No winners

The biggest problem I find I’m having with trying to follow the Michael Flynn story is that it’s hard to distinguish the actual, verifiably crazy parts of the story from the parts that are being overhyped by the press. Because a lot of this story is genuinely ridiculous. A National Security Advisor resigning under a cloud of scandal less than a month into the first term of a presidential administration is a singular event in American history. This White House’s total inability to get ahead of the story, and this president’s inability to speak coherently on this or, really, any other topic, are both unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The implication that the deep state and/or intelligence community is trying to bring down a presidential administration is similarly unprecedented (or nearly unprecedented, if you’re a JFK conspiracy theorist). There’s a lot of wild shit going on right now.

But also, as this “what we know” piece from the New York Times makes clear, this story has blown up into a major scandal with relatively little factual reporting underpinning it. There are suggestions of serious wrongdoing, dossiers full of possibly compromising information, potentially nefarious scheming with Russian agents, and much more, but at this point they’re mostly just theories.

This is all by way of saying that I’m starting to doubt my own ability to digest and consider the various twists and turns this story keeps taking, largely because my brain starts to turn to clay after two or three articles. But it occurred to me this evening that, while there’s obviously no way to tell how this story is going to end, there aren’t really any winners to be found in it. It would be easy to argue that the American people are winning to the extent that this scandal could sink the Trump administration, but at this point we’re still stuck with Trump plus we now have that aforementioned deep state move to undermine an elected government, which is dangerous in principle. And even if Trump is brought down, that leaves us with President Mike Pence, and you’ll forgive me if I’m not prepared to break out the noisemakers and champagne over that possibility.

Is Donald Trump winning? Clearly not. Remember during the campaign when he said we were all going to win so much we’d get tired of winning? When does that actually start? Michael Flynn (who, let’s be honest, still may not have done anything more heinous in this case than lying to Pence)? Hardly. Republicans? Well, they’ve collectively lashed their carriage to a horse that at the moment looks like it’s running them right off a cliff. The Democrats? It’s hard to say that a party that has spent a quarter century-plus contentedly managing itself into irrelevance across the country is in a position to win much of anything right now.

What about outside the US? Russia clearly isn’t winning here. If the worst allegations are true, and Moscow did engineer Trump’s election, they’re now dealing with a meat-headed cipher in the White House, one whose most (and maybe only) ardently pro-Russia foreign policy adviser just resigned in disgrace and who may now feel like he has to forcefully demonstrate that he’s not Vladimir Putin’s puppet. I suppose Iran might be happy to see Flynn go, but in his brief time on the job Flynn managed to be so boisterously anti-Iran that he helped strengthen the most hardline elements of the Iranian political system, and that’s bad for the rest of the Iranian people. The rest of the world is still losing because, hey, Donald Trump is still in the White House, and now he might be looking to create a big old distraction from his new scandal.

I’m sure I’m missing an angle here, and like I said it remains to be seen how this will all shake out, but while it’s been cathartic to point and shout and laugh at what’s going on, if I stop and think about it for a few minutes it’s just depressing. Shit in America is always fucked up and bullshit, but rarely does it seem like we’re all spiraling toward a total catastrophe like it does now.

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