Friday, June 16, 2017

Trump Versus Comey: The Politics of Loyalty and Lying

I deeply appreciate the work of Henry Giroux. Powerful, essential, illuminating. - Molly

Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 8, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
Donald Trump's firing of James Comey as the director of the FBI has caused a firestorm around the country but for the wrong reasons. Rather than framing Trump's actions as another example of the unravelling of a lawless and crooked government, the mainstream press has largely focused on the question of whether Trump or Comey is lying. Even worse, the debate in some quarters has degenerated into the personal question of whose "side" one is on regarding the testimony.
Testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey claimed that in meetings with the president, Trump had not only asked him if he wanted to keep his job but had also demanded what amounted to a loyalty pledge from him. Comey saw these interventions as an attempt by Trump to develop a patronage relationship with him and viewed them as part of a larger attempt to derail an FBI investigation into National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's links to Russia. What Comey implied but did not state directly is that Trump wanted to turn the FBI into the loyal arm and accomplished agent of corrupt political power. In other words, without making a direct allegation, Comey laid out a case for charging Trump with the crime of obstruction of justice. That case is further bolstered by the revelation that Trump is now reportedly considering whether to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who was appointed to investigate whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russian officials. Even Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, have publicly stated that this is a bad idea. What many people miss is that rumors of Trump's possible firing of Mueller are nothing more than part of a politics of diversion -- one which constantly shifts the terms of the debate about Trump's trampling on the rights of the American people and his willingness to divert serious questions about his acts of collusion and obstruction of justice.
Expressing a blatant contempt for the truth, Trump tweeted that Comey's testimony had vindicated him and that Comey was a liar and a leaker. Of course, Trump made no mention of the fact that Comey leaked non-classified information because he did not trust anyone at the Department of Justice, especially since it was led by Trump's crony, Jeff Sessions. Since Trump is a serial liar, there is a certain irony in Trump accusing Comey of lying. As Mehdi Hasan, appearing on Democracy Now!, observes:
From a political point of view, we know that one of the biggest flaws in Donald Trump's presidency, his candidacy, his ability to be president, is that he's a serial fabricator. Now you have the former top law enforcement officer of this country going in front of the Senate, under oath, saying he -- that, you know, "Those are lies, plain and simple," he said, referring to Trump's description of his firing. He said, "I was worried he would lie." He says, "I was worried about the nature of the man." … And there was a quite funny   tweet that went viral last night, which said, you know, "Trump is saying he's a liar. Comey is saying Trump's a liar. Well, who do you believe? Do you believe an FBI director who served under two -- who served under three presidents from two parties? Or   do you believe the guy who said Obama was born in Kenya?" And, you know, that's what faces us today.
Needless to say, given the FBI's history, Comey being a highly respected director of the FBI -- let alone a Republican -- does not support the fact that Comey is less likely to lie. But one cannot miss the irony in Trump's attempt to smear Comey as cowardly by accusing him of lying, given the fact that Trump is a serial liar who has unapologetically declared war not just on the truth but also on critical thought itself. Trump cannot be trusted because he not only infects political discourse with a language of hate, bigotry and lies, but also because he has allowed an ideology built on the use of disinformation to take over the White House. Under the Trump administration, the truth is distorted for ideological, political and commercial reasons. Lying has become an industry and tool of power. All administrations and governments lie, but under Trump lying has become normalized. It is a calling card for corruption and lawlessness, one that provides the foundation for authoritarianism.

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