Jim Comey’s entire shtick now consists of violating the proprieties expected of a former FBI director. But even as he turns up on late-night gag shows to profit off betrayed confidences, he presents himself as the custodian of America’s “norms.” In between complaining about how his job “sucked” at times and how he felt “pissed” off, he likes to play the holier-than-thou scold. His constant invoking of “values” is an attempt to prettify his plunge into low politics and unprincipled profiteering.
Much of his “moral” case against Trump turns not on Trump’s moral behavior or any supposed rejection of fundamental American values by Trump but on a politics Comey finds distasteful. So in the end Comey is just pandering to liberalism’s claimed monopoly on “decency” and its treatment of any deviation from that willful claim as the ultimate character defect. That is why Trump’s comparing of left-wing thugs to white supremacists stands at the top of Comey’s bill of indictment.
Comey has never outgrown the adolescent politics that led him to do his senior college thesis at William and Mary on the troubling “nationalism” of Jerry Falwell, contrasted with what he saw as the measured wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr. Anybody who bothers to slog through that thesis will understand how Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump inflamed Comey’s various complexes.
Long before he saw Trump’s nationalism as vulgar, Comey found Falwell’s Reaganite patriotism distasteful. In the paper, Comey cites against Falwell Niebuhr’s warnings about the “idolatry” of nationalism. Comey praises Niebuhr for his skeptical view of nationalism and the danger of “pride” to which it can lead. It is not hard to read into Niebuhr’s quotes Comey’s dim view of Trump’s nationalism.
Comey quotes Niebuhr as saying that America’s patriotism can turn national virtues into vices and lead to gauche boasting. “According to Niebuhr, Americans are surprised at the world’s criticism of America because they rest too complacently in their own sense of virtue,” writes Comey. No doubt Comey sees Trump as the realization of Niebuhr’s fears.
Comey faults Falwell for grounding his patriotism in “questionable” Christian claims and says that Niebuhr would “condemn” Falwell’s view of an America exalted through obedience to God as false prophecy: “For Niebuhr, true religion must be prophetic religion; religion that avoids the lure of prejudicial nationalism, selfishness and pride…” (Comey’s dislike for the Trump-supporting religious right can be read into that remark.)
It is clear from the paper that Comey’s caricaturing of Falwell’s patriotism was motivated by an annoyance at Falwell’s enthusiasm for Reagan and his anti-communism. Falwell is reluctant to play the “prophet” against his own country, Comey complains, which is an odd and unfair criticism given that whenever Falwell did censure America’s moral failings the ruling class would give him a drubbing.
All in all, the paper is a pretty tendentious pitting of Niebuhr against Falwell, with all the usual “social justice” conceits about the narrowness of traditional Christian morality and other cheap shots about the religious right. It is full of the same kind of jargon and smug liberal appropriation of religion — “positive ethical action through justice” and so on — that define his memoir.
The other day Comey was rattling on about Trump’s lack of “external” reference points. Trump, you see, lacks the spiritual substance and depth of a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, in Comey’s view. But where exactly are Comey’s external reference points? Could there be a more hopeless egotist and navel-gazer in Washington than Comey?
Comey is just a garden-variety ambitious and greedy D.C. operator, but because of his various pompous complexes, he has a need to sanctify all of that in the mumbo-jumbo of quasi-religion and “betrayed” ideals. One has to laugh at his announcement that he is no longer a registered Republican, as if that registration had any meaning apart from his ambition to receive appointments in Republican administrations. Did he register as a Republican and vote for Democrats?
His whole act as the Niebuhrian conscience of Washington is nothing more than willfulness under the guise of “higher” loyalties. If anything leads to the shattering of norms, it is egotism on that scale. Out of it came an FBI director who spared Hillary an indictment on his own say-so, leaked to the press, lied before Congress, and treated privileged communications as fodder for a score-settling book.
Comey talks constantly about an “independent” FBI and speaks about the chief executive of the executive branch as if he is a malign foreign power occupying the country. Whenever abusive, selfish jerks in government want to arrogate power to themselves, they cite their “independence.” But the FBI is part of the executive branch. It is not independent of the chief executive, and it is absurd for Comey to write about him like he is a criminal one should be at pains to avoid. That “independence” is just the post-Watergate presumption of entitled liberals, and we now see where that leads — to a former FBI director who turns up on TV to cash in on Oval Office secrets, then goes home to read Niebuhr.