James Comey, the formerly respected FBI director whose maladroit handling of a fresh email “discovery” threatens to change American history. A few weeks ago, I wrote that the rise of Trump is a sign that the Constitution is “gravely, perhaps terminally, ill.” I underestimated how far the rot has spread and how hard it will be to cure. A constitution is not simply a collection of words, or even a set of rules; it is a complex focus of text, history, values, and institutions. And as the nation forsakes the values and devalues the history, the institutions—for all their marble majesty—are hollowing out. The Comey episode is but the latest symptom of a seriously ailing civic culture.
He defied Department of Justice tradition and policy, and the advice of Department of Justice staff, to boldly tell the nation . . . essentially nothing except, “Everybody freak out!” In so doing, he has left not only his own reputation but the organization he heads sadly diminished for some time to come.
The email announcement—now denounced by, among others, Democratic and Republican attorneys general, the ethics counsel for the Bush White House, and Fox News’s Judge Jeanine—seems not to have been a partisan maneuver so much as an extraordinary lapse in judgment
a chilling reminder of how many such pillars of the republic have been buckling lately.
Consider that Donald J. Trump, a man incapable of a coherent English sentence, now has a lease (with option to buy) on the Republican Party. The United States Congress—where the Northwest Ordinance, the Homestead Act, The Fourteenth Amendment, the Social Security Act of 1935, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were drafted—now spends its time happily threatening to default on the national debt and refusing to confirm judges.
The Supreme Court—once vaunted as the branch that worked, is now literally hollowed out, its one missing justice having robbed it of not only its ability to decide cases but its very confidence in itself. A new step downward is now being pledged, as Senators like John McCain and Ted Cruz begin to suggest that Court vacancies should never be filled. (“[L]et the Supreme Court die out,” one conservative commentator suggested last week.)
State governments—once the supposed “laboratories of democracy”—are hollowing out too, degenerating into semi-democratic one-party satrapies (look at Kansas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin).
even the elected state courts are increasingly under the sway of unregulated money.
The institutional media is now a shadow of itself. In the rise of Trump, cable news was an eager collaborator.
The FBI’s Halloween trick was not intended light-heartedly, and it may be a harbinger of the same.