Image by Gage Skidmore
If you are a history buff like I am, the thing that strikes you the most upon visiting Mount Vernon is the utter humility of George Washington’s POST-PRESIDENCY home. Nothing is pretentious, nothing is new, nothing can be described as in the least luxurious. There are the tools and utensils of everyday late 18th century life: riding boots, and table china, and muskets. The matrimonial bed is small and unpresuming, even for colonial times. The dwelling itself a simple wooden structure, much more the dwelling of a small-time whiskey distiller than the God-like conqueror of the General Cornwallis and the First President of the United States. There can be no doubt that in his post-presidency years Washington could have leveraged his fame into the acquisition of a major, transformative fortune. He could have bartered his incomparable influence into Georgia cotton plantations and Nantucket whaling ships, all making him fabulously wealthy. He did no such thing. Washington knew a thing or two about money, because he was always poor. He couldn’t afford to buy an officer’s commission in the British Army and if it weren’t for Martha’s small fortune, it is doubtful that he could have devoted his time to the American Revolution rather than to putting food on his own table. And yet he was devoid of avarice, content with having served to the best of his ability, seeking no material remuneration for his decades of service no matter how exceptional or transformative.
During Lieutenant General (ret.) Michael Flynn’s sentencing hearing, presiding Judge Emmet Sullivan opined that Flynn may have committed treason by acting as an unregistered foreign agent while at the White House. Nominally, Judge Sullivan was in error. Gen. Flynn ostensibly terminated his activities immediately after the November 2016 election and before he was officially a member of the incoming administration. For all intents and purposes, though, Judge Sullivan was right. There is something unseemly, obscene, and yes, treasonous in a three-star general, a senior intelligence officer in the US military, engaging in any activities as a foreign agent, registered or otherwise, on behalf of any government, friendly or adversarial. There is a reason why high-ranking officers get lifetime pensions and benefits; it is precisely so that they can live, very comfortably at that, without selling to the highest bidder their rolodexes and peddling the influence and the intelligence they leave the service with. General Flynn, possessing the demonstrable executive leadership skills of a general officer in the US military, could have easily found a corporate position of executive rank, carrying with it a salary in the mid six figure range. Coupled with his pension and benefits, this would have endowed him with a honorable and comfortable living, the likes of which not one American in ten thousand will ever know. But that was not the choice he made. Instead, he chose, for the sake of converting hundreds of thousands into millions, to sell out his influence, his confidential knowledge, the aura of respectability conferred on him by his commission, all to the highest bidder.
Can anyone imagine that seasoned mafia figures like Turkey’s Erdogan or Russia’s Putin would fly Flynn first class to fancy junkets, put him up in luxury hotels, give lucrative “consulting” deals to his “business associates”, if they didn’t want anything in return? Can anyone believe that Flynn’s phone, his hotel rooms, his limos, were not bugged from the moment he set foot on foreign soil? His mere presence in the public view with Vladimir Putin conferred on the latter the stature of someone who, instead of being an international pariah dealt with only as necessary by those currently in office, is an acceptable table mate for retired American generals. It is no wonder that Flynn was not invited to London and Paris, but rather to Ankara and Moscow. It is in these unsavory corners of the world that his aura of respectability was a high-value commodity and that fact alone should have been cause enough for him to reconsider. Flynn may not deserve the treatment he has been receiving at the hands of the atrocious Special Counsel Mueller, but he sure as heck brought it on himself. Had he been called to serve by president Trump while serving as the VP of Logistics for FedEx in Memphis, Tennessee, having left DC and engaged in no post-retirement influence peddling, it would have been easy for Flynn to acknowledge his perfectly legal contacts with the then Russian ambassador Kislyak as the incoming National Security Adviser. The only reason he lied about it was precisely because he was already compromised by his activities as a lobbyist for foreign governments and influence peddler to the same. In fact, the honorable thing for Flynn to have done upon being asked to serve in the Trump administration would have been to respectfully decline, since his past was now checkered and his conflicts of interests significant.
Nor does the argument that Flynn may be one of the least significant offenders in the brothel that is today’s George Washington’s eponymous city hold any water. Trump voters expected more, all of us did. The fact that a certain greed-befuddled sellout is “ours” because he is a Trump supporter doesn’t make him any less obnoxious than those of his ilk, and they are as numerous as sand grains on Cape Cod, who hate Trump and want him gone. What we need today are not greedy sellouts, no matter how honorably they had served. What we need are those who, like George himself, served with impeccable honor not to capitalize on it upon retirement, but to cherish it, guard it with their lives, until such time as they are called to serve again. Perhaps, there are no such people left in our mercenary age. Perhaps. It may be that we should compromise and deal with the Flynn’s of this world as the lesser of two evils. But I, for one, don’t believe that. Human nature is unchanging. The 18th century was no less corrupted by greed than the 21st. Somewhere in America there is the new George Washington. Many of them, in fact. Let us make the way clear for them by rejecting sellouts, be they our political friends or foes.