Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 February 2017

General Michael Flynn: Truth Bats Last


[For a note on what the Exclusion-Order fiasco says about Trump’s competence, click here. For some popular recent posts, click on the links below: There is truth. There is uncertainty. And there are lies. For weeks now, lies soft-peddled as “alternative facts” have nibble around the edges of the great edifice of truth and credibility that has distinguished our nation since its Founding. On Monday, truth bit back.

General Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor because he lied and got caught. He denied having had conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. But recordings showed he had had them.

The sanctions at issue were not those imposed for Russia’s risky and provocative acts in Ukraine and the Baltics. Instead, they were sanctions imposed recently by Barack Obama for Russia’s several attempts to interfere in our national elections. So Flynn’s lies about the conversations were current, recent lies that went directly to the essence of our democracy: the credibility and cleanliness of our national elections.

Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were ambiguous. He didn’t promise anything untoward. But he did lie about having had them. Apparently he lied to several people, including President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.

Pence, in particular, had gone out on a limb on national television, several times, repeating the lies. So Pence’s voice, apparently, was the loudest in calling for Flynn’s head.

All of a sudden, the administration that had risen to power on the backs of three Big Lies (Obama’s alienage, global-warming denial, and massive voter fraud) came face-to-face with truth and its importance. Our nation’s future now depends on whether the resulting epiphany will be transient or lasting.

Up to now, Trump and his team have been pretty successful in “making their own reality.” He is just beginning to ken the size and complexity of the job he has undertaken and of the nation he now presumes to govern.

Previously, Trump had seemed capable of getting the huge coterie of his followers to believe almost anything he said. But as more careful analysis now shows, that coterie believed him more out of desperation than conviction. It just saw no better choice. And now his coterie is diminishing rapidly, along with his popularity, as his government gun goes off half cocked again and again.

Trump also had been successful in marginalizing our news media—our principal and most public organs of truth. He did so with sheer bluster and panache.

But our complex society has many other organs of truth. Among them are our numerous intelligence and investigatory services. They routinely record conversations of our government officials with foreign diplomats. The reasons for doing so are obvious: the recordings keep both sides honest and avoid misunderstandings, including some that might lead to war.

Like the White-House tapes that brought Richard Nixon down, these recordings are irreducible and irrefutable nuggets of truth. They can’t be destroyed because doing so would cause an unholy stink, like Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1974, when he fired the special prosecutor investigating his scandals, and the attorney general resigned rather than be part of a cover-up.

As Vice-President, Mike Pence has striven harder than most to keep his record clean of bald lies. Whether that’s a sign of good character or political expediency remains to be seen. But one truth is self-evident: Pence will become our president if Trump is impeached and removed from office. So it’s comforting to know that, whatever the reason, Pence apparently believes that at least some lies won’t sell.

However belatedly, Trump, too, appears to have learned this lesson. His talent is at an apex in imagining, correctly, what a “reality show” can sell. But this lie was beyond even his considerable skill at prevarication, as he quickly realized.

Will Trump learn that governance, politics and international relations are not “reality shows” to be turned and twisted in the public mind with bluster and braggadocio? Will he learn that he desperately needs more people who can handle detail and nuance, and fewer “big picture” ideologues like Flynn (and most of the Cabinet)?

On those questions, the jury is still out. But Trump may have learned a vital lesson on Monday: there are some lies too bald and too important to sell. Some are so rude as to make the entire government “establishment” that he is trying to lead rise up and revolt.

That makes two lessons that Trump has learned in his first month on the job. First, in our nation, the courts bat last, at least on certain issues of justice. Second, despite his rough dismissal of the Fourth Estate, truth sometimes bats last, at least when it awakens our massive intelligence and investigatory organs.

Trump still has a lot to learn about our Constitution, our democracy, and how our huge government works. He’s not a stupid man, so he can learn. And if not, there is always Mike Pence—a Christian extremist but a sane, well-spoken, careful and methodical one—waiting patiently in the wings.

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