Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“The Dystopian World of James Comey”
June 19, 2017
“I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.”
Nick Carroway, narrator
The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Substitute Comey for Carroway and you have a sense of the arrogance and hypocrisy embedded in the former’s testimony. James Comey is expert at navigating the obstacles that constitute Washington’s politics. The former FBI Director came across as more of a prosecutor than an investigator and public servant. Having used bait-and-switch tactics over the past year, Mr. Comey gladdened, infuriated and appeased Democrats, while he irritated, enthused and angered Republicans. Like his predecessor, J. Edgar Hoover, he thought himself invincible.
His testimony was Orwellian. Words meant what he wanted them to mean. To “leak” a memo about a private meeting with the President, via a third party, to The New York Times was okay. Yet, it was not alright to tell the press that the President was not under investigation regarding Russian interference in the election, even though he wasn’t. It was his duty, he alleged last July, to lay out the prosecutorial case against Hillary Clinton for using a private e-mail server while Secretary of State, but he felt it his responsibility to determine that no reasonable jury would convict her. Nevertheless, he felt bound, in October, to say she was still under investigation. He said he had no doubt that Russia interfered in the election, yet offered no evidence.
Mr. Comey told Senators that Mr. Trump lied as to why he (Mr. Comey) was fired, but was less direct with the President. He construed the word “hope,” as uttered by Mr. Trump regarding Michael Flynn, as implying obstruction, knowing full well it would mean his good friend, special counsel Robert Mueller, would have to investigate the allegation. (If “hope” becomes standard for obstruction of justice charges, all of Washington will be under indictment, as will most Americans.) James Comey testified that he agreed to accept (then) Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s request that the investigation into Mrs. Clinton be referred to as a “matter,” last July, knowing that to do so was wrong. Yet he did not feel obliged to disagree. His performance throughout his testimony suggested he was being either devious or he was a poltroon… or perhaps both. If he truly felt wronged, a courageous, honorable man would have resigned.
Mr. Comey has abused his position as Director of the FBI, certainly since last July. But, while he may have the ethics of a warthog, he is not stupid. For the last nine months, like Uriah Heep, the unctuous Mr. Comey bobbed and weaved around the Scylla of Washington politics and the Charybdis of ethical behavior – that is until he encountered Mr. Trump, an outsider to Washington politics, a man who had promised to “drain the swamp,” a place where he (Mr. Comey) was one of its most prominent denizens. Whether you hate him or love him, all agree that Mr. Trump is no master of subtlety. The President fired Mr. Comey unceremoniously, something unexpected by a man who felt untouchable. As one who tried to please everyone, Mr. Comey would have been well served to have re-read the story in Aesop’s Fables of “The man, the boy and the donkey” – the moral of which is, you can’t please everyone.
Once fired by Mr. Trump, Democrats forgave Mr. Comey his transgressions regarding Hillary Clinton and Loretta Lynch. Since his firing, Mr. Comey has cast his lot with those who see Mr. Trump as an illegitimate President, an autocrat, they claim, with a far-right agenda – a President who should be hastened from office, regardless of the cost to our democracy. In testimony, Mr. Comey offered the excuse that the leaking of his memo was for self-protection against a President he did not trust. He said it was justified if the consequence was the hiring of a special counsel. Since Mr. Comey was unable to bring the President down on charges of colluding with the Russians over last November’s election, he now hopes his friend Mr. Mueller will find obstruction of justice as cause for impeachment.
The failure of Democrats to accept last November’s election results reinforced the vitriol that consumes our country. It worsened the culture of incivility and violence. It is manifested in many ways: in the use of crude (and cruel) language by late night comedians and talk-show hosts, like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon; in Madonna calling for the White House to be bombed, and in a mask of Mr. Trump’s bloodied, severed head held up by Kathy Griffin; it is visible in a publically-funded Shakespearean play in New York’s Central Park that showed the stabbing of a blond, blue-suited Trump-lookalike as Julius Caesar. And, five days ago, we saw it in the shooting of four Republicans on a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia. While no one political party has an exclusive in terms of foul language and heinous acts, we cannot ignore the role played by social media, i.e. the posting by James Hodgkinson, the shooter of Republican House Whip Steve Scalise, to his Facebook page in March: “Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It’s time to destroy Trump & Co.”
But icons from Hollywood, the media and Washington take no responsibility for the culture of hatred they have helped inspire. Instead, when a CNN host calls the President a piece of s**t, they cite First Amendment rights; or, in the instance of Congressman Scalise, they employ the Trojan horse of gun control, as did Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe within moments of the shooting in Arlington.
Politics has long been a blood sport, but incivility has reached heights last seen in the Vietnam era. Science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, once wrote that dying cultures invariably exhibit “personal rudeness, bad manners and a lack of consideration for others in minor matters.” That is a current cultural trend that no one can deny. Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, said civilizations die from suicide, not murder. Social media has become a medium for the venting of passionate hatred. I post photographs of my grandchildren and wildlife, and an occasional non-political essay. But what we see are venomous outpourings of those who see this venue as a forum for political hyperbole. Like Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army when it was under investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy, we ask those who post such partisan comments on social media, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
As a friend in Europe recently wrote, the attempt to find a Russian connection to Mr. Trump’s campaign of last year has created an Austin Powers-like atmosphere of looking for a crime to fit a predetermined judgement. In his self-serving testimony before the Senate, Mr. Comey did nothing to reduce the hate-filled tenor that permeates Washington and our nation. Could he have helped? He is a smart man, a man who has been around corridors of power for a long time. Honesty, fairness and straight-forward answers would have brought some succor to a divided country. However, it was his reputation he was interested in saving, not bandaging wounds or revealing truth. He knew what he was doing. He chose the dystopian way.