The World and Everything in It — February 12, 2021

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!

Man knows not his time and for the notorious Larry Flynt, his time came and we’ll talk about his legacy.

NICK EICHER, HOST: John Stonestreet joins us on Culture Friday.

Plus a new historical drama on Netflix that contemplates the importance of what we leave behind.

And the story of a historic choral group giving new life to traditional spirituals.

BROWN: It’s Friday, February 12th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!

BROWN: Up next, Kent Covington has today’s news.

KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Senators hear final impeachment arguments before weekend break » Former President Trump’s defense team will take the floor once again today for day four of his impeachment trial. 

Democratic impeachment managers continued to argue on Thursday that rioters who invaded the Capitol were acting on “the president’s orders.” Congressman Joe Neguse…

NEGUSE: He struck a match, and he aimed it straight at this building, at us. 

And Congressman Jamie Raskin told senators…

RASKIN: If you don’t find this a high crime and misdemeanor today, you have set a new terrible standard for presidential misconduct in the United States of America. 

But there was still no indication that impeachment managers have swayed the 17 Republican senators they need to convict Trump. 

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said he thinks new evidence actually hurts their case. 

BLUNT: Groups of people were preparing for weeks to assault the Capitol, which I think hurts their argument, and I also think wasn’t available to them when they passed the impeachment resolution and said this was all about the president. 

The trial is scheduled to break at sundown today … reconvening on Sunday. The proceedings could finish with a vote this weekend. 

Jobless claims dip, but total jobless aid recipients rise » The number of Americans filing jobless claims fell slightly last week. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin reports. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Labor Department says new filings fell to 793,000—down from 812,000 the week before. 

But Thursday’s government report also showed an increase in the total number of Americans who are receiving unemployment aid, including through extended benefit programs.

All told, more than 20 million people were receiving benefits in the week that ended Jan. 23rd. That’s the most recent data available. And that reflected a sharp rise from just under 18 million the week before. 

Part of that increase likely reflects a rush of claims that came after Washington extended two federal aid programs just after Christmas.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

Biden holds first call as president with Chinese leader » President Biden had his first Oval Office call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. 

Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday they talked for about two hours, touching on several topics. The president called it a “good conversation,” but Psaki said there’s no doubt the two leaders have different viewpoints on some very big issues. 

PSAKI: The conversation he had with President Xi was a reflection of that, and there were issues raised that reflected our approach, including a passionate statement of the values of the United States and a defense of those values in that conversation as well. 

A White House statement said Biden raised concerns about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair economic practices.” He also pressed Xi on Hong Kong, human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the western Xinjiang province, and its actions toward Taiwan.

The call followed Biden’s announcement that he’s forming a Pentagon task force to review U.S. national security strategy in China.  

Chinese state television struck a mostly positive tone about the conversation. It said Xi Jinping acknowledged the two sides had their differences, but urged overall cooperation.

Biden rescinds emergency declaration at border » Also on Thursday, President Biden officially reversed former President Trump’s emergency declaration on the southern border. 

Jen Psaki told reporters…

PSAKI: The president, our entire administration, are committed to digging out of the immoral approach to immigration of the prior administration. 

Trump issued the declaration two years ago, paving the way to use Pentagon money to help build the border wall. 

In a letter, President Biden said Trump’s emergency declaration had been “unwarranted” and that he had directed that “no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.” He said he has also ordered a review of all money spent on the project so far.

Meantime, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says his state is still fighting the president’s attempt to put a freeze on deportations. 

PAXTON: We will be arguing for a permanent injunction sometime in the next couple of weeks, hopefully to make sure that while we’re arguing our case over the next several months, we make sure that deportations continue and that federal law is followed. 

Arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border are up 6 percent from December according to border officials. 

Budget office expects $2.3T deficit before Biden relief plan » The Congressional Budget Office says the federal government is on track to run a deficit of more than $2 trillion dollars this year. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown has that story. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: The $2.3 trillion projection is actually slightly lower than earlier projections. But that does not factor in President Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan, which is expected to cost another $1.9 trillion.

The additional aid would follow roughly $4 trillion of relief that Congress approved last year. 

Last year was the highest deficit relative to GDP since World War II.

Decades of over-spending in Washington has resulted in a national debt of almost $28 trillion. That means the U.S. debt is now larger than the U.S. economy. And that gap is expected to widen as Medicare and Social Security costs continue to spiral. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.

I’m Kent Covington.

Straight ahead: Larry Flynt’s immoral legacy.

Plus, a new way to enjoy some very old songs.

This is The World and Everything in It.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, February 12th, 2021.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

Now, John, am I peeling you away from television? Are you locked in on the impeachment drama?

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Not even a little bit, even as much as I love good theater, it’s a little over done, really, on both sides at this point and just not really interested.

There’s not really a lot of consequences I think that’s going to come from it and other than I think it’s just going to further embed a fast and loose use of the language within our political discourse, which we don’t need any more of, obviously. But what does incitement mean? What does innocent mean? There’s no real good that can come from this, in my view.

EICHER: Well, let’s talk about a culturally significant passage from the scene. We know that man knows not his time and Larry Flynt—a prominent pornographer from the 1970s—knew not his time. But his time was this week. 

Any reflections on the death of a guy who culturally really changed a lot of things for the worse?

STONESTREET: You know, ideas have consequences as we often say. But ideas don’t have consequences without champions. Ideas grow feet and arms and walk into the world because of people who are able to make them palatable or acceptable or enticing or illicit to the cultural imagination. The two most effective champions of ideas have always been artists and educators. And we talked about this a little bit when Hugh Hefner passed away, that Alfred Kinsey came up with the ideas, but he was creepy. Nobody wanted to claim him. And so Hugh Hefner really took those ideas and embedded them into the culture.

Now, Hugh Hefner was kind of taking — he was really a student of Kinsey’s “pseudoscience.” Larry Flynt was much more just about the perversion side of it, just more about the pure lust side of it. And he also was able to captivate the cultural imagination toward the illicit, so that things that were unthinkable a generation ago became titillating— a couple generations ago, I guess I should say now, became titillating. And now in many ways it’s become normal. The sort of—not just the behavior but the fantasies that he encouraged and embodied in what he produced in his magazine. And I know it’s—I just talked about playing fast and loose with language and I just used the word artist to describe Larry Flynt. So I own that one. But it really is something to learn from, how effectively Hefner and Flynt were able to embody this new sexual ethic and make it completely palatable. And, you know, the thing is, people might argue and say, look, things like Hustler, it’s still considered to be taboo, it’s still considered to be over the line. But the fact is that much of his vision in the early days has been mainstream today. And that sort of pornography is ubiquitous everywhere. I mean, he was basically beaten by new technology that took the same thing and made it more prevalent, more accessible, more in the face, more predatory on children than ever before. So, yeah, he has a legacy and it probably has something to do with a millstone around the neck.

EICHER: You know, and just thinking this through, John, the idea that Flynt’s transgressions have arrived in the mainstream and digitally instead of on paper and plain brown wrapper. 

So is there even anybody like Larry Flynt anymore? Isn’t he sort of the passing of the guard where that’s concerned? 

Are there any of these sorts of reviled figures like this pushing boundaries that you can point to?

STONESTREET: Well, there’s a couple different ways to look at that. I mean, number one is obviously there’s a whole lot of backlash against things like PornHub and some of the big players in that industry today. But it’s not coming out of grounding of sexual morality. It’s coming out of the only ground for sexual morality that a culture has left when they’ve given up on sexual morality, which is this kind of flimsy notion of “consent.” So, it is the accusations of abuse of women and children, which of course PornHub is guilty of, that is causing all the trouble for them. And rightly so. But it’s not based on any sort of structure or moral structure around what sex is or what sex is for or how we should properly order our sexual lives and how we should govern them within a life together. 

So, that’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is to say, yeah, there’s lots of people that are as edgy as Larry Flynt. They’re just called mainstream entertainers. Cardi B. I’m old enough to remember because it was just last year that the number one song in America for a long time was a celebration of just horrific behavior by two female rappers who still earn the title historic, ground-breaking, revolutionary, poetic, artistry in our culture. So, you know, I don’t know that he pushed any lines any further than Cardi B is today.

BROWN: Right. And I guess it’s safe to observe Cardi B is in no danger of being cancelled, but one of the actresses on Mandalorian was cancelled this week. Gina Carano, cancelled for a post on social media. 

Probably not the wisest post to compare Jews in Nazi Germany to people with unpopular opinions in America today. She said— and I’ll quote from the now-deleted post—“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors … even by children. Because history is edited most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?” End of quote.

Now, again, controversial post. But Lucasfilm—the Disney-owned production company—cut her loose. In a statement, the company said: “Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future. Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

So, John, is this cancel culture or a company trying to protect its brand after a policy violation?

STONSTREET: I don’t know. Is there an answer that says yes? I think both of them are true at the same time because so many company policies are kind of based around this new idea of you can’t allow any sort of opinion that violates whatever the values are of a woke society. And now, to be clear, the statement was just uneducated. The statement was just poorly put. The statement wasn’t true. And so but that’s the new reality.

I just did an interview, for example, with the Billy Graham Association on this idea of cancel culture and said far more powerful, far more intrusive in our lives is not what the government can do to us but what corporate America can do to us. And that’s saying a lot because the government obviously can do an awful lot to us as well. But the corporate complicity of cancel culture is the thing that’s giving it its biggest bite right now. Now, I’ll also say this, though, because I think there’s a worldview reality under this that just goes along with the whole idea of “wokeness,” which is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. Which is this idea that somehow today we are morally preferable to people in the past. We think different, we behave different, and so on. And so there’s this sense here that we know who the good guys are and we know who the bad guys are. And the bad guys are the Nazis and not the everyday average people who were victims of the Nazis. And what that misses, of course, is a whole understanding of the problem with the world, which is the problem is all of us, not just those people over there. It is a very woke sort of thing to locate the fall of the world around a particular group of people. And anything that suggests that we might have some sort of shared guilt, too, sparks not moral reflection but outrage. And that’s an easy way to subvert the debate.

And I think that’s what you can see in so many of these conversations and so many of these what I would call faux outrages around this sort of thing. It was a dumb statement. It wasn’t a true statement. There’s so many things wrong with this statement, and at the same time, I don’t understand kind of the moral intolerance of it, other than it just doesn’t fit this narrative that we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast.

BROWN: Thank you John.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick. Thanks, Myrna.

NICK EICHER, HOST: The very life of a Texas lawyer had to have flashed before him when he realized what he’d done.

Good thing he appeared to be a kitten so he’d have eight more lives to live.

Surely you saw this one. 

It was a routine civil forfeiture hearing via Zoom that turned into a hilarious viral video now seen by millions.

Rod Ponton maintains his appearance was normal on the webcam as he waited to be let into the hearing—Judge Roy Ferguson presiding.

But when the hearing began, the judge pointed out, uhh, counselor, check your settings.

FERGUSON: Mr. Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings.

Right, a kitten filter. This sober court hearing via webcam, complete with a lawyer who has white fur and blue eyes, and the cutest whiskers. I imagine it was as adorable to viral viewers as it had to have been horrifying to the lawyer.

PONTON: I don’t know how to remove it. I’ve got my assistant here. She’s trying to, but I’m prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live. I’m not a cat.

FERGUSON: I can see that. I think if you click the up arrow …

’samatter? Cat got your tongue?

It’s The World and Everything in It.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, February 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new historical drama about digging up the past.

Here’s Megan Basham.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Like the archaeological project at the center of its story, many things seem to lay just beneath the surface in Netflix’s new historical film, The Dig.

CLIP: Things like this are usually done through museums. Yes, but when I approached Ipswich, Mr. Reid Moir said that, with the war coming, they couldn’t embark upon new ventures. Well, they have their hands full with a Roman Villa. Yes. He said you were working on it. I am. He told me you were a difficult man. Did he now? Unorthodox and untrained. So that’s his reference is it? Well, I am not untrained. I’ve been on digs since I was old enough to hold a trowel. My father taught me.

At the outset, the film is a straightforward retelling of how a wealthy English widow and a blue collar excavator made an extraordinary discovery that changed our understanding of the Dark Ages. On the brink of WWII, Edith Pretty, played by Carey Mulligan, hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, to excavate the mounds on her Suffolk estate. They soon discover an Anglo-Saxon ship buried deep beneath the earth.

Soon after that credentialed authorities from The British Museum arrive to, first, take over and, then, take credit.

CLIP: This is incredible. We are at the Ipswich Museum pride ourselves on our work, and I think you’ll agree that it’s rock solid. You need to stop there. I beg your pardon? This is a very delicate site, and it ain’t safe. Not for a man of your size. Is this your work? Yes. I’m Basil Brown, excavator. Well, Basil Brown, excavator, I am Charles Phillips, archaeologist, and I’m here to tell you that as this is a find of national interest, the British Museum will be taking charge. Your work, looks, thankfully decent. But your excavating service is no longer required.

Excuse me Mr. Phillips. I’m not employed by you. I am employed by Mrs. Pretty. And I’ll keep on working until she tells me different. An ad hoc team from the provincial museum cannot be left in charge. Mrs. Pretty must see that.

At first, it seems this will be the film’s primary focus—the wrestle between the deserving oppressed, that is, a woman and a man with no formal education, and the smug, entitled oppressors, that is, the famed scholars. But as the story goes on, that conflict falls by the wayside and much deeper themes emerge. Edith’s interest in history and its relics is more than academic. She suffers from a heart condition and while no one is guaranteed a future, the likelihood she will live to see old age is slim. Ultimately, through her story The Dig becomes a meditation on the lessons we take from death.

CLIP: You always told me your work isn’t about the past or even the present. It’s for the future. So that the next generations can know where they came from. The line that joins them to their forebears. Isn’t that what you always say? Yeah, something like that. Why else would the lot of you be playing around in the dirt while the rest of the country prepares for war? Because it means something, isn’t it? Something that’ll last longer than whatever war we’re heading into.

In an age that’s blithely tossing aside the art, literature, and insights of civilizations that came before us, there’s something deeply comforting in watching Basil and Edith so painstakingly preserve even the smallest Medieval artifact. But even more affecting is the film’s sense that wisdom comes from contemplating the end of life. As Ecclesiastes tells us,  It is better to enter a house of mourning than a house of feasting, since death is the end of every man, and the living should take this to heart.

So it’s a bit of a shame that The Dig, rated PG-13 for minor language and mildly suggestive scenes, eventually wastes this gold-minted symbolism on muddy moral waters. In one case, when two characters seem to be about to embark on an affair, we’re relieved when circumstance cuts them off at the pass and a great wrong against a good woman is averted. Later though, we’re asked to rejoice when an affection-starved newlywed makes a break from her husband for more romantic pastures.

Without a fixed standard, the story crumbles like some of the items the Suffolk team digs up, seeming solid at first before turning to sand. The charm the first half so carefully unearthed is eroded somewhat in the end by relativistic ideas of what constitutes a life well lived. Though The Dig still tells a fascinating true story, this prevents it from having what any good archaeology-themed movie should: timeless appeal.

I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, February 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. As part of Black History Month, Emily Whitten reports now on the 150th anniversary of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choral group at Fisk University in Nashville. 

Audiences know them best for their acapella renditions of black spirituals, but the Singers recently earned a Grammy nomination for a different style.

EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: Last June, the Fisk Jubilee Singers released an album called Celebrating Fisk! to mark the 150th anniversary of Fisk University. It was originally recorded during two concerts in 2016 and 2017 at the Ryman Auditorium. Gospel singer CeCe Winans took the stage first, setting a jubilant tone.

MUSIC: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste, of glory divine.

By inviting very different artists from across the musical spectrum, they put a new twist on the Jubilee Singers’ traditional spirituals. Here’s country singer Rodney Adkins.

MUSIC: I’m working on a building, built for my Lord.

Last November, I made a short drive into Nashville to find out more about the album and the Fisk Jubilee Singers legacy. A couple of masked music majors welcomed me into the historic home turned music department. 

AUDIO: ‘Are we just going to wait for him to come?’ ‘He’s in here.’ ‘Oh, I’m glad I peeked in then. Thank you.’ ‘Your Welcome’…

Shawna from Chicago explained how she came to Nashville.  

SHAWNA: This year was the first year I was a main singer. Last year I was an apprentice. And it was so cool to hear about the rich culture and history of the Jubilee Singers. To be able to sing African American Negro spirituals and learn about my ancestors. 

The American Missionary Association founded Fisk University in 1866 to serve newly freed slaves. But many former slaves couldn’t afford tuition, and some Southern whites actively opposed education for blacks. In order to raise funds to keep the school going, missionary George L. White organized the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1871. They quickly became a success, introducing slave spirituals to the world for the first time. 

MUSIC: Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.

Paul Kwami is the current musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. His office is in a small nook of the music department. Pictures and concert posters decorate the room. A large portrait hangs over an unused fireplace.

KWAMI: ‘That’s me.’ ‘That’s you? Oh, ok!’ 

A Fisk student painted the portrait back in 2000. Like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Kwami has changed over the years. His story begins back in Ghana, where he grew up singing Negro spirituals in church and school. He arrived at Fisk University as a student in the 1980s and became director of the Singers in 1994. 

He soon learned that the Singers sometimes experience friction or personal challenges. When students come to him with problems, he often shares a Scripture verse and prays with them. Another challenge—students often feel the pressure of singing in prestigious venues. They may not sing well in rehearsal or their voices may be strained. When that happened at Carnegie Hall, Kwami pointed his students to God for help.

KWAMI: I asked them to pray individually, and when they finished, they all came back together. I talked with them. Encouraged them. We walked onto the stage. It was one of the best concerts of that year. From beginning to the end.

During Kwami’s more than 25 years as director, the Singers won the National Medal of Arts, a Dove Award, and three Grammy nominations. So in addition to caring for his students, he takes the legacy of the Singers seriously.

KWAMI: First of all we have to preserve the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Fisk Jubilee Singers introduced the Negro spirituals to the world. That’s is like our trademark symbol.

That includes songs as familiar as this one, taken from their Grammy Nominated album, In Bright Mansions, from 2003.

MUSIC: He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands. 

When listeners already know most of the songs in your repertoire, how do you keep folks buying concert tickets and albums?

First, Kwami starts by inviting God into the process. 

KWAMI: I believe God prepares us in our rehearsals for whatever He wants to do. It’s our responsibility to be open to Him. To be yielded to him. The only way we can do it is to understand these songs and make them part of who we are. 

He also looks for memorable places to perform. In 2007, he took his Singers to Ghana. They sang in Elmina Castle, once a stop on the Atlantic Slave Trade route. Students took time to weep and pray before the concert as they took in the reality of their ancestors’ time there. 

MUSIC: Mawu Nye Lolo…

For the Celebrating Fisk! Album, Kwami diverged from the Singers’ acapella style, bringing in a variety of singers and musicians. That led to a bigger, more diverse audience. It also led to a Grammy Award nomination this year for Best Roots Gospel Album.

For God’s people, the impact of the Fisk Jubilee Singers goes beyond one album or even one generation. A few weeks ago, I spoke online with Karen Ellis, director of the Edmiston Center for the Study of the Bible and Ethnicity in Atlanta. She says slave spirituals remind us of God’s faithfulness in every age. 

ELLIS: The body of Christ needs to know that those experiences exist and that the faith of those fathers and those mothers those ancestors of the faith was enough.

That’s definitely a legacy worth celebrating.

MUSIC: This is my story, this is my song. Praising my savior all the day long. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my savior all the day long. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emily Whitten in Nashville, Tennessee.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Well it takes many people to put this program together each morning. So we want to say thanks to: Megan Basham, Joel Belz, Anna Johansen Brown, Kent Covington, Esther Eaton, Kristen Flavin, Katie Gaultney, Kim Henderson, Leigh Jones, Onize Ohikere, Mary Reichard, Sarah Schweinsberg, Cal Thomas, and Emily Whitten.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Many thanks to audio engineers Johnny Franklin and Carl Peetz who stay up late to get the program to you early. Paul Butler is executive producer and Marvin Olasky is editor in chief.

And you! Without you, none of this happens. Your support makes the difference. Thank you so much! 

The Psalmist says, Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

May you have a restful weekend, and worship alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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