TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2022
Professor Johnson errs: A few days back, we mentioned the fact that we'd been watching a new Frontline program, Michael Flynn's Holy War.
At several junctures, the journalism on display is perhaps a wee bit odd. But strangest of all is the conduct of Flynn. We'll let Peter Wehner explain.
Wehner is a high-ranking conservative NeverTrumper. In a new piece for The Atlantic, he describes the current behavior of Flynn—his ongoing "holy war."
Wehner's profile of Flynn reminds us of a basic fact—our nation's political discourse over the past thirty years has increasingly become an anthropology lesson.
It has been a lesson in what we humans are actually like, as opposed to the ways we've always described ourselves. The shortfalls on display have been remarkable—and these shortfalls have been on display in the conduct of both major tribes.
What sorts of shortfalls are on display in Michael Flynn's ongoing war? At the very start of his essay, Wehner describes a prayer which was offered at a recent Flynn event:
WEHNER (10/25/22): A prayer at a “ReAwaken America” event in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a few days ago, at which Michael Flynn appeared, captured the sensibilities of this moment: “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus. We’re asking you to open the eyes of President Trump’s understanding, that he will know the time of divine intervention. He will know how to implement divine intervention. And you will surround him, Father, with none of this deep-state trash, none of this RINO trash. You surround him, people that you pick, with your own mighty hand. In the name of Jesus.”
Dear Lord, deliver us from this "Deep State trash." So the prayer (angrily) prayed, as you can see at this link.
As Wehner continues, he starts sketching the basics of Flynn's "holy war." We'd call this an education—an anthropology lesson:
WEHNER (continuing directly): Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who once led the Defense Intelligence Agency, resigned as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser after less than a month for allegedly misleading the vice president, and then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. (He later filed to withdraw his guilty plea, insisting that he had been set up by the FBI, and was eventually pardoned by Trump.)
Flynn has been embraced by MAGA world in part because he’s seen as a martyr, the victim of a “deep state” hit job. But what turned him into a rock star on the right was the post-pardon chapter of his life, as the Associated Press’s Michelle Smith points out in the recently broadcast Frontline documentary “Michael Flynn’s Holy War.” It was then that Flynn, whom a former military colleague describes as being susceptible to “extreme thinking”—fully took up residence in a world of fantasy and illusion, of crazed conspiracy theories and disinformation.
Flynn didn’t just claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump; he floated the idea of having Trump declare martial law and try to “rerun” the election. He suggested that the president should seize voting machines. And he said that the election involved “probably the greatest fraud that our country has ever experienced in our history.” At an event in Arizona last month, Flynn said, “Did you know that a governor can declare war? A governor can declare war. And we’re going to probably see that.”
Flynn has also asserted that COVID-19 was unleashed intentionally by global elitists in order to “rule the world,” “control humanity,” and “steal an election.” He has warned about the dangers of a “new world order” in which people such as Bill Gates, George Soros, and World Economic Forum Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab “have an intent to track every single one of us, and they use it under the skin. They use a means by which it’s under the skin.”
"Today, Michael Flynn is building a nationwide, grassroots movement that is fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith," Wehner soon opines.
Flynn's ideas are "deranged," Wehner says. For ourselves, we'd offer this:
Watching footage of Flynn at his various rallies, we can't help wondering if General Flynn is some version of (severely) "mentally ill."
That said, we aren't medical specialists. We have no expertise—none at all—when it comes to the task of making such assessments.
Having said that, we would also say this:
The religiosity tied up in Flynn's work suggests a major anthropology lesson. A bit later on, Wehner offers this account of Flynn's current mission, quoting the Frontline program:
WEHNER: In November, Flynn told a packed sanctuary at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.” He has described this as “a moment in time where this is good versus evil.”
“Mike Flynn has emerged as a martyr and a mascot for the far-right contingent of the Christian-nationalist movement in the United States,” Samuel Perry, a sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma, a scholar of Christian nationalism, and himself a person of the Christian faith, told Frontline.
That's what Professor Perry told Frontline. For better or worse, the role of religiosity here flies in the face of conventional portraits, in which we humans have long admiringly referred to ourselves as "the rational animal."
How many people agree with Flynn? How many people think "we have to have one nation under God," but also "one religion?"
We have no idea what the answer would be. We do know that an anthropology lesson is involved.
In theory, that lesson could let us form a fuller understanding of our true human nature. It might give us a batter idea how to emerge from this mess.
Yesterday morning, on Morning Joe, we saw several manifestations of the daunting mess our floundering nation faces.
On the one hand, we saw videotape from a recent focus group conducted with ten Trump voters. (One of the ten had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, then had voted for Trump four years later.)
You can watch two chunks of videotape from that focus group. At the Morning Joe site, they appear beneath these headings:
As we watch the videotape, we see people repeating an array of claims we would regard as inaccurate or unfounded. A lot of anger seems to be present.
That said, it's clear that these people believe these claims. It's clear that these people aren't "lying."
They've heard the claims again and again, from Trump himself and from various "news" sources. As a general matter, the claims in question aren't visibly "crazy." There's just no reason to think that the claims are actually true.
In our view, the red tribe currently swims in a sea of false and unfounded beliefs.
There are also beliefs which seem to be crazy. And within some parts of that red tribe, the religiosity appears.
On that same Morning Joe show, we saw David French report some things he was recently told by some pro-Trump neighbors based on their religious beliefs. Some of these statements seem to enter the zone of the "crazy." Here comes that anthropology lesson again!
As we've occasionally noted, we humans aren't the rational animal, and we never were. That said, breakdowns of the type we're describing also afflict our own blue tribe—the only tribe whose unhelpful behavior we can instantly change.
Yesterday afternoon, we saw Professor Johnson, on Deadline: White House, offering thoughts about The Others. We also saw Nicolle Wallace supporting his badly flawed claims.
Professor Johnson is well intentioned, but his statements were deeply unwise. They help define the way our own self-impressed tribe has failed in this dangerous era.
The problem isn't all Over There as our nation slides toward the sea. Our own tribe's manifestations are often badly flawed, deeply unwise.
We thought the professor (and Wallace) were badly off track. What kinds of manifestations are these, we'd ask, which go from bad to worse?
Tomorrow: What David French reported; what Professor Johnson said