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the last boy scout?

goddamn, that's a big hand
i gave myself the morning and part of the afternoon off work today [what's the fun being the boss if you can't make the rules?] in order to watch former fbi director james comey testify before the senate intelligence committee, because i knew i wasn't going to be able to live with myself if i didn't see every gory detail. and, indeed, the man did not disappoint. i've heard a few people mewling about how he didn't say anything new, which isn't correct, but more importantly, it isn't important. comey's entire statement was circulated to the media yesterday and they happily read it in all its luridly detailed glory. lawrence o'donnell read sections of it on his show last night in a tone so lascivious it was almost obscene [but which perfectly captured an undercurrent to his interactions with trump that will be familiar to many women.] the bottom line is that james comey made sure that we all knew the facts of what he was going to say before he said it. today wasn't about revelations. it was about seeing james comey and evaluating him.

as far as that test is concerned... damn.

the fbi is an organisation that is, for all intents and purposes, irredeemable. the legacy of j. edgar hoover alone is sufficient to ensure that it will be forever tainted, through no fault of any of the people who work there now. but if ever the fbi wanted a poster boy for the image they seek to project, it was james comey this today. i can only imagine that as trump's personal lawyer mark kasprowicz typed up his hilariously illiterate response that he wished he'd ever had a witness as good as james comey.

the former fbi man's appearance was just ridiculously on point. the fluidity of his responses and recollection of detail never once seemed dishonest or evasive. they seemed like the responses of someone who would write the kind of detailed notes that he says he did. in contrast to the awkward stonewalling from yesterday's testimony, he was able to clearly articulate what was classified versus what was not, and his categorisations were consistent. he was lighthearted enough, in just the right ways, to seem human without ever seeming flippant.

in fact, as professional and buttoned-down as he seemed, it might be those moments of humanity that made him the most credible. the moments where he admitted that he was less brave than he could have been, less vocal about his principles than he could have been, sound achingly familiar to those of us with any history of working in the real world. most of us have had experiences where we knew that a superior was pressuring us to do something we found objectionable, where we knew the righteous and noble thing to do was stand firm and say no. and in 90% of those situations, we have acquiesced because we feared the consequences. at best, we have allowed ambiguous terms like "honest loyalty" to pass as a way of reassuring ourselves that we didn't outright betray what we knew to be the right thing. so james comey didn't come off as a high level superman, but as a person much like the rest of us, who bit his tongue, felt awful, and tried to forge ahead.

i feel like trump made a mistake by even responding to comey's testimony, rather than shrugging it off and dealing with questions at the next press briefing in the most nonchalant way possible. if the man has anything working in his favour in this matter, it's that the spectacle is chiefly of interest to political junkies like me, whereas a lot of the public doesn't much care about it. why make it seem like it's worth caring about? the best thing the administration could do in order to reinforce their message that there is nothing to all this russia and collusion talk is just to act like it isn't terribly important and that they're eager to see the special prosecutor's eventual report. but we all know that ain't happening.

trump's people have taken heart that comey clearly stated that the president was not personally under investigation during the time that he was still with the fbi, but it has to be cold comfort. after all, there was an indication that the fbi just hadn't gotten to him yet, with comey teasing that the main reason he wouldn't publicly assert that trump wasn't the subject of the investigation was because that could change, which would have forced the director to publicly disclose that fact. when picturing comey telling trump that he wasn't personally under investigation, i can't help but imagine it being followed by a stage whisper to the audience [us] "... for now."

the emerging party line on how all this happened seems to be "trump isn't a politician and he just didn't know how things are supposed to work". it's a ridiculous argument, of course. trump knew what he was doing was questionable enough that he ordered everyone out of the room before leaning on comey about dropping the flynn investigation. he knows it was questionable enough to deny that he'd done it. but most importantly, he seemed to have a perfect idea of what was and wasn't allowed when he was talking about hillary clinton's email server or loretta lynch's discussion with bill clinton. furthermore, this argument depends on trump asserting that he didn't know what a proper president would do. i somehow don't see that happening.

on the other hand, it's a good strategy, for the same reason that comey's free admission that he wasn't as brave as he could have been is a good answer: we've all been there. we've all [well, most of us] been in situations where a boss did something we knew was wrong, but we felt unable to question it because he or she is the boss and they get to do that. we're all veterans of corporate culture, which functions as a tiered autocracy. whoever is above us can do what they want, and we have little opportunity for recourse, because... that's just how things are. straight-up illegal behaviour sometimes has consequences, but even that has to be pretty well documented. the vast majority shake their heads and remind themselves that they have to accept it because it is the way things are. the boss can, to a large extent, do what he [or she] wants.

the position of president is paradoxical because it is immensely powerful, and because the president can do many things that the general population cannot. at the same time, the president is the appointee of the people, and serves the people as their chief representative in matters of state. the president is not the boss of the people; the people are the bosses of the president.

but the fact is that the people do see themselves as subservient to the president, and no one feels this more than the folks who elect a traditional "strong man" type, because they simply want an individual to come in and take charge. collaboration is difficult. responsibility is difficult. checks and balances are difficult. and those people will see nothing wrong with trump telling comey, in a poorly veiled way, that he should drop an investigation, because their working lives tell them that's how things work. the boss does what he wants without needing the validation or support of the people under him. [if you want to extend this metaphor, you could say that the balance on that sort of behaviour is supposed to be unions, which have been vilified for demanding that more company resources go into taking care of the people who are working or have worked there. groups that a more equitable sharing of benefits from the people at the top have been branded as toxic in the workplace and one could argue that the same is true politically.]

donald trump has never worked for people. he has always been the boss and, as such, believes that he is entitled to do what he wants, and that the people who serve him [ultimately, all americans] are required to do what he wants. he has no notion of what it means to serve, and no desire to do so. but he is a public servant, because that's the goddamned job. he doesn't get to tell the fbi director to stop looking into something, nor does he get to replace all the judges he hates, or to impose laws without the consent of congress. the much-vaunted american founding fathers went to unprecedented lengths to ensure that no individual ever had that kind of power, and much of the complicated structure that exists in american government has been designed to perpetuate this. and yes, as george w. bush once said, a dictatorship would be easier. but the people who wrote those rules didn't imagine that it was going to be easy to be america. they knew it was going to be hard. but they thought it was going to be worth it.

james comey didn't want to be fired. but when he was, he found himself in a privileged position: he got to speak out against the tyranny of the "people's boss". i don't think that he even realises that that's what he's doing, but it is. we may be forced to accept that the business world functions as a series of autocracies, but that doesn't mean that it should be acceptable in government. comey made an eloquent case today for vigilance against that sort of thing. here's hoping that people are listening. 

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