Political Pacing: Endurance Required
Seldom is a week so stimulating and exhausting, so vertiginous and clarifying, as this past one proved to be. One feels as though he’s been tasked with sprinting a marathon without first tying his laces or limbering his stiffened tendons. It’s as if, at the gun, he’s tripped, started a pile-up, and is accelerating downhill with the accretion giving him speed. Caught in this snowballing mass are the politicians, the pundits, and the increasingly exasperated hoi polloi. Let’s step away from this avalanche and straightened our thoughts.
James Comey has been fired from his position as FBI Director. It’s a shocking coup that only months ago would’ve been eagerly applauded by Democrats, and then by Republicans…and then by Democrats again. To say the least, Comey has been a polarizing figure. He’s politicized an office that otherwise shouldn’t have been. And if politicization endears you to one side, it necessarily damns you in the eyes of the other. The vagaries of each party’s warmth and disdain for him turned into a year’s-long flavor of the week. Every Republican and Democrat, at different times and for different reasons, loathed him just as much as the other lauded him. The kaleidoscope of Comey’s relationships started to look like some kind of theatrical farce.
Comey was treated with animosity or sympathy, depending on whom he offended. It seems as though in some subtle ways, he relished this role. Perhaps President Trump wasn’t wrong in calling him a “showboat” and a “grandstander”. His persona was that of a man driven by righteousness above all else. But this righteousness, or the appearance of it, was gratuitous more often than not. It wasn’t so much that he sought the limelight to preach his moral up-rightness, but he certainly never shied away when its rays trickled upon him. And when he preached, whether the sermon was about e-mails, dossiers, or anything else in between, he was never able to fully persuade a discerning congregation that he was purely apolitical.
An understanding of this perception Comey created of himself is important. It’s what initially prompted President Trump to bristle at him and then bray for his removal. Trump disliked the commandeering quality of Comey’s political star-power. Comey, unlike any other person in Washington, could raise suspicions of the president’s alleged connection with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Convinced of his innocence, Trump—on more than one occasion—implored Comey to publicly put to rest this vast left-wing “conspiracy”. Comey wouldn’t yield. For Trump, the fact that his FBI Director wouldn’t set the record straight on his alleged Kremlin-connection was too much for him to bear.
While Comey was speaking to a group of FBI agents in California, he received a pink slip with the President’s seal. At what was claimed to be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s behest, Trump fired Comey. The reason given was that Comey had mishandled Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server snafu. However unlikely a reason it was, Trump might’ve gotten away with it had he stayed mum on any further word regarding the matter. He couldn’t help himself, though.
Days later, President Trump appeared on an exclusive episode of Nightly News with anchor Lester Holt. There, athwart Holt and a captivated American audience, Trump admitted what some suspected, but none expected to be said. Quite explicitly, Trump said that it wasn’t because of the Clinton e-mails that Comey was fired, but rather because of his own personal vendetta. He was upset by the fact that Comey still wouldn’t exculpate him publicly. And as such, with the snap of a finger, Comey was gone—but the problems for Trump were just beginning. After having admitted his real reason, Trump made immediately clear that Rosenstein’s letter was little more than a ruse. At that very moment, the Trump-Russia Rubicon was crossed. On his chest he painted a red target and on his shoulders he cleared space for what surely will turn into an ongoing investigation.
Democrats could hardly contain their zeal. In this unexpected turn of events, the possibility of impeachment seemed nearer now than ever. They joined in a chorus clamoring for “obstruction of justice”, which in time, may prove to be the case. But it should be kept in mind that at this time, there is no conclusive evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia. This new turn of events simply fans more smoke, with a fire that’s yet to be seen.
But with Trump’s next snafu, the fire grew. Immediately after Comey’s firing, Trump continued as scheduled with a pre-arranged meeting (reportedly at Vladimir Putin’s urging) with Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak—two of Moscow’s most important emissaries. At the White House, the two joined Trump for what was supposed to be little more than a stately, convivial klatch. As it turns out, because of a dumbfounding lack of discretion, the meeting became an unexpected information cache. Flanked by the visiting Russians, Trump looked uncharacteristically chipper. We know this only via Russian media—as they alone were permitted access to the meeting. American photographers were excluded and kept outside. If one is seeking to convince a nation that he is not “in-bed” with the Russians, closing the blinds to a curious nation was not the way to do it. Additionally, some intelligence officials, of a more paranoiac persuasion, think that the Russians might’ve bugged the Oval Office. It certainly wouldn’t be beyond the reach of Russia’s incessant schemes.
I mentioned an information cache. America, unfortunately, was on the giving rather than receiving end of it. Without much prompting, it seems, President Trump revealed the identity of an Israeli informant the Pentagon uses in its fight against ISIS in the Middle East. He openly divulged the identity of a man whose inconspicuousness is his greatest, and at times, only asset. One can’t assume that the Russians would put this information to ill-use, but in revealing it, Trump jeopardized Israel’s vital trust. Middle East experts are worried that the robust Israeli military will think twice before sharing privy information with a president with loose lips.
It’s a lot, I know, but it’s all in a week’s time. If this week and this first quarter of Trump’s early presidency have proven nothing else, we’d better ready ourselves for in for an exhausting trek. The pace is set. Stretch, hydrate, and repeat.