May 1, 2019
James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr
Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.
(Mr. Comey is the former F.B.I. director.)
NYTimes, May 1, 2019
CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times
People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?
How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?
And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?
What happened to these people?
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.
Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.
I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.
From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.
Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.
Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.
You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.
You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.
Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.
And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.
James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”
April 30, 2019
Andrew Restuccia: The sanctification of Donald Trump
“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this year.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
For his closest advisers, President Donald Trump is a godsend — literally.
Trump’s campaign manager says the president was sent by God to save the country. The White House press secretary thinks God wanted Trump to be president. And the secretary of State believes it’s possible that Trump is on a holy mission to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Iran.
Forget the allegations of extramarital affairs, the nonstop Twitter insults and the efforts to close the southern border to migrants. Trump’s allies insist that his presidency is divinely inspired.
“There has never been and probably never will be a movement like this again,” Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.
“Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation, and only God could allow me to help. God bless America!”
Parscale’s tweet, the latest example of a Trump adviser casting the president as a savior, comes as the White House is preparing to host religious leaders on Wednesday and Thursday for the National Day of Prayer, an annual event in which people of all faiths are encouraged to pray for the nation.
The president, who doesn’t regularly attend church services, has emerged as an unlikely ally of the evangelical right, building close relationships with influential conservative religious figures. The White House screened an anti-abortion movie earlier this month, part of a broader strategy to energize evangelical voters ahead of the 2020 elections by amplifying false claims about late-term abortions.
But for observers of American history and advocates for the separation of church and state, the assertions that Trump’s presidency is endorsed by God are alarming.
“Christians should beware of a political use of the word ‘savior,’ which goes to the very heart of our faith. This particular statement is a gross expression of Christian nationalism, which I define as equating Christian and American identities,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “People of faith know that God is much larger than any one candidate, party, election or country.”
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian, said, “What these political lieutenants are saying to the faithful is that, ‘You have no choice; God has told you how you must vote.’
“Republican administrations historically have talked about individual rights, the autonomy of the individual, preventing government from dictating political choice,” he said. “By bringing the sacred into politics, they are actually imposing a view onto his followers and depriving them of a freedom of choice.”
And even some of Trump’s most vocal evangelical backers have some qualms with the notion that God wanted him to win the presidency.
“If you give God credit for a good president, then you’ve got to blame God when you have a bad one. So I don’t think that’s the way to look at it,” Jerry Falwell Jr. told POLITICO, adding later: “I don’t think you can say that God gives us good leaders. What do you do when you get a bad one, say, ‘God messed up’? That’s silly.”…
Falwell said he would be attend a National Day of Prayer dinner at the White House on Wednesday with the president and first lady Melania Trump.
Parscale, who did not respond to a text seeking comment, isn’t the first Trump ally to make the case that Trump is carrying out God’s will.
“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network News earlier this year. Sanders did not comment for this story.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in March that Trump might have been sent to protect the Jewish people from Iran.
“Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo during a visit to Israel.