Trappings of Power
Among those so inclined, the world of politics offers one of those “the sky is the limit” opportunities we read about in the newspapers. But there is another side to these stories: failure and disgrace. Such is the case with retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn who left the Army at the pinnacle of success and is now sitting in the dust bin of recent political history. My guess is that not too many Americans care about Flynn or his trials and tribulations —and yet, the story is nothing if not instructive.
Flynn served 33-years on active duty. Five of these years were spent in combat service. Within this time frame, General Flynn received many personal decorations in recognition of his contribution to the military establishment, although none of these were combat decorations. Flynn was no Audie Murphy. Still, he served honorably and faithfully over three decades and while this should entitle him to our gratitude, it does not grant him access to the world of high politics.
So, what happened? My view is that at the time he left the military, he was so over-confident in his own ability that he was anxious to prove that he was bright enough to secure a position of national leadership. Along with over-confidence comes arrogance and, perhaps, a certain aloofness that, as it turns out, didn’t serve him very well.
Although a registered Democrat, Flynn was involved in the Trump election campaign and transition team. His several public statements attacking Hillary Clinton did little more than paint a target on his back. Apparently, he never consulted that long list of people who crossed the Clintons and met an untimely end (politically or otherwise). By publicly attacking Clinton, he also ended up on the Obama target list.
Here we find the first important lesson: you don’t have to be guilty of anything in order to be disgraced by mere accusation. This, by the way, appears to be a trend in our country today: guilt by accusation.
The actual story of General Flynn in post-military retirement is long, complicated, and boring. I will only say that for a man who is so accomplished, Flynn might have thought about getting an attorney before meeting with FBI agents (set upon him by Clinton operative, FBI Director James Comey). Even a lance corporal knows that whenever you’re called in for questioning, it isn’t wise to go in alone. Maybe it was his arrogance, or perhaps, a belief that he’d done nothing wrong —so there was nothing to fear. As he walked in to the interrogation room, he might have recalled that line in Shakespeare: “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
General Flynn is pending formal sentencing for lying to federal investigators. Was it really lying, or did his simply not recall certain details? Actually, it doesn’t matter. The entire novella was designed to intimidate Flynn so that he would roll over on Donald Trump. Apparently, he never did that, or possibly, there was nothing to roll over about.
But this is the game General Flynn signed up to play, and he was an early casualty. He was the shortest serving NSC advisor in the history of the United States. Now, rather than achieving accolades for his work in the White House, he will simply be remembered as a convicted felon. It’s cost him a lot of money, too. Professionally, the man is destroyed, and I suspect that the only thing left for him to do is write a memoir that no one will buy. At least, I won’t.
There are several lessons to this story and it appears that Flynn had to discover them the hard way. High-end politics in the United States is a closed society. If you have tons of money (which is to say, able to afford an entire law firm to address legal issues), if you have the Harvard degree, the Rolex watch, the secret handshake, and you’ve had years to make political friends (which is to say, you’ve got a lot of dirt on others of your ilk), then yeah … go for it.
But if you happen to be an outsider, such as General Flynn was, you really aren’t equipped to play with the big boys (and girls). The astute citizen, especially the most educated and sophisticated of us all, would be wise to avoid the power trap. It’s a matter of self-preservation—and the effect of this is that our highest political offices are bequeathed to the most corrupt, least-honest, most egotistical gangsters ever to receive a degree from Harvard, Brown, or Princeton.
There is also an interesting parallel to this story: recently, Martha McSally ran for the US Senate from Arizona. Prior to that, she served successfully in the US House of Representatives from 2015. Rather than focusing on gaining political experience in the House, she decided she was ready for the big time.
Her political strategy was simple: convince Arizonians that she’s a hero for having flown fighter aircraft in the Air Force. Well, it is an interesting tale, but hardly relevant to what voters are looking for. She lost her bid for the Senate because Martha McSally made the same (stupid) mistake as did McCain, who wasted all of his political capital talking about what a hero he was for being shot down in Vietnam. The fact is that, while most Americans do appreciate those who serve in the military, few are interested in hearing war stories. More than this, they quickly tire of egotistical officers patting themselves on the back.
McSally should have remained in the House for another ten years, and Michael Flynn should have taken General MacArthur’s advice; in having done his duty, Flynn ought to just faded away to enjoy his grandchildren.