Bob Franken


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Why are the NFL and North Korea similar? You guessed it: Neither will tolerate not standing for their national anthems. I assume Kim Jong Un won’t accept it because he eliminates any dissenters. While the pro football owners aren’t quite as bloodthirsty, they obviously are profit-thirsty and accordingly have voted that they, too, will punish players’ protests, in particular any refusal to rise for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In the NFL, those who take a knee for the national anthem instead will risk a fine. In the DPRK, anyone who doesn’t robotically comply with Kim’s every demand is executed, or at the very least imprisoned. So the enforced patriotism of pro football isn’t nearly as thuggish, particularly since the athletes can simply hide in the locker room while Francis Scott Key’s laborious song is performed. As long as they don’t offend anyone with their demonstrations against the nation’s racism and cops killing black Americans, they can take a knee or whatever it is they do in the locker room. Just not visibly. Ratings are way more important than free expression.
The comparison, some will argue, is unfair. We are nowhere near as regimented as the citizens of North Korea. But, it’s a matter of degree. Autocracy breeds dictatorship, and we certainly are heading in the wrong direction.
Millions of people worry that the elected leader of the United States is taking us that way. By constantly railing against the institutions that stand between him and absolute rule, Donald Trump is pushing us all down a slippery slope. The media, the courts and the other protectors built into the Constitution are obstacles to whatever whim he’s having. His Twitter protestations would be amusing, except that they’re taken seriously by his millions of followers.
Still, as much as he enjoys ravaging just about everyone in his tweets, he does not take kindly when the invective is incoming.

For a number of reasons, it should be no surprise then that he’s bailing on his much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Kim next month in Singapore. Reason No. 1 could be that Trump is wimping out after feeling the pressure of living up to the hype. He’s not a detail man, to put it mildly, but even he might be aware that if he and Kim didn’t tangibly pull us back from the nuclear precipice, he’d be discredited as just a huckster. So he seized upon the belligerence spewing out of Pyongyang from a high-level official who dismissed Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy,” which is only partially true — politically, he’s crafty, but let’s not digress.
When Kim’s guy also pointed out that it’s up to the United States to “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at a nuclear-to-nuclear showdown,” that was all the excuse Donald Trump needed. So the letter went out:
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”
Remember, this is President Trump talking about “tremendous anger and open hostility” being “inappropriate.” Now, Trump and Kim have returned to making nice for the moment, even suggesting that a meeting might be desirable. Someplace. Sometime.
One could easily surmise that all the harsh elbowing is the way that these guys signal that they really do want to get together — the geopolitical version of pre-date foreplay. That would explain why, with all the invective, the North Koreans put on a show of destroying their mountain nuclear testing site, and all the conciliatory comments on both sides. But let’s not make any plans for the Trumpster’s Nobel Peace Prize quite yet.
We have much to offer North Korea, though, not only a financial rescue and assurances of regime protection, but also a tradition of freedom. That includes freedom of expression, which is a delicate right that can be shattered all too easily. That’s what makes the stifling action of the NFL owners a step in the wrong direction.

(c) 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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