James Comey is a controversial figure to be sure. History has noted the effect of his October missive to Congress on the never-ending subject of Hillary Clinton’s emails. History has also cast him in the role of showboat. Be that as it may, Comey wrote an op/ed piece, published Wednesday in the New York Times, exploring what in the world could be happening to people like Rod Rosenstein and William Barr? Rosenstein recently resigned and actually quoted Trump speaking on the “importance of the rule of law” (?) and thanked him for his “humor and courtesy?” And Barr, as we speak, is defending himself to the Senate over writing a summary of the Mueller investigation that Mueller himself has characterized as misleading? So, what gives with these people? New York Times:
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.
When Trump was elected, the Dallas Morning News ran an editorial, saying that the press was having problems covering Trump as a candidate because there was no “mechanism” for dealing with somebody like him. The example they used, is trying to photocopy chunks of cardboard in a copy machine — it won’t be very long before the machine jams and breaks. That is what happened to press coverage of Trump in 2016. Early on, the mechanisms in place simply broke down, because presidential politics simply had never seen an amoral candidate who lies continually. The media coverage mechanism is still broken to this day, as the Washington Post has logged in over 10,000 Trump lies and still counting.
Apparently, the media is not the only group of people lacking a mechanism to deal with the likes of Donald Trump. From Comey’s op/ed, one gets the sense that the people involved simply get overwhelmed by the process of trying to deal with Trump, as if he was like other political figures, when he emphatically and overwhelmingly is not. He’s nothing like anyone we have ever seen, and sure as hell is not the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, as his most deluded followers love to trumpet.
Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.
Comey makes the point that James Mattis never fell for Trump and his ways and he resigned on principle — something which Trump has zero comprehension of, so it took him several days to register exactly what had happened with Mattis, and then only after Fox news had briefed him.
Comey also makes the point that the people in Trump’s circle begin to praise him, in order to stay in the circle of power, so that they can protect the institutions which Trump attacks — and in that very act of praising Trump, of humoring the lunatic, is how I read it, it happens — Trump eats your soul.
Read this entire piece today if you read nothing else. It’s a good insight from a Trump administration insider and should be taken seriously.