This afternoon, as Attorney General William Barr dug his feet deeper in on the wrong side of history during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, former FBI Director James Comey tweeted, “Writing this brought me no joy. I’m sad for our country.” Comey was referring to an op-ed he wrote in today’s New York Times, entitled “How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr.”
Barr is the latest example of many “accomplished people lacking inner strength” who “can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.” Comey asks many rhetorical questions about what happened to these people, then admits “the answer is most likely complicated.” But Comey does offer eerie insight into the process, based on his four months of working with Trump and longer time watching Trump handle other people.
As Comey puts it, “Trump eats your soul in small bites.” The ghoulish process begins with a “private circle of assent,” in which one begins to become complicit by staying silent during Trump’s verbal diarrhea of falsehoods and bluster. It continues with “public displays of personal fealty,” in which one follows others in expressing admiration for the outspoken boss. The last step is Trump “attacking institutions and values you hold dear” while you remain silent, deciding you want to keep your job both for yourself and perhaps to protect the country in the long run. The problem is, as Comey cautions, it means you must continue compromising yourself by showing Trump that you are on his team.
Comey singled out former Secretary of Defense James Mattis as an outlier who managed to keep his dignity before he resigned based on principle. A profile on National Security Advisor John Bolton in this week’s The New Yorker reveals Mattis’ cunning in outsmarting and outmaneuvering Trump. Mattis would often block White House initiatives and ignore orders, viewing them as merely “part of a longer conversation,” according to the reporting. Whether Mattis will be judged an insubordinate or a hero, it appears the retired Marine Corps general ranks among the very few to escape the Trump administration with a soul still intact. When Trump finishes devouring what is left of Barr’s pitiful soul, he will no doubt quickly move on to his next prey, eager to feed his perverse, insatiable appetite for as long as he occupies the Oval Office.