The tribalization of everything: Just to offer some basic context, we aren't big fans of Michael Flynn, to the extent that we hold an opinion.
We remember his performance at the 2016 Republican National Convention. We remember it as one of the craziest things we've ever seen in a major political setting.
We refer to the way he led chants of "Lock her up!" from convention delegates during a prime-time address. Just in case people didn't know, he specifically noted that he was talking about "Crooked Hillary."
Four years later, the performance doesn't look as crazy as it did in real time. That said, the native New Englander of a certain age will be familiar with the combination of the slightly distorted, angry face mixed with the light regional accent.
You can see part of the chanting here. For a longer look at the nonsense, you can just click this. We don't recommend hating the others, but Flynn struck us as "a little bit nutty" that night.
Then too, there was Michael G. Flynn—son of Flynn.
In the fall of 2017, it was widely reported that son of Flynn had become a subject, perhaps a target, of the Mueller probe. In this report for NBC News, Lee, Ainsley and Dilanian profiled the somewhat unhinged younger Flynn:
LEE, AINSLEY AND DILANIAN (9/13/17): The younger Flynn, 34, has a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and an associate degree in golf course management. He is married, has one son and lives in Northern Virginia. He worked for a golf company and then a healthcare management firm between 2008 and 2015, and since 2014 has worked for the Flynn Intel Group, according to LinkedIn...Did son of Flynn really believe that Crooked Hillary "had used the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington to run a child sex-trafficking operation?" As has become increasingly clear, we humans are capable of believing wide arrays of crazy claims.
He was a controversial figure during the presidential campaign and during the Trump transition, known for writing inflammatory comments on Twitter and circulating conspiracy theories.
He perpetuated a so-called "pizzagate" conspiracy theory that surfaced in the days before the November election alleging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had used the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington to run a child sex-trafficking operation. About a month later, in December 2016, a North Carolina man fired gunshots in the pizzeria allegedly in response to the false "pizzagate" story. At the time, Flynn wrote on Twitter: "Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story."
During the Trump transition there were questions about whether Flynn had an official role. He had a government transition email address and was said to be helping his father, who had been named national security adviser. But after the shooting at the "pizzagate" restaurant, Pence, who was in charge of the transition, said Flynn "has no involvement in the transition whatsoever."
This is a basic human tragedy. For the record, we can't tell you what the younger Flynn really believed versus what he merely said.
At any rate, the younger Flynn had been playing a major role in his father's big-bucks lobbying group. By the fall of 2017, this fact had led to widespread reports that he might be subject to indictment by the group being led by Robert Mueller, of whose brilliance and fairness we liberals were being widely assured.
Flynn and Flynn don't strike us as the most impressive tandem. Then again, when Mueller appeared before the Senate, he didn't seem anything like the commanding figure we'd heard described, night after night and month after month, on our favorite "cable news" channels.
Can anything be believed in an age like this? We can't answer that question. But we've been struck, in recent weeks, by the different claims our warring tribes hear about a wide array of topics.
This includes what people are told concerning the prosecution of General Flynn—Michael Flynn the elder.
Flynn the elder has been in the news of late. After a three-year pursuit which left him semi-bankrupted, we liberals have been told that he may be about to get off "scot-free" for a crime to which he pled guilty.
So goes tribal rhetoric. But we've been struck by the different things people are told about Flynn depending on what channel they watch. Here's what people are angrily told on Fox:
Flynn Senior only pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI as a way to shield his son from prosecution.
If you watch Fox, you've seen that claim made with regularity. Nor do you have any reason to believe the claim is untrue.
If you watch CNN or MSNBC, you're unlikely to know that this claim is being made at all. Increasingly, we're amazed by the volume of things one tribe is told—things the other tribe won't even hear about.
Did General Flynn plead guilty to protect his son? We have no way of knowing. Nor do we know if any such deal was made in good faith by both sides.
Had Mueller turned out to be the person we'd heard described, we'd have more confidence in the behavior of those in his eponymous probe. But Mueller didn't turn out that way, and viewers of Fox are widely told that the threats against son of Flynn were corrupt on the side of the Mueller probe.
For the record, some people we liberals are told we can trust have said that General Flynn copped that plea on behalf of his son. Back when Flynn the elder made his deal, Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes wrote such things as this, and also this:
HENNESSEY AND WITTES (12/8/17): One week after former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s plea deal, it still is not all that clear what it means. Close observers of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are divided—with some suggesting the plea signifies a dramatic breakthrough for the prosecutor and others suggesting it signifies a comparatively weak hand on his part on matters of collusion. The fortune-tellers have pored over the tea leaves, and the results are in dispute.We have no idea if that's why Flynn pled. Nor do we know if the people running the Mueller probe were behaving in good faith when they assembling that litany of possible charges against Flynn the elder, or when they threatened son of Flynn, assuming they actually did.
The reason is the plea’s narrowness compared to the astonishing swath of public allegations of potentially criminal conduct on Flynn’s part. Reputable newspapers had reported Flynn’s failure to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, failures to disclose foreign contacts as required on his security clearance forms, large transactions with foreign actors, involvement in a strange influence-peddling scheme over nuclear plants, and even involvement in a kidnapping plot. Press accounts have indicated that Flynn’s son Michael Flynn Jr. also had exposure and that protecting his son was a priority for the elder Flynn. Yet the plea itself was limited. It was only one count for a set of false statements to the FBI. Not a good look for Flynn, to be sure, but far less than what most observers were expecting.
HENNESSEY, WITTES ET AL (12/1/17): If Mueller were prepared to settle the Flynn matter on the basis of single-count plea to a violation of [false statements], he was almost certainly prepared to charge a great deal more. Moreover, we can infer from the fact that Flynn accepted the plea deal that he and his counsel were concerned about the degree of jeopardy, both for Flynn and for his son, related to other charges. The deal, in other words, reflects the strength of Mueller’s hand against Flynn.
Our observation today is anthropological, and it's fairly simple. As our society splits into warring tribes, members of the two warring tribes are persistently exposed to vastly different arrays of alleged facts and sachems.
Over at Fox, viewers are told that Flynn offered a guilty plea to protect his son. They're also told that people like Mueller and Comey—or perhaps, the people who were really conducting the Mueller probe, one of whom is often named—weren't acting in good faith all through the length of the pursuit of Flynn.
At CNN and at MSNBC, we aren't exposed to such thoughts. Meanwhile, we've now been encouraged to see Comey as a figure of rectitude—a major switch from the earlier days when we were encouraged to see him as highly suspect.
Our tribe has flipped on other such figures, with our most trusted cable stars failing to explain why they themselves have so totally flipped. We now trust Andrew McCabe, who was once flamboyantly denounced on the Maddow show. In a similar vein, we've been told very little about the massive misconduct within the FBI in its pursuit of Carter Page, who we once were told was a witting Russian asset.
Over There, our neighbors and friends hear one set of factual claims. They're told to trust and distrust various public figures.
Over Here, we get a different story; rarely the twain intersect. This represents the politicization and tribalization of everything. Stating the obvious, you can't run a major nation this way.
For ourselves, we don't trust James Comey's judgment or his rectitude, and we did see Robert Mueller's sobering performance.
Beyond that, we sometimes hear what they're saying on Fox. We suspect it isn't all crazy, though some of it plainly is.
Tomorrow, we'll show you something we read in Sunday's Washington Post. It was buried deep inside a front-page report. No link was provided.
For ourselves, we aren't fans of Flynn and Flynn, but we aren't real high on Comey either. We don't recommend that you hate anyone, but given the politicization of everything, is such double vision allowed?
Tomorrow: Sally Yates' reaction
The things people hear Over There: Substantial chunks of what people hear on Fox do seem to be a bit crazy. Tucker Carlson, who once urged Trump to take the virus seriously, has been massively off his pandemic meds of late.
By way of contrast, we're the people who believe that Elizabeth Warren really did think she was Native American; who believe that Stormy Daniels was a feminist hero; and who thought Michael Avenatti was so impressive that he should run for president. It's quite a thrill to belong to the tribe where wisdom and judgment prevail.