Lordy, I Miss Jim Comey

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On June 8th, over 19 million Americans tuned in to watch the “D.C. Super Bowl.” And yes, that phrase should be something of a red flag for anyone who considers obstruction of justice a little more serious than tossing the pigskin. But 19 million necessitates the question: why? Why did CNN set up a two day “Countdown to Comey,” and why did the Hart building hallways look like something out of a Harry Potter release event? Why were we so obsessed?

Now of course, Jim Comey’s testimony merited a certain degree of intrigue and excitement. No matter who’s in the White House, a former FBI Director accusing the sitting president of obstruction of justice is going to pique the people’s interest. That Donald Trump is the one lumbering around the Oval Office only exacerbates this principle. For a nation withering in the drought of the Trump Administration’s malevolence, Jim Comey seemed to offer something of a spring rain. Perhaps we could finally score a point against the most unpopular president in modern American history.

But the hearing’s barely behind us and I’m missing Jim Comey––wondering where he’s gone and what he’s doing––and so I’m convinced there was more going on. Because in the midst of the nation’s obsession with Comey, all I could think of were fireflies. A month ago, David Brooks tried to sum up our obsession with Donald Trump. “The vast analytic powers of the entire world,” he wrote, “are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.” Whether you like it or not, America is entertained by Trump’s insults and unpredictability. But Brooks suggests that we enjoy Trump’s sudoku-style challenge as well––we tap into our “analytic powers” in an attempt to Rubik’s Cube him into something recognizable, comprehensible.

And we do the same with Jim Comey.

Charles Blow recently dedicated an article to “The Complexities of James Comey,” seeking to square the circle that is the infamous FBI Director. And as Comey loomed larger and larger on the national horizon, I couldn’t help but try to do the same. Jim Comey may be Goliath-tall, but he’s David for Hillary and Donald. He’s hero and villain, brilliant and flawed and he shrugs, squints, and shortens himself before the camera, calls himself a coward. He quotes Shakespeare and himself, calling upon the past with the clarity and narrative of one watching it all play out again in front of him. “That was the last time I saw President Trump,” reads the epic conclusion of his written testimony, but have we seen Jim even once? Who is the man (hiding) behind the navy curtain?

And, again, why do we care? Why are we doing this––analyzing and re-analyzing Comey’s intentions and psyche and significance? Over the past few months, Jim Comey has emerged out of relative obscurity to step into the limelight and beyond it. We have turned him into a rare breed of political figure: one who balloons with mystery and consequence until he’s risen above politics altogether, become so nearly mythological that you’d almost begin to question his corporeal existence entirely. Why did Prometheus steal the fire but while we’re at it, Why was Jim Comey fired at all? And why did he do that to Hillary?

To understand this perception of Comey, we must (unfortunately) look back to Donald Trump. Because the mythical mold with which we’ve cast Jim Comey is the same that we’ve used for Donald. And that’s why I miss him, I think. Jim Comey offered a blissful alternative to the analytic scrutiny with which we’ve addressed Donald Trump for so long. Since that October 28th letter to Congress we’ve been siphoning off energy from our efforts with Trump, powering our probing of Comey instead. I miss Comey because, like train crashes and other messy atrocities, Donald Trump is both fascinating and nauseating, and it’s nice to look away. But I also think I miss him because I’ve grown to need this kind of national narrative in my politics. Trump and Comey feed an addiction that we’ve been developing for decades––for entertainment without bounds, for spectacle without sphere or parameter.

Jim Comey’s sun is setting on that national horizon, but there are other celestial and political bodies to take his place. As we refocus those “vast analytic powers” on Donald Trump and other men-turned-mythological, we would do well to consider dimming them slightly. Deep down, we know that politics is not a game and that political figures are not characters to be interpreted for sport. In the real world, we must focus on protecting our “meddlesome priests” and fighting our Henry IIs. In the real world, there is no Shakespeare to blame for their fates.

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