Culture Friday: State of the Union

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 8th of February, 2019. 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. President Trump’s State of the Union address this week was notable for many reasons. One of the biggest was his very explicit challenge on the issue of abortion.

The president had just emphasized school choice and paid family leave so that, he said, new parents have the chance to bond with their newborn child.

He then remarked, what a contrast to what he called chilling displays our nation saw in recent days:

TRUMP: Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.

He called on Congress to pass legislation to prohibit late-term abortions.

TRUMP: And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.

Well, it’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and he joins me now. John, good morning.


EICHER: I read a short article in The Atlantic this week. It gave an outline of the president’s likely political strategy on abortion. It runs along these lines: place a narrow focus on late-term abortions and show his various potential challengers as extremists.

And we’re not here to talk politics, although this seems like good politics. But I wonder what you think of the cultural logic of this and whether it advances the pro-life argument.

What I mean is this: suppose there is a compromise and the pro-choice side says, we can’t defend these practices. We’ll give on this. A huge chunk of the population is opposed and so, sure, let’s draw a line at late-term abortions. There aren’t many of those, anyway.

And, relatively speaking, that’s right: the most-recent government stats put late-term abortion at 1.3 percent.

Is this kind of strategy setting up pro-lifers eventually to lose the bigger argument? What do you think?

STONESTREET: It’s a good question. I love how folks go back and forth between Trump is an evil genius and Trump’s an idiot, you know? As Ben Shapiro once put it. And I think on the abortion issue that’s what we’ve heard since the State of the Union address is here this is inherent strategy. I think right now Trump is dancing with the ones who brought him. And, look, that was the issue of the week. I’m not sure that it’s his long-term strategy as much as it’s he scored an awful lot of points with an awful lot of people explicitly saying that.

But two other things to say, I think. One is the Democratic party are extremist on this issue. I’m That’s not a strategy or a strategic position. That’s just an obvious statement of where most people are about how extreme the Democratic party’s policy positions on abortion have become. Safe, legal, and rare hasn’t been part of the vocabulary now since the 90s. This is just beyond where America is.

Now, the other question is is this — could it be possible, whether it’s a strategic initiative or not, that something like a late-term abortion ban would make it impossible to get the larger win. And I don’t think that’s the case. I think that right now we’re just dealing with across the board inconsistency after inconsistency that if it’s, for example, — let’s say, for example, if a pregnant woman is murdered it’s a double homicide. That was one of the things pulled out of the law. That’s an extreme position most people don’t want. But if there are two victims in a homicide, well, then we’re already acknowledging that in the law. And if it’s viability, viability keeps moving. And if it’s feeling pain, we don’t know. And then what are you going to base it on? All these other things that we base the definition of personhood on are consistently moving targets and the only thing you can go back to, then, is when did human life being? And embryology textbooks aren’t unclear on this. They’re pretty certain that potential human life is human life and here you go.

So, I think it’s an incremental victory that will make some of the inconsistencies in policies that much more blatant and obvious and give us, I think, strong ground to keep moving that age of acceptability back. Now, of course, the ultimate goal is that it becomes illegal. And that’s going to happen not only when it becomes illegal at any stage, but when it becomes unthinkable. When it’s actually thought of in the same breath as slavery or anything like that.

And that’s what we have to continue to work towards.  

EICHER: One more State of the Union excerpt, John, this one very much as passion of your founder Chuck Colson. Have a listen, and then respond to what you hear:

TRUMP: My Administration worked closely with members of both parties to sign the First Step Act into law. This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community. The First Step Act gives non-violent offenders the chance to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, States across the country are following our lead. America is a Nation that believes in redemption.

STONESTREET: Well, the First Step Act has been a possibility for a long time and just a reality right before Christmas and it’s been worked on by an awful lot of people and it’s — I mean, you think about it. What other issue in America do Republicans, Democrats, and Kardashians all agree on, you know? That’s like the only thing in the history of the world. And so there’s a lot of upside here to this.

I was actually, believe it or not, Nick, the evening of the State of the Union address, I didn’t get to watch it live because I was sitting on a panel at Colorado Christian University with Prison Fellowship and with Heather Ricemine as the vice president of policy, she’d asked me to sit on a panel with a wonderful guy who’s had a success story from selling drugs, being incarcerated, to now owning a couple businesses. As well as a prosecuting attorney for the state. And just talking through what the First Step Act means and what it means to come alongside that and provide resources for re-entry as well as prison programs that are less concerned about getting bad people off the streets and more concerned with returning good people to our homes and communities.

And I think that’s really important. I mean, one of the things that we agreed on in the panel — in fact, the person that was the assistant DA, I think is what he was in one of the communities there in Denver, and I believe he’s a Democrat. So politically speaking, we wouldn’t be in line. But one of the things we both agreed on is that the government has a blunt instrument and it can’t do the sort of precise work in people’s lives that faith-based organizations can. And so we need non-governmental associations. We need Christians to not only say that they believe that people should have a second chance or say that they believe that change is possible, but actually to invest in mentoring and teaching and training and formation so that change can actually take place. And I think as a representative of the government, he agreed that, look, there’s only so much we can do. The government — this is what Abraham Kuiper would call sphere sovereignty that the government has authority over some areas and not other areas. The government can do negative incentives, they can’t do positive incentives. And so on and so on and so on.

It’s something that you really can’t understate. This is going to be an important development. And hopefully it takes us more and more towards a new way of understanding crime and justice.

In fact, it’s interesting. The assistant DA actually said restorative justice is the future of the criminal justice system in America. This sort of restoration is a sort of framework that will get us a lot further than the old kind of “tough on crime” approach that put a lot of people in prison but didn’t necessarily make this a safer place to live.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. And, John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool) President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.

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