What has become of this country? Oh, every living American is sure to ask himself that question at some point—I myself wonder where we went wrong regarding Saturday morning children’s television programming, for instance—but the Age of Trump has engendered a specially dispiriting turn of social collapse across the nation, and in the most irritating way possible.
James Comey’s star turn in front of the Senate last week was just the latest iteration of this. In a frenzy usually reserved for the run-up to new Taylor Swift album releases, the Left was salivating to see Comey go before Congress and—somehow—render some terribly devastating and possibly indictable testimony against Trump. Progressives have undergone a strange kind of transformation in the Trump Era, their political instincts having come to resemble, more or less, the worst effects of marijuana as portrayed by Reefer Madness: paranoia, delirium, pointless mania, and in some cases even outright violence. Every day brings with it fresh implications of intrigue unto which the liberal base desperately gloms on, positive, absolutely positive, that this latest scandal-accusation-whatever will be the thing that gets Trump impeached and removed from office.
Comey’s testimony, predictably, was not that thing. The expectations surrounding the event were so high compared to the eventual reality of it that a fair number of media outlets and pundits were rendered humiliated in its wake: CNN, for instance, felt compelled to rewrite an article after its wild predictions turned out to be completely wrong. Indeed, the entire debacle, which received extensive coverage from every media outlet worth mentioning, ended up being what the kids in Washington today call a “nothingburger,” at least when stacked up against the expected outcome. Everyone wanted a bombshell; Comey gave them something closer to a low-grade stink bomb.
But this is the Age of Trump, and so everything involving Trump, whether it’s testimony from an ex-bureaucrat or the distance Trump walks in front of his wife, has to be an extinction-level-event-sized revelation. The progressive reaction to Comey’s testimony was most aptly summed up by the New York Times editorial board, which claimed that Trump and Comey’s fractious professional relationship represented “a clash between the legal principles at the foundation of American democracy, and a venal, self-interested politician who does not recognize, let alone uphold, them.” This declaration comes, mind you, after the Times last year described Comey’s professional behavior as “breathtakingly rash and irresponsible,” and that Comey had “undermine[d] the American people’s trust in the nation’s top law enforcement agencies,” and also that Comey had done damage to “the election…his own reputation, and…that of the FBI,” that he had perpetrated “harmful intrusions into the democratic process,” and that he had erased “the credibility of his leadership.” What a difference a few months makes!
The transformation of James Comey from “harmful intruder into the democratic process” to a protector of “the legal principles at the foundation of American democracy” is hardly surprising: we will see this kind of whipsaw realignment many, many times over the next four years. What is so comical here is not the opportunistic posturing but how profoundly misguided it is. Comey’s testimony was nowhere near as momentous as the Times makes it out to be. It was beneficial to Trump in some ways; damaging to him in some others; and altogether did not tell us anything we did not already know about Trump, namely that he is not a very good president and is apparently open to engaging in unscrupulous behavior to further his own aims, but also that he’s not, you know, Satan incarnate.
Trump’s own response to Comey’s testimony, that it represented “complete vindication” on the former’s part, was equally misguided: Trump did not come off looking very good at all in the wake of the hearing. But Trump has never really looked good: we have known from the start what type of person he is and what kind of things he’s willing to do. Yet a middling and unsatisfying analysis of this whole affair—that Comey basically reaffirmed our priors about Trump with some new troubling evidence while also quashing the wildly speculative anti-Trump rumors of the media—is above much of the anti-Trump class; they can only respond with frothing, wild-eyed fury to every single bit of Trump news that comes to light. People, we are in for four years of this—assuming, after 2018, that Democrats do not impeach Trump for holding his salad fork the wrong way at a state dinner, which at this point could easily be a distinct possibility.