writing of her own experience in generalizing her experience to her generation. She says,

“Just the prospect of no longer needing to keep two bottles of contact lens solution, two toothbrushes and two sticks of deodorant in two separate homes was enough to have me jumping for joy. Visions of plush rugs, soft lighting and cuddling in front of a fireplace filled my head.”

But then she says,

“I quickly realized that I was confusing coffee commercials with real life. The truth is: Living together before you’re married is a big step legally, financially and emotionally.”

Now here we’re on to something of real importance. The author of this article seems to have no moral reluctance about non-marital cohabitation whatsoever, but she is saying that cohabitation doesn’t come without consequences, and one of the most immediate issues on the horizon of this article is that when a couple who have been cohabitating break-up, well, it leads to all kinds of distress; and furthermore, it leads to complexities that do not exist with marriage. Goldfarb cites that research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Research Center indicating just how cohabitation is displacing marriage, and then she says this,

“Unmarried millennials are more likely to live with their partners than any previous generation at this stage in their lives.”

She goes on to argue this,

“It’s clear why couples find cohabitation so appealing.”

She then says,

“According to leading legal and financial experts, that’s a major mistake and a missed opportunity.”

She goes on to say that lawyers have now worked out something like a boilerplate arrangement; rather than a pre-nup this is a no-nup, that is a “no nuptial” agreement. This is in the place of marriage.

From a Christian worldview perspective, a couple of insights come immediately. One is the fact that there is nothing that is actually a substitute for marriage. The biblical worldview makes very clear that marriage is one of God’s gifts to his human creatures, and it is the sole context in which a man and a woman are to be united together. It is the sole context for marriage, for sex, and for the reproduction and raising of children. But what we also note here is that we have now reached the point in this society where many simply do not even have the lingering consciousness of why marriage is so important. To put the matter perhaps a bit more bluntly, couples who were involved in cohabitation in generations past tended to be at least slightly embarrassed about that fact and aware of the moral deficit between cohabitation and marriage. That appears largely to have disappeared.

We also need to note that the biblical understanding of marriage is a covenant, and that covenant understanding has been included in terms of western law. It’s even involved in most of the secular marriage ceremonies that are performed in the United States. But there is a vast difference, we need to note, between a mere agreement and a covenant or even between a contract, something like the no-nup that is mentioned here and marriage. Marriage offers security and stability and protections that are found in no other arrangement, simply because marriage is a publicly recognized covenant.

But we also need to note here what must be described as a longing for marriage. It’s not articulated that way, but it’s very evident in this article. There is a longing for the security and the permanence of marriage over against what is now understood by all modern researchers to be the instability and the fragility of cohabitation.

Cohabitation story #2: Among older Americans, it's even more complicated

But the second article on cohabitation appeared in the very same newspaper, the New York Times, by a different reporter in a different section of the newspaper. The headline in this article,

“More Seniors Shun Marriage.”

The subhead,

“Cohabitation is on the rise among older Americans.”

The article begins by telling us, in many ways the life that Karen Kanter and Stan Tobin share in Philadelphia sounds entirely typical.

“Both 75, they happily see movies and plays together, visit children and grandchildren, try new restaurants (but avoid sushi).”

But according to the article,

“Careful about financial and legal arrangements, they co-own their condo near the Museum of Art and a cottage in upstate New York. She has his power of attorney and health care proxy, and vice versa.”

But what makes this new story newsworthy is the fact that this couple, both age 75, though living together now for years, are not married, nor do they intend to be. Karen Cantor said, and I quote,

“We love each other and want to be together, and we’ve made the commitment to stay together until death parts us.”

But as the reporter Paula Span says,

“Although they have been a couple since 2002 and have shared a home since 2004, they are not married.”

And she goes on to say,

“Among older adults, they have a lot of company.”

Span goes on to tell us that,

“The number of people over 50 who cohabit with an unmarried partner jumped 75 percent from 2007 to 2016.”

That according again to the Pew Research Center. That is “the highest increase in [cohabitation of] any age group [in America].”

Renee Stepler, a researcher with the Pew Center, indicated that though most Americans when they hear of cohabiting couples think of young people, it is now increasingly true that older Americans are also involved in cohabitation. As she said,

“It was a striking finding.”

Now one of the most immediate questions that would come to mind is why? And at this point, it’s the article itself in the New York Times that offers a suggested reason why, and it is because of the rise in recent years of so-called “gray divorce.” Divorce rates among the 50+ have roughly doubled since just the 1990s.

But Span said,

“Divorce leaves two people available for repartnering.”

She went on to say that attitudes have shifted. She cited Deborah Carr, a researcher at Rutgers University who said,

“People who’ve divorced have a more expansive view of what relationships are like.”

She went on to say,

“The whole idea of marriage as the ideal starts to fade, and personal happiness becomes more important.”

But then Span goes on to give us an interesting historical note,

“Of course, the boomers pretty much invented widespread premarital cohabitation while in their 20s and 30s — or like to think they did.”

Kelly Raley, who is identified as a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin, said,

“It used to be called shacking up, and it was not approved of.”

But she goes on to say the times have changed. As we read further it turns out that Stan Tobin did ask Karen Kanter to marry him, though she said no, and in that light he’s happy to continue in cohabitation. But even in the next words that are attributed to Mr. Tobin, it’s clear cohabitation is not married. She said,

“The relationship is looser. We don’t make demands on each other’s time. She has her life, I have my life, and we have our life together.”

In terms of sociology there are a couple of other interesting insights. Matthew Wright, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Bowling Green State University, said the research indicates that,

“Cohabiters had less frequent contact with their children, and less positive relationships, than continuously married or widowed parents.”

The article also tells us, and I quote,

“Older cohabiters, one large national study has found, are less likely to provide care than spouses — though when cohabiters do shoulder caregiving, they devote as much time to it as married people do.”

The important thing to recognize there is that fewer so-called partners in the context of cohabitation end up caring for the other partner once illness invades. Before the article concludes, it also notes that in many ways cohabitation among older people remains improvisational, only recently a common phenomenon, one that couples shape to suit them. Then a researcher is cited who said,

“There are no strongly established rules. You can invent them as you go along.”

That’s the crucial issue. Marriage as given to us in creation by the Creator is not open to our renegotiation. That’s one of the major problems in American public and moral life today and of course that issue isn’t limited to cohabitation, whether amongst the young or the old. It has to do with our society rushing headlong into a comprehensive effort to try to sideline marriage, to evacuate marriage of its meaning, to renegotiate and transform marriage, which means inventing something else and calling it marriage. But wait—now we’re inventing something else and not even calling it marriage.

Now there’s the open admission that not only amongst the young, but now increasingly amongst older Americans, marriage is simply being set aside in favor of cohabitation. If this vast moral change when it comes to marriage and cohabitation seems to have a great deal of the attention of the New York Times, it should certainly have a great deal of the attention of the Christian church.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing