I wrote a post earlier today about James Comey slipping on political ice. While I’m not so much concerned with his fall from grace, we should think of Comey as a symbol. Partisan rhetoric is nothing new, but it’s definitely intensified since the humble beginnings of the 2016 presidential election.
Both Democrats and Republicans have recently shunned the FBI. The Democrats used Hillary Clinton as a suitable martyr. Most Republicans will defend Trump at any ideological cost. Comey has alienated both sides of the aisle, and it looks like things won’t improve for him anytime soon.
So, the important question: How will Comey’s ethical stance stack up against previous efforts within his own party? Comey is a Republican, even though the party’s past architecture is rapidly fading to make room for Trump. Like other Republicans who’ve tried to blend ethics with politics, Comey is finding out what it means to be a politician. Being ethical as a politician depends on the assumption that “the voter” will also choose ethics over partisanship. Bob Corker became Lil’ Bob Corker. Jeff Flake, a flake. When Republican senators are diminished in Trump’s eyes, many conservative voters will follow suit.
I think the disconnect comes from the fact that Comey, Flake, and Corker assumed that people want ethical leadership. In America, that ship has mostly sailed, but it’s taken years to get to the middle of the ocean.
Of course, Comey’s book leveled childish broadsides against Trump, and while this probably reduced his credibility, I have a hard time believing that the responsibility for the book’s cool reception rests solely on juvenile insults alone. Fire and Fury caused great short-term damage to the Trump administration. Comey heeded the call of A Higher Loyalty, but it fell remarkably flat. Was Wolff a better writer? You could make that argument, sure. Or Comey simply isn’t a partisan hero. He had a chance to prove himself one back in 2017, when his testimony before Congress was highly anticipated.
Even in these rapidly shifting times, there’s a sense of history that helps us navigate what’s really going on. The idea of James testifying before Congress made it seem like a reckoning was at hand. Nothing happened. Trump emerged from that political moment with a renewed martyrdom.
Comey’s twitter account has been lighting up with vague patriotic messages. Okay. So he’s promoting a book. Self-serving, but everyone has to make a living, right? Wolff did the same thing, and was largely victorious. I’d say Comey’s sin wasn’t so much hypocrisy or inauthenticity. More like, the provider of political ammunition rules the day. Comey has come up empty-handed more than once. Sanctimony is fine. Cultivating an identity and sticking to your brand helps to ensure survival…you can’t knock that too much.
So, Comey’s major malfunction? He didn’t study the political bible before jumping into the fray. Now he’s all alone out there, reliving that moment at Ashcroft’s bedside over and over again, thinking it will pave the road to his salvation.