External standards

Comey was on the Colbert show the other day. The Times took some notes.

In recent days Trump has been furiously tweeting about Comey, even suggesting he should be put in jail.

Colbert asked him how he felt about Trump’s twitter insults.

Comey told Colbert that the episode seemed to reflect the reasons he decided to write “A Higher Loyalty”: to remind the country that it should not take the president’s public acts too lightly.

“My first reaction to those kinds of tweets is a shrug — like, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ But actually then I caught myself and I said, ‘Wait a minute. If I’m shrugging, are the rest of the country shrugging? And does that mean we’ve become numb to this?’ It’s not O.K. for the president of the United States to say a private citizen should be in jail. It’s not normal, it’s not acceptable, it’s not O.K. But it’s happened so much, there’s a danger we’re now numb to it, and the norm has been destroyed. And I feel that norm destroying in my own shrug. So we can’t allow that to happen. We have to talk about it and call it out. It’s not O.K.

That’s one good thing about social media, and blogs, even though that also cuts the other way. We now have the ability to refrain from shrugging things off; we can make a fuss now, a public fuss. That cuts both ways because so can everyone else and some of everyone else=Trump and people who like Trump and people who use this new tool to insult women and other underlings. We can make a fuss and they can make a fuss.

Comey was also on Fresh Air.

GROSS: And he asked for your loyalty again, and how did it end?

COMEY: He came back to loyalty again and said, I need loyalty. And I paused, and I said, I will always be honest with you. And he said, after a pause, that’s what I want – honest loyalty. And I paused, desperately looking for a way to get out of this incredibly awkward conversation. I said, you’ll get that from me, knowing what I meant and believing that given the conversation that had happened since we started the meal, he understood what I meant by that. And then we were out of that particular part of the conversation.

GROSS: That’s one example of the times that you compare the president’s behavior to the Mafia. And you’re familiar with the Mafia because you prosecuted them when you were in the New York office. So usually with the Mafia, there’s transactional relationships. You know, I’m going to give you this. I expect something in return. I expect your loyalty. But beneath all of that is a threat. Like, if you don’t give me your loyalty or if, you know, in spite of all my compliments to you, you betray me in some way, something’s going to happen. Did you sense that beneath this conversation there was any kind of threat?

COMEY: Well, certainly not the kind of threat that La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, would make explicit or implicit. And I don’t mean by comparing Donald Trump’s leadership culture to that of a Mafia boss to suggest he’s out there breaking legs or, you know, bombing shops when people don’t make their payments. And I didn’t get a sense of any kind of dark threat like that. But what I mean by the comparison is they’re strikingly similar in the centrality of the boss and in there being no external reference points other than the boss.

Most ethical leaders make judgments, hard judgments, by calling on some external reference points – a religious tradition, philosophy, logic, history, practice, something external to the leader but in the Mafia, and in my experience in Donald Trump’s world, there are no external reference points. It’s what is best for the boss? What will serve the boss best? How do we get the boss what he wants? It’s all about me as the leader.

Yes. It’s all about one giant all-encompassing ego. That’s no good. No one person is that important, and certainly not a Mafia boss or Donald Trump. But really no one is. Everyone has rights, and no one has extra rights.

It’s interesting that Comey doesn’t cite human rights as one of his examples of an external standard. It’s a pretty good one.

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