Foreign Policy | 9 June 2017
The statue of justice has a blindfold on.” Is it absurdly idealistic to think that a corny reminder from former FBI Director James Comey will resonate long after his statement that “those were lies, plain and simple” has faded into obscurity? The blindfold, Comey said, reminds every Justice Department employee that “you’re not supposed to peek out to see that your patron is pleased with what you’re doing.” These are fundamental ideas: You’re not supposed to have a patron. You serve the law, not a man. Your integrity lies in the idea of a principled neutrality.
Trump has been able to undermine the credibility of putatively nonpartisan institutions because so much of the public has bought into an ethic of demonization.
Trump has been able to undermine the credibility of putatively nonpartisan institutions because so much of the public has bought into an ethic of demonization. It has become almost the leitmotif of his presidency. Trump insists that the mainstream media isn’t just biased but “fake.” If a judicial ruling goes against him, he publicly holds up the judge or the court to mockery as a tool for liberals. And he proclaims that science, which depends upon the application of a method designed to systematically test hypotheses, is a fraud whenever its findings discredit his policy positions. In Trump’s world, the idea that a news report or a judicial ruling or a scientific finding can best be explained by reference to the institution’s truth-seeking principles is simply another piece of special pleading.
I come back to my hope, forlorn as it is, that James Comey will begin the process of restoring us to ourselves.
I come back to my hope, forlorn as it is, that James Comey will begin the process of restoring us to ourselves. The Democrats who hated Comey last fall, and now idolize him, need to see that in each case he has acted from the same principles of impersonal justice — even if he made profoundly the wrong judgment call when he publicly announced the “resumption” of the investigation against Clinton in October 2016. The same is true, in reverse, of people on the right. We don’t know Comey’s politics. Like many public servants — and quite a few reporters, for that matter — Comey takes the position that he would undermine his legitimacy by showing his partisan colors, whatever they are. That feels more and more like an honorable position at a time when the domain of the nonpartisan has shrunk almost to nothing. Of course, since Fox News resolutely ignored Comey’s deeper message, we can assume that most people who don’t believe in impersonal justice will treat the testimony as just another fusillade in an endless propaganda war — i.e., fake news.