Defectors and legislators, &c.

Thae Yong-ho at the Oslo Freedom Forum in May 2019 (Jay Nordlinger)
On amazing Koreans, pro wrestling, lockdowns, Hitler talk, an old hymn, and more

This was welcome news: “North Korean Defectors Elected to South Korean National Assembly.” I have quoted the headline over this article. The defectors are Thae Yong-ho and Ji Seong-ho. I have met and talked with them both, in years past. They are mind-boggling — mind-boggling in their bravery and in the example they set.

Of course, you could say this about virtually any North Korean defector. Certainly any of my acquaintance.

I wrote about Thae last year, here. He was a diplomat, one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect from North Korea. You want to see a happy picture from 2017? That’s Ji on the right. On the left is Henry Song, a Korean-American human-rights activist. I’m the bozo in the middle.

Try to imagine being born in North Korea, a police state, a gulag state — a “psychotic state,” as Jeane Kirkpatrick called it. The worst place on earth. After many tribulations, you are elected to the legislature in a free, democratic country. It’s not the country of your birth, and you wish it were. But still.

And what do North Korea and South Korea say about DNA as destiny? About culture, about political systems? People have the same ancestry, in North and South. They speak the same language. They have the same folk customs. They eat the same food (to the extent that North Koreans can eat). But one half lives in the darkness of tyranny and the other half lives in the light of democracy.

This is something to remember, the next time someone tells you that this people or that is not fit for freedom and democracy. (You know who is most interested in telling you that? Ruling parties, and their apologists.)

• Let me do some quoting — just a little — from my piece on Thae Yong-ho:

How do South Koreans, his brother Koreans, treat Thae? It depends, he says. South Korea is polarized on the issue of North Korea. People on the left treat him with scorn. I remark that they might try living in North Korea, if they think it’s so great — which makes Thae smile. . . .

In South Korea, he meets people on the left who struggled for democracy and human rights in their country, when it was under dictatorship. Yet many of these same people are reluctant to talk about democracy and human rights for North Koreans. They want to change the subject.

I remark to Thae that it must be bewildering to him to meet apologists for dictatorships — especially North Korea’s, the worst — in free countries. Yes.

Dispiriting. But in my experience, however limited, the spirits of Thae Yong-ho and Ji Seong-ho are very high. And these men have been elected, haven’t they?

• Move, now, to U.S. politics. I believe I have seen the most populist move ever — ever. It was executed by Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who, in this pandemic, has declared professional wrestling an “essential service.”

I think that the great populists of the past — Huey Long, George Wallace — and even the incumbent president, Donald Trump, would have to stand back in admiration, going “Dayum.”

Said DeSantis, “I think people have been starved for content.” And what content!

• Governor DeSantis demonstrated his populist skills when he was running for the office in 2018. He cut an ad, showing him as a parent. He and his little daughter play with blocks, as the governor-to-be says, “Build the wall.” He reads to his infant son out of The Art of the Deal. “Then, Mr. Trump said, ‘You’re fired!’” Etc.

These guys know what it takes to get elected. That’s why they’re there. They are clever as all get-out.

• Then, of course, they have to govern. And it can be very hard — as now. I don’t envy the governors, for the decisions they have to make. What kind of lockdown should they impose, if any? The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, is knocked for being too strict. DeSantis is knocked for being too lax. What side are you going to err on? I think you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This is an excruciating period.

When I made this point on Twitter, lots of people responded, “You err on the side of freedom! Freedom, dammit! This is America! Freedom!” Great. But what if your personal decisions affect the health of others? If you want to take risks, fine and dandy. If you want to engage in dangerous rock climbing — and risk tumbling to your death — who am I to stop you? But what if the risks you take put others in jeopardy?

This is why this situation is so tricky, even diabolical.

• Trump referred to the governor of Michigan as “Half Whitmer.” Get it? Others are referring to her as “Hitmer.” Get it? Protesters in Lansing held signs that said, “Heil, Hitmer.”

You know, I don’t see why they can’t pick another dictator. It’s always Hitler. It’s never Stalin, Mao, Bokassa, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Castro (either one of them). There are so many to choose from. And yet it’s always Hitler.

People ought to use more imagination.

• On Friday, Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” He also tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and so on. These are states with Democratic governors. Laura Ingraham, the Fox host, tweeted, “How many of those who urged our govt to help liberate the Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, Afghanis, etc., are as committed now to liberating Virginia, Minnesota, California, etc?”

How does that thinking strike you? Reasonable? It is certainly popular — check out the ratings.

• I believe we have reached a tipping point. It’s just an impression, nothing scientific. But social distancing is now seen by many people as “politically correct.” That’s exactly how President Trump described it — and millions take their lead from him. A Left-Right divide has developed on this thing, as it routinely does. You can only guess that this divide will widen as this pandemic wears on.

• In an Impromptus earlier this month, I commented on the president’s predilection for “third-rate.” It’s his go-to phrase, when he is irked at someone. He calls that person “third-rate.”

He did this during the 2016 campaign, irked at Hugh Hewitt. He called Hugh a “third-rate radio announcer.” Last month, he tweeted that Rep. Thomas Massie was “a third rate Grandstander.” (Capital G, even!) More recently, he called Jonathan Karl a “third-rate reporter” who “will never make it.” (Karl is the White House correspondent of ABC News.) And now he has done the same, with Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: a “third-rate reporter.”

I feel the same about this as I do about the Hitler thing. Can’t Trump shake it up a little? Go for fourth-rate or fifth- or even second-? Always third?

This article was amazing — because it reported something positive about a cruise. Cruise ships are supposed to be floating petri dishes, the worst places possible in plague-time. But some 1,800 passengers don’t want to get off! Let’s read a bit:

Passengers on a luxury liner’s around-the-world cruise, begun before the globe was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, are finally approaching the end of their odyssey after 15 weeks at sea.

Their ship, the Costa Deliziosa, heads to ports in Spain and Italy, two of the countries most devastated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Costa Crociere, an Italian cruise company, said Saturday that the Deliziosa, which set sail from Venice in early January with 1,831 passengers, has reached the western Mediterranean, with no cases of COVID-19 aboard.

Oh, man. A cosa deliziosa indeed. (A delicious thing, as opposed to a costa deliziosa, which is a delicious coast, which, true, is also a delicious thing.)

(Who’s on first?)

• I did a lot of writing — a lot of writing — about Linda Tripp, way back. The Lewinsky scandal was multifaceted. I had the Tripp facet, pretty much, at The Weekly Standard, and then a bit here at National Review. May I quote you an editorial paragraph — a little obit — in the new issue of NR?

Linda Tripp is a footnote in American political history, a figure in the Lewinsky scandal, which led to the impeachment of President Clinton. She was the onetime White House aide who had a friendship with Monica Lewinsky, and who taped some of their phone conversations. Linda Tripp eventually handed over those tapes to the independent counsel. To her enemies, she was a snitch, a traitor, the villain of the piece. She was subject to fierce, animal hatred, including many jibes at her looks. These came, in particular, from female defenders of the president. To her own defenders, she was one of the few truth-seekers and -tellers in Washington, blowing the whistle on an immoral and dishonest president. At every step, she handled herself with dignity and even courage. In 2003, she said to an interviewer, “I think history will see things through a prism that will make it easier to understand that it wasn’t black and white.” Linda Tripp has died at 70. R.I.P.

• Far be it from me to indulge in marriage counseling, unsolicited. But I know that there is great strain on marriages, in this freaky time. Strain owing to fear, loss of income, over-togetherness . . . The other night, I thought of an old hymn, which begins “Speak gently.” Do you know it? Go here. Fine old hymn, in freaky times and normal.

Thank you for joining me today, y’all, and see you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to