The Flynn Decision Fits Right Into Trump's Favorite Narrative | Opinion

A federal appeals court panel this week ordered a judge to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

The ongoing saga has taken numerous twists and turns since Flynn withdrew his guilty pleas, and it has become a talking point for both Republicans and Democrats who wish to use certain aspects of Flynn's case for their own political ends. Depending on one's partisan commitments, Flynn could be seen as an American hero ensnared by a corrupt government investigation or as a crooked Trump associate who has dodged justice.

For Democrats, Flynn represents a prime example of the corruption endemic to the Trump administration. Flynn appears to have lied to the government multiple times and pleaded guilty under oath to doing so in open court. That the Justice Department recently decided to drop the case against Flynn suggested to Democrats that it is bent in favor of protecting the president and his associates.

However, that Flynn will likely go free is a boon for the president and his Republican allies. Trump will use the outcome of Flynn's case to argue that his administration is not corrupt and continue claiming that the Obama administration targeted Flynn and other Trump associates.

For many folks, the Flynn saga will appear convoluted and difficult to fully comprehend. Regardless of what the underlying truth is, partisan-motivated reasoning—a process in which people's party attachments color how they view the political world—will likely determine how people view the latest developments.

But the panel's ruling is much more than a political football for Trump. On a larger scale, he will use it to further one of the core claims of his campaign: that the entire political establishment is a corrupt "swamp" that must be drained by an outsider like himself. Trump uses anti-establishment rhetoric—charges of widespread corruption, conspiracy and vote rigging—against Democrats and even his own party whenever it suits his immediate needs. For example, he recently claimed that he was battling a conspiracy by the supposed "deep state." This conspiratorial rhetoric is designed to address not so much Republicans, but rather Americans who see politics as a battle between the people and a corrupt establishment.

Michael Flynn
Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse following a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court on December 18, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Consider that when Trump entered the 2016 Republican primary contests, he was barely a Republican, held only a few conservative positions and had no political experience. He was up against 20 more experienced, more Republican Republicans. To tilt the contest in his favor, Trump attacked both parties and sought to make experience a liability for his competition. Using conspiracy theories, Trump seems to have built a coalition not on traditional conservative values or Republican identity, but rather on extreme skepticism of the political system in general.

The panel's decision helps Trump continue his long-running narrative that he is a president who is the target of a witch hunt, who has been harassed by shadowy forces and Democrats alike, all because he is an outsider and reformer who represents a threat to the establishment. Usually, administrations are not taken very seriously when they claim to be victims of a conspiracy. Consider Hillary Clinton's claim in 1998 that her husband's troubles were the fault of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." But for Trump, conspiracy theories and victimhood are part of the image he projects to his key supporters.

The president will portray the Flynn ordeal, like the impeachment proceedings and Mueller investigation, as further "evidence" that he is indeed the victim of a vast conspiracy.

Joseph Uscinski is co-author of American Conspiracy Theories and associate professor of political science at University of Miami.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.