A cracked America, &c.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees after a playoff game at the Superdome in New Orleans, January 5, 2020 (John David Mercer / USA TODAY Sports)
The Drew Brees affair, North Korea, Russia, Congress, John Greenleaf Whittier, and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE I n a column last week, I commented on Drew Brees, the NFL quarterback who got into serious hot water for a statement he made about the American flag and the national anthem. At the same time, I praised Tony Dungy for being so reasonable about the whole affair. He was reasonable almost to the point of being un-American, in this day and age.

Dungy, as you recall, is the retired NFL coach who was the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl. (More important, he’s a prince of a human being.)

What did Brees say? In an interview with Yahoo! Finance — that’s how they render the name, I’m here to tell you — he said, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country.” Then the world came down upon his head. Not just criticism. His family got death threats. His name was cursed in the streets of New Orleans, where he plays. (Brees is a New Orleans Saint.) In a protest, the crowd chanted, “F*** Drew Brees.”

The quarterback issued an abject apology, in writing. (“I am very sorry and I ask your forgiveness.”) His wife, Brittany, also wrote an apology, equally abject. “WE ARE THE PROBLEM,” it began. It ended, “It’s our job to educate ourselves. We are sorry.”

So, why am I returning to this issue? Because, since writing my column last week, I have listened to Drew Brees’s full statement — the statement he made originally. News reports tended to quote the one line: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country.” But listen to the whole thing:

Well, I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America, or our country. Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States.

I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.

So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed.

Not just those in the military, but, for that matter, those throughout the civil-rights movements of the ’60s, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point.

And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better, and that we are all part of the solution.

Honest to goodness: Is that so bad? Does that merit death threats, curses, near-universal anathema? Does it require abject, self-flagellating apologies, smacking of the Cultural Revolution?

What a cracked country we are. I again hail Tony Dungy, who, I believe, disagrees with Drew Brees about kneeling — the practice of kneeling during the national anthem. But he said he would not “downgrade” Brees for his opinion. Brees should not be afraid to express his opinion, Dungy said, and no one else should be afraid to express a different one.

“We can’t just say, anytime something happens that we don’t agree with, ‘Hey, I’m done with that,’ and, ‘I’m done with this person.’” In short, “We have to be better than that.”

For sure.

• You know the expression “to blow up talks” — to walk away from them, to spoil them, to abrogate them. Well, the North Korean government has a more literal definition. I’ll quote an Associated Press report:

North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea on Tuesday, in a carefully choreographed, largely symbolic display of anger that puts pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.

Have a little more:

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the country destroyed the office in a “terrific explosion” because its “enraged people” were determined to “force (the) human scum, and those who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes,” apparently referring to North Korean defectors living in South Korea who for years have floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

I’ve met some of the North Korean defectors working to get precious information to their brothers and sisters back in the totalitarian North. They are some of the most admirable, most valuable people anywhere.

• Back to the issue I began with. You know the expression “You don’t get it”? When people say that, they often mean, “You don’t agree with me.” Sometimes getting and agreeing are the same. But sometimes not . . .

Here is a story — an issue — that a great many don’t want to hear about.

A Kremlin-linked social media disinformation operation that sought to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election has continued its work to divide and discredit Western democracies, a new report finds . . .

This operation infects the social media with messages saying that Hillary Clinton is a murderer, Angela Merkel an alcoholic, etc.

Some posts have used forged documents or bogus commentary, such as a fake tweet supposedly sent from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio accusing Britain of spying on President Donald Trump.

Snakes in the grass, to be watched out for, and trodden under foot.

• Democrats were chortling over Donald Trump’s appearance at the West Point graduation, saying that he looked infirm (physically). Back in March, the Trump campaign put out this tweet:

Joe Biden is the same rotting corpse of a candidate he was three weeks ago. It’s just that Democrats have decided that they would be better off with the dead guy than with Crazy Bernie.

You know what I say? Both nominees are old and at least a little shaky, and let’s get on with the show.

• “If only John Bolton had testified!” some people are saying — meaning that his testimony would have altered the outcome of the impeachment trial in the Senate. Um . . .

The House was Democratic. It was always going to impeach. The Senate was Republican. It was always going to acquit. That’s the way of the world, or at least of the United States.

In our history, there have been three impeachment trials. The only senator who has ever voted to convict a president belonging to his own party was Mitt Romney (who voted “guilty” on one of the two counts against Trump).

No Democrat voted against Andrew Johnson. No Democrat voted against Bill Clinton. No Republican voted against Trump, except for Romney — who is a very, very rare bird (as he has proven in other instances too).

So . . .

• I look at presidents issuing executive orders, and I look at the Supreme Court making up law, pretty much — and I think of Congress. Most politicians love power. They crave it and hoard it. But U.S. congressmen? A queer bunch. They don’t want power. All they wanna do is talk and rev up the folks. They’re happy to cede their power to the White House and Supreme Court.

Maybe they’ll get ambitious one day and return to law-making (but that would entail responsibility, so . . .).

• Did you hear the news about Olof Palme? How can a head of government be assassinated, and the case not solved? Well, it has happened.

Sweden on Wednesday dropped its investigation into the unsolved murder of former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who was shot dead 34 years ago in Stockholm, saying the decision was made because the main suspect died in 2000.

(Full article here.)

I find this extraordinary. Even the Kennedy assassination is now undisputed! Some combination of Lee Harvey Oswald and Ted Cruz’s dad.

May I share with you an extract from a piece I did about Sweden and its defense posture, in late 2017?

Officially, Sweden was neutral as between East and West — between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Unofficially, they worked hand in glove with NATO, and in particular with the alliance’s leading partner, the United States.

Was this true even during the premierships of Olof Palme, the notorious lefty? (He served in the first half of the ’70s and again during the mid-1980s.) Oh, yes. On the public stage, he blasted Uncle Sam, over and over. Offstage, he told his military commanders: “Clutch the Americans close.” Also, Sweden maintained a very robust defense during his premierships. This is a paradox of his career.

• A vandal or vandals got the statue of John Greenleaf Whittier in Whittier, Calif. He or they wrote “BLM” (for “Black Lives Matter”) and “F*** Slave Owners.” Whittier, of course, was a pure abolitionist.

He also wrote some of the best religious poetry in our history — poetry that has been employed in hymns.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Some more:

Immortal Love for ever full,
for ever flowing free,
for ever shared, for ever whole,
a never-ebbing sea.

And a little more:

Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest zeal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!

(In some versions, “zeal” is “seal.”)

Whittier, Calif., is probably best known as the hometown of Richard Nixon. (The family moved there, from Yorba Linda, when the future president was nine.) It should also be known for that wonderful man who lived a continent away, in New England: Whittier.

• A correspondent of mine — a medievalist — shared with me what he described as “an old joke, one that likely has many variants”: What happens when you cross a mafioso with a medievalist? He makes you an offer you can’t understand.

• Readers of this space are familiar with Maria Ressa — a very brave journalist. She is a Filipina, the co-founder of Rappler, a news site. She has been a thorn in the side of the strongman, Rodrigo Duterte.

At the end of 2018, Time magazine named a group of journalists “Person of the Year,” collectively. Ressa was among them.

She was arrested in February 2019 — “cyber-libel” — and has now been convicted. As of this writing, no sentence has been handed down.

I have my complaints, but I am so lucky: lucky to live in a free society, with a First Amendment, and the rule of law.

Spare a thought for Maria Ressa, and all those like her. They are fantastically brave.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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