To attend the Indianapolis Colts game where the number of the legendary Peyton Manning was to be retired, Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana, flew back from Las Vegas.
With him in the stadium was his wife Karen. In honor of Manning, she wore a No. 18 jersey as “The Star Spangled Banner” began.
The Pences stood, hands over hearts. A dozen San Francisco 49ers took a knee. When the national anthem ended, Pence walked out. His limousine took him back to the airport to fly to LA.
“A stunt! That plane trip cost taxpayers $250,000,” wailed a media that was rarely critical of Michelle Obama’s million-dollar junkets with Sasha and Malia.
The president took credit for Pence’s walkout, tweeting, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled.”
Pence’s statement: “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
As Pence had left his press pool in the motorcade, and said he might not be too long, the walkout may not have been entirely spontaneous. But the game had been on Pence’s calendar for weeks.
What does this episode tell us?
In the culture wars, Trump has rejected compromise or capitulation and decided to defend the ground on which his most loyal folks stand.
Example: While The Washington Post was reporting Monday that Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver had now joined Los Angeles in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, Trump issued a Columbus Day proclamation of bristling defiance.
“Five hundred and twenty-five years ago, Christopher Columbus completed an ambitious and daring voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. … a remarkable and then-unparalleled feat that helped launch the age of exploration and discovery. The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that … changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation.”
Columbus, said Trump, was a “skilled navigator and man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions — even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.”
The Admiral of the Ocean Sea “was a native of the City of Genoa, in present day Italy, and represents the rich history of important Italian American contributions to our great Nation. … Italy is a strong ally and a valued partner,” said Trump.
His proclamation failed to mention indigenous peoples.
How did CNN receive it? Not at all well.
“Trump’s Praise of Columbus Omits Dark History,” ran the CNN headline. Lede sentence: “Never mind the disease and slavery wrought by Christopher Columbus’ voyage — or the fact that he didn’t actually ‘discover’ the New World.”
Trump’s proclamation closed a week in which he rolled back the Obamacare mandate requiring employers and institutions, against their religious beliefs, to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing pills to employees.
Religious groups cheered. The ACLU fumed. The in-your-face defiance of the dictates of political correctness has solidified Trump’s base behind him.
And Americans are coming to accept our new reality: On the essentials of nationhood — ancestry, morality, faith, culture, history, heroes — we really are no longer one nation and one people.
All weekend, viewers of cable TV were treated to self-righteous wailing from the acolytes of Colin Kaepernick, patron saint of the 49ers, that “taking the knee” to protest racism and racist cops is a most admirable exercise of the First Amendment right to protest.
What Trump’s folks are saying in response is this:
“You may have a First Amendment right to disrespect our flag, or even to burn it, but you have no right to make us listen to you, or respect you, or buy tickets to your games, or watch you on Sunday.”
And with shrinking audiences watching NFL games, declining attendance, and advertisers beginning to bail, the NFL appears belatedly to be getting the message.
Jerry Jones, owner of one of the most valuable franchises in the league, has told players that anyone who does not show respect for the flag during the national anthem does not play that day for the Dallas Cowboys.
“President Trump has a duty to unite us, not divide us” is the mantra of our elites. Yet since the ’60s, it is these elites who have been imposing the social, moral, and cultural revolution the American people never voted for and which has by now divided us irretrievably.
Call them “deplorables” if you will, but Trump does seem to relish going out to defend the views, values, and beliefs of the people who put him where he is. He does not recoil from political conflict.
People who stand by you in a fight are not all that common in politics. When Trump exhibits this quality, he receives in reciprocity the kind of loyalty even his enemies concede he has.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, “Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.”