Yet what was the supposed villainy in the set-up or railroading of Flynn? Needless to say, Flynn was not physically mistreated, much less killed. He was not even arrested. There are smaller-scale forms of police abuse, of course—but Flynn was not a victim of those either.
The unforgivable FBI offense against Flynn was that two FBI agents showed up in his office and politely asked him some questions about his conversations with the Russian ambassador; when he made misstatements in response, they asked him whether he was sure he hadn’t said certain things the call transcripts clearly reflected he had said. The newly public transcripts show that Flynn brought up the matter of U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador—the same matter he told the FBI he had no memory of discussing—and that the two conversed about the issue at some length. Despite what the president’s supporters say, Flynn’s repeated statements to investigators that he didn’t remember that conversation are just not credible. So after willfully and repeatedly lying to federal investigators, he was—months later—held accountable for those lies.
George Floyd was murdered for far less.
And yet the president seems able to mention Floyd only on his way to denouncing protesters and “antifa” and promising muscular police action—which he cheerfully conflates with further abuses—against them. Only in Flynn does he find a true victim, and law enforcement that cannot be redeemed through the use of violence. (He never suggests that the FBI should respond in a tough manner to, say, a QAnon rally.)
There’s a racial element to this, clearly. Trump seems characterologically incapable of identifying with black victims of police violence, and he likely also sees some benefit in encouraging racial resentment toward black protesters in the white Americans who make up his base of support.
But there is a personal aspect to Trump’s response too. The president understands Flynn as a victim because the Flynn case is ultimately about Trump. Flynn’s enemies—the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the press that broke the story about the incoming national security adviser’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador—are all Trump’s perceived enemies. Flynn’s humiliation made Trump look foolish. His prosecution emphasized the corruption of the senior leaders Trump had brought in. And the entire tawdry episode made vivid what so many people already suspected: that there was something untoward and inappropriate in Trumpworld’s engagement with the Russian Federation. To turn Flynn into a victim of police misconduct is to try to erase the stain.
On an even more basic level, Trump likes things that place him at the center of attention. Unlike the Russia story—which has Trump, and Trump’s vindication, as the focus—the protests are hard to fit into this framework. They involve, after all, other people’s suffering. According to The New York Times, Trump has been struggling to grasp this concept: “Aides repeatedly have tried to explain to him that the protests were not only about him, but about broader, systemic issues related to race.”