L'Etat, C'est Trump

The president and his advisors believe loyalty to the country and loyalty to him are the same thing.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Thank you, Kellyanne Conway. On Thursday on Fox News, the President’s most polished defender told America the truth about why Donald Trump fired James Comey: Trump “expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the administration.” And he sees no distinction between the two.

He expected the FBI Director to be his personal cop, pursuing those “crimes” that he considered important, which is to say: “crimes” against him. When Comey instead used independent criteria to determine where the FBI should focus its resources, and what it should consider true, Trump was appalled. He figured Comey wasn’t doing his job.

This is the story that Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, Michael S. Schmidt and Peter Baker tell in Thursday’s New York Times, and which Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker, Sari Horvitz and Robert Costa tell, equally well, in Thursday’s Washington Post. Trump grew enraged that Comey did not publicly support his false claim that President Obama had ordered his wiretapping. He grew enraged that Comey appeared more focused on investigation the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia than investigating government leaks. Never did Trump display any recognition that, as FBI Director, Comey has the right, indeed the duty, to make his own decisions about what is legally important and what is factually true. No one in the White House appears to have told Trump that.

The Post cites George Lombardi, a Trump friend, as saying that, “There had been a lot of arguments back and forth in the White House and during the campaign, a lot of talk about what side of the fence [Comey] was on.” Think about that. Trump and the people around him do not even seem to have considered the possibility that Comey was not on either party’s side; that he was trying to follow the law. So when Comey began doing things Trump didn’t like, Trump assumed it was because Comey was a Democratic partisan.

One potential explanation for this is ignorance. Trump knows very little about how the American government is supposed to work. He once spoke about judges like Samuel Alito “signing bills.” It’s possible he truly did not realize that the FBI Director is not the equivalent of the security chief at a large corporation. He’s supposed to use the law to protect the American people; not to protect his boss.

Another explanation is narcissism. Trump, the Times reports, “was particularly irked when Mr. Comey said he was ‘mildly nauseous’ to think that his handling of the email case had influenced the election, which Mr. Trump took to demean his own role in history.” Think about that for a second. Comey was upset that his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails may have swayed an election. He should be upset. The FBI is supposed to be apolitical. But all Trump could see was a man deprecating Trump’s victory. Comey was expressing a principle upon which American liberal democracy rests: law enforcement should be nonpartisan. All Trump heard was Comey dissing him.

Trump has expressed this sort of epic narcissism before. In February, a Jewish reporter asked “how the government is planning to take care of” an “uptick in anti-Semitism.” Trump ignored the issue completely. Instead he interpreted the question as an attack on him. “I am the least anti- Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” he responded, even though the reporter hadn’t suggested that Trump was anti-Semitic. A day earlier, when an Israeli journalist asked “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents,” Trump responded by talking about his “many [Jewish] friends, a [Jewish] daughter who happens to be here right now, a [Jewish] son-in-law, and three beautiful [Jewish] grandchildren.” He didn’t say anything about rising anti-Semitism at all.

It’s not just that Trump has never worked in government. He’s never worked in a job devoted to a cause larger than self-enrichment or self-aggrandizement. He’s spent virtually his entire professional life in a family business where he sets the rules and where people answer to him. Note how promiscuously Trump’s uses the first person possessive: “my generals,” “my African-American.” Last spring, when journalists asked him who his Israeli advisors were, he wheeled out his Jewish lawyers. He sends his children on diplomatic missions, where they also hawk his products. He doesn’t really distinguish between public and private interest, between obeying the law and obeying him.

It’s telling that one of the people Trump complained to about Comey was Keith Schiller, his director of security. And that he sent Schiller to tell Comey he was fired. The Times and Post both suggest that Trump thought Schiller and Comey were in the same line of work. They were his cops. And by that standard, Comey was doing a terrible job.

As Conway admitted, the United States is currently led by a man who equates allegiance to the country with allegiance to him. As Americans learned this week, this mentality is a grave threat to American law enforcement. It’s only a matter of time until it threatens the American military too.