Monday, April 16, 2018

What James Comey got wrong

During the interview by George Stephanopoulos broadcast by ABC last night, James Comey spoke with calm dignity about the man who fired him last year. Comey did not call him names. He didn't even call him a liar, though he mentioned numerous occasions when the president told demonstrable lies. That the president lies, of course, is neither news nor opinion: it's verifiable fact. And Comey did express an opinion about that:
A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.
Well then, wondered Stephanopoulos, "If you are right, what is the remedy? Should Donald Trump be impeached?"

Surprisingly, Comey said no:
Impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.
Perhaps the president should be impeached and removed; perhaps not. There are some problems, however, with Comey's answer.

First, America is not and never has been a direct democracy. We are instead a representative democracy. That is, American citizens do not directly make, enforce, or judge laws: our elected or appointed representatives do. American citizens do not directly elect the president of the United States: our electoral college does.

Second, the people in this country did stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values in 2016, and the largest number of votes—by a margin of nearly 3 million—were for Hillary Clinton. But our representatives in the electoral college nevertheless gave the election to Donald Trump.

If people in this country are appalled by the president's crude, cruel, immoral, and illegal behavior, do they really need to wait until 2020 to put a stop to it? If the people's representatives in the form of the electoral college got them into this mess, why shouldn't the people's representatives in the form of Congress get them out of it?

Of course they should. The catch is that the people's representatives have been cowed by the playground bully in the White House. James Comey on several occasions should have told the president that his behavior and requests were out of line. He did not. Republican members of Congress on many occasions should have censured or stopped the president rather than attempting to put a good face on his behavior. They did not. And now some Republicans are hoping to energize Republican voters by warning them that, if Democrats take Congress later this year, Trump will be impeached.

I can think of no better reason to vote Democratic in November.

But then, I'm not a conservative. Still, I feel bad for my good, decent, kind, intelligent conservative friends (and they really do exist—probably in much greater numbers than many of us progressives want to admit). Progressives and conservatives need each other. Our country is strengthened when principled legislators with differing perspectives sit down together to craft policy. Conservatives should not be asked to shelve their deepest convictions in order to remove from office someone who violates them.

Comey again:
We owe it to each other to get off the couch and think about what unites us. I think about the people who supported Trump, and continue to support Trump. A lotta them come from families with a proud history of military service. And that's a wonderful thing. What did their fathers and grandfathers fight and die for? Not for immigration policy. Not for a tax policy. Not for Supreme Court justice. They fought and died for a set of ideas. The rule of law. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The truth.
We know our president is not personally interested in military service, the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or the truth. We may soon learn to what extent his business affairs and other foreign entanglements cross the line from fraudulent to criminal.

Is it really a good idea to wait another two-and-a-half years for the people in this country to vote their values? Didn't we already do that in 2016? In a representative democracy, why shouldn't our elected representatives—of both parties—act on the values that unite us and put an end to our national nightmare?
(The portion of the interview aired Sunday night was edited down to fit in a one-hour time slot with lots of commercials. You can read a transcript of the complete interview here.)


Patricia Fulda said...

Great piece! The problem, however, is that our representatives no longer represent us. They represent the corporations and millionaires and billionaires who paid for their election and who, if not displeased, will pay for their reelection. We are currently an oligarchy, not a representative democracy. In my view, the Democratic Party is less supportive of the oligarchs and would vote for impeachment. The Republicans, currently in power, won't. And even after a trial, I can't see 2/3 of the Senate voting Trump out.

O. Felix Culpa said...

Agreed on all counts. He also got wrong not following established FBI procedure and the recommendations of the Attorney General (his boss) and instead going public about the investigation into one presidential candidate while remaining silent about the other. It was not his call to make such a decision based on his reading of the polls. All he needed to do was follow the rules. Hubris, thy name is Comey.

LaVonne Neff said...

...quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem! Love your name, Felix. And I understand your viewpoint. I look forward to reading Comey's book. From the excerpts I've seen, I think I follow his reasoning as to why he did what he did, and it may have been more CYA than hubris. Whatever his motives, the probable result has plunged us into deep doodoo. Will there be any redemption in his most unhappy fault - for him, for the FBI, for the country? Or, if there is redemption, is it possible that it will be because of his fault - because until Americans understand the depth of our country's corruption and racism, we won't be motivated to clean it up? Let the clean-up begin...

O. Felix Culpa said...

Maluisses cloacas Augeae purgare.

I have mixed feelings about Comey, in that his preening self-righteousness got us into this mess AND it might also get us out of it. With a little help from Mueller, Stormy Daniels, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, and an emerging host of Playmates, not to mention the extreme stupidity and cupidity of the people in Trump's orbit.

Some questions in relation to one of your lines: "Conservatives should not be asked to shelve their deepest convictions in order to remove from office someone who violates them." Who is asking them to do this? Why aren't more conservatives defending their principles - and this country - from the decidedly non-conservative threat posed by the president* and today's GOP (which is anything but conservative)?

I see some good articles from journalists like Michael Gerson and Jenn Rubin, but where are the conservative political leaders? And conservative grassroots organizers? Politicians like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker don't count, because they just make mouth noises about Trump's agenda and then vote for it anyway, despite the fact that they're conveniently retiring and have no elections left to lose. Profiles in courage on the conservative flank are somewhat wanting, so far as I've seen. Perhaps you've seen otherwise?

O. Felix Culpa said...

Must get to the tasks of the day, but Comey wrote that "it is possible" that the polls influenced his decision-making. Which is not to gainsay your point about CYA. Both might apply. Regardless, there are rules about disclosure and Comey broke them. We'll see if his decision broke the nation as well or, as you say, ultimately leads to redemption. Oremus.

LaVonne Neff said...

To clarify that troublesome line of mine ("Conservatives should not be asked to shelve their deepest convictions in order to remove from office someone who violates them")--I think they are being asked to do that by their fellow Republicans who refuse to stand up to the president, and then they are also being asked to do that by people who think they should vote for Democrats in order to (perhaps) remove Trump, but who will then enact legislation that conservatives oppose. It might have been clearer if I had written, "Spineless Republican lawmakers should not force conservatives to vote in opposition to their political beliefs in order to rid the nation of a man who tramples on their, and America's, deepest convictions." Well, that may not have been clear either. In short: thanks to the invertebrate Republican party, intelligent conservatives are in a real dilemma right now.

O. Felix Culpa said...

Hmmm...if there were vertebrate conservative Republicans running for office, their dilemma would be moot. In the absence of such an animal (or a sufficiency of them) and given our binary political party structure, intelligent conservatives have a choice between letting the Republic burn or temporarily allying themselves with the only firefighters available.
Not such a hard decision if the existential crisis is taken seriously. It's only hard if tribal loyalties outweigh the survival of our democratic experiment. After all, the hallmark legislation the GOP passed this year will blow up the national debt with no comparable economic growth effects - contrary to core conservative principles of fiscal responsibility as I understand them. Can Democratic legislation really be that distasteful in comparison to the tax act's trampling of conservative values and potentially disastrous long-term consequences, not to mention the egregious corruption displayed by president* and virtually every member of the Cabinet?

Sometimes hard choices must be made. History provides us with examples of people who had the courage to make those hard choices and those who did not. This may be a critical moral moment for conservatives who have not sold their souls to Trumpism. May they choose with wisdom and courage, for all our sakes. In the meantime, I continue to work to get Democrats elected. :)

O. Felix Culpa said...

Here's a link to an excellent blogpost that Jennifer Rubin published today, on this very topic of bipartisan resistance to the destruction of democratic norms: She is one of my favorite conservative resistance leaders.