One of my laments about the modern American action genre is that whatever happens to be driving the plot–whether it’s a terrorist attack that threatens to destroy the last best hope for peace, or a reformed hacker forced out of retirement to do one last job and secure his freedom once and for all–it always ends up being some secret conspiracy cooked up by corporate mercenaries or rogue government spooks, not the fringe extremist group that everybody says is guilty but just got set up to take the fall. I’ve gone on at length about this trope as manifested in the ABC show Designated Survivor, but you can pretty much find it everywhere from the movie version of The Sum of All Fears to old episodes of Miami Vice. Bottom line: if it looks like ISIS did it, you can be sure it was really a corrupt White House in cahoots with Big Oil to start a war somewhere for profit.
All of this, of course, assumes a government that is as competent as it is sinister–and that’s where the suspension of belief starts to get a leeeetle heavy. Because seriously, when the federal government can’t even keep track of people who have overstayed their visas, how are we supposed to believe that they can follow every step of our intrepid hero in real time? And can the same kind of folks who stick unsecured email servers in bathroom closets and send classified materials to the computer of a man who exposes himself online to underage girls really be counted on to keep the lid on a vast, intricate conspiracy? Color me skeptical, but I don’t think so.
Which is why I was amused when I saw this story on The Hill about the latest bit of kooky goodness to be served up during a Senate hearing. Instead of al Qaeda, though, we get Al Franken–and yes, he is speculating about possible nefarious ties between Donald Trump’s White House and Vladimir Putin’s Russia:
Franken presented a lengthy hypothetical to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates around Russian connections to former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the 18-day delay between when she made the White House aware of Flynn’s apparent lies to top Trump officials and when he tendered his resignation.
“We’re trying to put a puzzle together here, everybody, and maybe, just maybe, he didn’t get rid of a guy who lied to the vice president, who got paid by the Russians, who went on Russia Today, because there are other people in his administration who met secretly with the Russians and didn’t reveal it until later, until they were caught,” Franken posited during the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee’s hearing on Monday.
“That may be why it took him 18 days — until it became public — to get rid of Mike Flynn, who was a danger to this republic.”
“Care to comment?” Franken asked Yates.
“I don’t think I’m going to touch that, senator,” she replied.
I’m betting it’s not the first time Franken heard a woman tell him that.
Still, as conspiracy plotlines go, it’s pretty thin gruel. Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one–or, in terms of government speak, one should never attribute to malfeasance what can be easily explained by incompetence. The media, after all, were quite fond of reporting the utter chaos that was supposedly going on inside the White House during those first few weeks. Is it really so inconceivable that the whole Flynn thing just slipped through the cracks? Or that maybe the president knew about Flynn but didn’t consider it that big of a deal until it leaked to the media? Apparently, these possibilities have never occurred to Al Franken. He seems to think it’s more likely that the entire administration is being run by Russian agents.
To which Charles Krauthammer, who holds Donald Trump in about the same regard as I hold Miley Cyrus, could only say, “Who gave him the tinfoil hat?”
Minnesota must be very proud.