Everything I’m about to write is obvious. But contesting things formerly considered obvious is part of what Donald Trump and his supporters do. It’s how they undermine pre-existing liberal democratic norms. So here goes.
When Trump (in three separate tweets), Fox News and National Review call Democrats hypocrites for condemning Trump’s decision to fire James Comey after having criticized his stewardship of the FBI, they’re wrong.
First, criticizing Comey doesn’t necessarily mean you want him fired. In order to investigate crimes irrespective of the political fallout, FBI directors are supposed to enjoy a high degree of independence from the presidents under whom they serve. That’s why their terms are 10 years long. It’s why only one FBI director has been fired—for egregious misconduct recognized as such across the aisle—since the bureau was created. And it’s why most congressional Democrats did not propose firing Comey even though they believe he gravely mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Because they respect the integrity of the office even if they’re not fans of the man who holds it.
Second, criticizing Comey—and even believing he committed errors serious enough to warrant firing—doesn’t mean you want him fired under present circumstances. It doesn’t mean you want him fired for investigating the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia, which is what Trump appears to have done.
Consider the following analogy. Imagine you’re a newspaper editor and you hire an ombudsman to monitor your staff’s journalistic ethics. You give the ombudsman a three-year contract and promise that you won’t interfere with what they write. Then, after a while, you decide that they’re doing a lousy job. Their analysis is superficial; their writing is poor. You’re sure there are many people in the profession who could do a better job.
You still might be wrong to fire them before their contract expires. You might be wrong to fire them because regardless of your true motives, doing so would undermine the independence of the office, thus affecting how future ombudsmen do their work. Now imagine that the ombudsman is investigating serious potential wrongdoing by people close to you. In that case, you would certainly be wrong to fire them. Because doing so would not only compromise the integrity of the office, it might also shield corruption.
That’s roughly the position Democrats are taking today. Their concern for the FBI director’s independence, and their concern for the investigation he’s doing into a foreign government’s effort to undermine the 2016 election, outweighs their resentment over Comey’s past misdeeds.
It’s not hard to understand. Unless you don’t want to understand it because you’re determined to defend Trump no matter what. Which, unfortunately, describes the attitude of many in today’s GOP.
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