Culture Friday: Swallowing Supreme Court nominee disappointment

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 13th of July, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and time now to welcome John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Good morning, John.

JOHN STONESTREET: Good morning, Nick.

True confessions: I cannot count the number of times I refreshed my Twitter on Monday. Of course, I had to have the most up-to-date speculation on the president’s Supreme Court nominee.

I mean, I was reading tweets about different candidates being whisked away in government SUVs. Which has to be the modern equivalent of reading tea leaves.

But, ultimately, when 9 p.m. rolled around, I went straight to the White House page and pulled up the live feed. I guess I’d had my fill of speculation for the day.

So I’m watching, listening, and before the announcement, what comes across my iPhone screen? Notification after notification, “It’s Kavanaugh!”

So let that be a lesson. Turn off notifications if you’re watching internet video. There’s just too much lag time.

But I did notice one of your Tweets: You said, Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be a home run, but Judge Brett Kavanaugh could be a strikeout.

So, that remains to be seen, right? And I noticed you signed on with a lot of evangelical leaders to support the nomination. But, you must be a little disappointed with President Trump’s pick. What do you say?

STONESTREET: Well, I think first we need to say that President Trump is seriously a master of reality television. I mean, the suspense that he was able to build up, there really is a showmanship here. This is kind of like the political version of The Bachelor, who’s he going to choose.

Or The Bachelorette.

STONESTREET: Or The Bachelorette is a better way to say it.

There’s—in a sense—these were four picks that were already better, by at least the paper trail and by all accounts they were going to be better, than the person they were replacing.

I support this nomination not because I don’t have a twinge of disappointment, I do. For two reasons. No. 1 is I just, in terms of Roe v. Wade and the potential questions that are going to come up, I mean, good heavens. We need a woman on the court who’s pro-life to write and to talk about these things. And Barrett as—even though she doesn’t have a huge track record on decisions relating to abortion—I’m thinking a Catholic mother of seven is going to come down on the right side of this one.

The other one is just that Barrett was such a clear lightning rod in her nomination to the circuit court. Famously, Dianne Feinstein saying “the dogma lives loudly within you,” in some kind of corrupted anti-Catholic, Yoda line and good for Kavanaugh in his nomination speech, owning up to his Catholic faith and talking about his family. That was impressive stuff. So, you know, I think he kind of wanted to throw out there, “Hey, the dogma’s in me as well.”

But I do think that Coney-Barrett would have been a lightning rod in the sense that we would have had, in the words of David French, the best of a social conservative against the worst of anti-religious bigotry and discrimination and had a real chance of winning on the public stage.

So maybe I’ve just got a little fight in me. No question in the upcoming, depending on how fast this moves, that when it comes to which one is harder to argue with as being qualified, which one is safer in terms of being able to go through the confirmation process, I think Kavanaugh is going to—his confirmation’s going to come with a lot of crazy hysteria, but hardly any real resistance. And I think that’s what we’re going to see.

So, I can support this, I think Kavanaugh is certainly eminently qualified in his background, I think his judicial philosophy is taking the Constitution seriously. I do think he’s pro-life, I think he’s been good on religious liberty by and large, and so, yeah. It definitely could have been a lot worse. He might have been my fourth out of the four picks, or the four final candidates and Barrett would have been my first. So, you know, I just didn’t get my way. But I’m okay.

John, I mentioned all the speculation, even opponents were speculating whom the president would choose. For some of them, all they needed to know is who the president wasn’t going to nominate. I saw a bunch of signs saying Stop Barrett, Stop Hardiman, Stop Kethledge, Stop Kavanaugh. All these were pre-printed. So after we knew it was Kavanaugh, I presume they tossed the rest in the trash, or maybe held on to them for the next round.

But I bring this up to illustrate the point that nothing really seems like a debate here. And that’s kind of true to a degree on both sides. But just like the pre-printed signs, we have pre-printed talking points.

How harmful do you think it is that our debates are all pretty staged? Or do you think that’s just purely a Washington phenomenon? Do you see any real debate and persuasion happening elsewhere in the culture?

STONESTREET: Well, I wondered about the signs, too, but this is a hard one because this ideological divide that we have on the court is reflecting something even deeper than just the left-right debate, as important as that is. Now, I think that’s really what’s framing the hysteria part of it. 

But I think prior to this there’s a real debate over the meaning of words. It’s a real worldview issue about whether the Constitution is a fixed document or its a living, breathing document, and that’s in and of itself reflected by a judicial philosophy informed by post-modernism.

When Sonia Sotomayor was up for confirmation, this became front and center and I remember being told by the president to just go read the comments that were getting her in so much trouble. I think it was something along the lines that a woman of an ethnic minority would come to a wiser decision than a white man who hasn’t lived the same life. And there were questions there about reverse racism and things like that, so I listened to President Obama and I read Justice Sotomayor’s speech in which that was the larger context and I didn’t feel better, I felt worse. Honestly, if what was informing those comments were simply her experience as a Hispanic woman, that would be one thing. But what I read in her comments was a well-thought out judicial philosophy informed by Michelle Fuko, that lawmaking and judging were acts of power, not interpretation. She even actually said that there’s not a single definition of “wise.”

I mean, so in other words, from a post-modern framework, I mean, that’s a whole different conversation and that’s really where we’re at. We’re at a real crossroads in terms of do words have fixed meanings and do the authors’ intent actually inform how we should interpret the Constitution or can we dismiss what they say because they were white men in power. And that’s really where this comes from.

But this is really grounded in a deep worldview divide and I think there’s an impetus on Christians to understand what that divide actually is. That there’s really real things at stake here.

Well, we’ll have plenty of time to comment as the process goes forward.

I looked up the average time from nomination to a Senate vote, since Ronald Reagan was president, 16 nominees. Of course you have to toss out the case of Merrick Garland because he never got a vote. He’d be the 17th, but his nomination ended when President Trump took the oath of office. Bottom line the average has been 65 days, so as I say, plenty of time to talk about it between now and September 12th, if the averages hold.

So, big change of subject now. John, I noticed you called attention to a genocide, a religious cleansing taking place in parts of Nigeria.

You were adamant on your Breakpoint broadcast that the violence there was not about resources, not about land disputes. You were adamant that this is about Islamists trying to destroy Christians in Nigeria and you called on the Trump administration to take this more seriously.

Talk about that before we go today.

STONESTREET: Look, this is a story that is huge and hugely under-reported. Nigeria—in fact, I just finished up a podcast recording. It’s going to air this coming Monday on the Breakpoint podcast with Jerry McDermott who’s a professor at Peace and Divinity, just came back from a trip to Jos, there in the area of Nigeria where the attacks and the danger is palpable.

Nigeria is a strategic nation. The UN predicts that, really, by 2050 Nigeria may be the third or fourth most populous nation on the planet and, of course, it’s the center in so many ways, the key, the access to the rest of Africa and it is a dominantly Christian nation and yet it’s one that is very vulnerable so it’s been targeted. And when we say targeted by radical Muslim extremists, I mean targeted on a national level. We have, since January, over 6,000 Christians that have been targeted and murdered at the hands of Islamic extremists. This is what Open Doors has called religious cleansing. This is genocide. And this is something that mainstream media outlets aren’t talking about.

The president, the military forces, the security forces there are all in the hands of radicals. And we’re talking here about Boko Haram.

After I did the Breakpoint commentary earlier this week, I heard from a friend whose son is in the Marines and was stationed over in that arena and he wrote back and said, “Look, al-Qaeda is child’s play, ISIS is child’s play compared to Boko Haram.” Now, I don’t even know what that could possibly mean other than Boko Haram is really bad. And they’re targeting not only churches, not only Christian populations, but specifically young Christian girls and forcing them into Islamic marriages. And, listen, this is bad, bad stuff. And the government right now there is abetting it. It is dismissing it as a land dispute. That’s a cover up. That’s a flat-out cover up from the fact that the herdsman, the Fulani herdsmen are attacking the Christians there, are being armed and radicalized by Boko Haram, too, to go after the Christians population.

So, two things, just quickly, that everybody can do. Number one is pray. We’ve got to pray for our Nigerian brothers and sisters. And number two, we have to have American political pressure. The Nigerian president has a get out of jail free card and is in the pockets, many believe, of Boko Haram. He will respond to the sort of pressure that President Trump could put on him. When they met earlier this year, President Trump brought up the subject, which is good. It’s a good start. We need more than just bringing up the subject. We need pressure that can really only come from the American government and, certainly, we need relief at the hands of God our Father for our brothers and sisters in Christ there.

John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much, and we’ll talk again soon.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen) Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh

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