The shock waves of this week have not yet subsided. One CNN commentator’s image, that President Trump set out a landmine and then stepped on it himself, seems apt.
And all the pros and cons for firing James Comey, and all the oohs and aahs over the changing statements explaining why, have been reported endlessly.
I want to explore the President’s description of Comey as a ‘showboat’ and a ‘grandstander’, and his announcement that it was for this that Comey was fired.
I do, though, want to include the fact that his interviewer on Fox News immediately asked him about the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, and Trump quickly admitted this was his real reason. More about this later.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a showboat is someone who tries to attract attention by conspicuous behavior.
According to the Urban Dictionary, a showboat has an exaggerated idea of his own skills, talents, or abilities, and exhibits a grotesque amount of undue and unfounded pride for abilities that are actually mediocre.
And, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in British English, a showboat is a showoff.
Donald Trump sees James Comey as all these things.
During the campaign, when Comey addressed the public to say Hillary Clinton was not going to be prosecuted by the FBI, Trump was disgusted, and encouraged the Lock Her Up chant in his rallies.
When Trump reopened his investigation into newly a newly released cache of emails in late October, Trump cheered, saying Comey was at last doing his job. But he must also have been noting that Comey was developing a strong public persona, and placing himself, as indeed J. Edgar Hoover had done, as a public leader unafraid of taking on Presidents.
And my guess is Trump found Comey dangerous because of that role. In a showdown with Trump, I think Trump guessed Comey would win.
Obsessed as Trump is with TV, he must have found Comey physically threatening. Trump is said to be 6’3”, so he doesn’t have to look up to very many men in this world. But Comey is 6’8”, and that fact alone would make Trump uncomfortable.
And then there is his hair. Comey won the genetic lottery with the kind of hair men have to envy: thick, never thinning, needing no fuss to look amazing. Trump, known the world around as the orange man, has struggled with his hair, inheriting the balding pate of his father, and taking steps to alter that with plastic surgery, during his first marriage, by a doctor who removed his bald spot and stretched his forehead skin upwards to cover it.
The procedure took many months before the painfulness and sleeplessness subsided, and was reported by his first wife, Ivana, in their divorce proceedings, as the reason why their marriage disintegrated. She had found the doctor. Trump blamed her for the prolonged pain. Trump now takes daily prescription medication to retain his remaining hair, and suffers endless cruel remarks about his strange hair. He must hate Comey’s hair.
As well, Trump takes daily medication for rosacea, a blotchy skin redness which Steve Bannon also has. Not a pretty sight. Trump uses make-up to cover the redness his medicine cannot contain, make-up which gives him an artificial skin coloration. Comey is handsome. Thin. Elegant in a suit. The Donald is not.
Comey also speaks elegantly well, cool, calm, composed, witty. Never rattled. Never defensive. And always ready, no matter how absurd the question coming at him on Capitol Hill. Trump’s public speaking is loud, crass, sometimes vulgar, and off-the-cuff. When he isn’t speaking off the cuff, Trump is monotonous, reads poorly from a teleprompter, garbles his syntax and often creates more questions than he answers. He also lies, often transparently. Comey is honest, to a fault.
And the final fault, for Comey, seems to have been his remark, last week, in his Senate testimony, that the idea that he may have influenced the outcome of the election makes him mildly nauseous.Sources close to Trump have reported to a number of journalists that Trump flew into a rage about that, taking it personally. That Trump stewed about it over the weekend. And then fired Comey.
Believing what? That Comey had, by this comment, declared himself untrustworthy in the Russia investigation? That Comey had declared Trump to be a sickening President? That Comey was a showman, a showoff, and a public nuisance to the White House?
Perhaps, all these things.
But there is another factor at work here: the Nixon factor, which is now so much a part of the reporting of what Trump did.
And no, it was not illegal for Trump to fire Comey, whereas what Nixon did in the Watergate break-in to the Democrats was indeed illegal.
But both Nixon and Trump fired a man who was heading an investigation into the behavior of their White House. And both fired a man in a deliberately ugly way. Both brought shame on themselves for the deed and the way they did it. And both men were acting out of their paranoia, not their goodwill.
Nixon and Trump, and yes, Hillary Clinton herself, have all exhibited a lot of paranoia about their public lives and their personas, about the media and about what is being said.
Hillary Clinton’s paranoia had a huge hobbling effect on her campaign. It was not just that she was introverted and unable to share warmth, more than that, it was her suspicious nature, which she could not conceal, that, for instance, kept her from releasing her Secretary of State emails for more than a year, a year which made many, including Comey, suspicious of her, and a year which pushed the FBI investigation into the middle of her campaign.
Trump’s paranoia was managed better in the campaign, chiefly because he had no public record. But it showed in spurts, especially toward the media, toward prominent officials who would not kowtow to him like Senator McCain, and toward Hillary Clinton, whom he insulted, blasted, ridiculed and lied about, and toward President Obama, whom he hates with an obsession, perhaps for some of the same reasons he hates Comey – better hair, better skin, better looking in a suit, and far better spoken.
Since the inauguration, Trump’s paranoia has been on display nearly every day.
Nixon, too, was reviled for his paranoia, which made him see everyone as an enemy. Trump and Hillary both lash out against people who oppose them, people they do not trust, people whom they believe have wronged them.
The public longs for goodwill in a President. Trump, at times, can present that, as he has done at his rallies. But he does not possess a temperament of goodwill, as Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton do.
Republican commentators say, and I think rightly, that the public will not care about the firing of an FBI director a year from now. But the public will remember the paranoia they witnessed in Donald Trump in this action and in his subsequent comments, especially the ‘showboat’ remark.
If Trump can be defeated at the polls, in 2018 and in 2020, it will be because of his paranoia. And the Democrats had better be wise enough to select candidates with a sunny outlook on life, and with hearts informed by goodwill for people, in the battles and the fray of public life.
As for the Russia investigation – there is so much billowing smoke here, and so many people have been fired (Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for New York, who was chasing down Russian money connections, Sally Yates, who would not enforce Trump’s first immigration ban, which was subsequently thrown out by the Supreme Court), that it is hard to believe there are not crimes being hidden, deals that have been made with Putin, or more.
Will Trump’s firing of Comey work? Will it end the FBI’s ability to accuse the President?
It remains to be seen. But without more GOP support, it is hard to believe there will be any real accountability here.
Former FBI Director James Comey, testifying last week. @everipedia.com image.