Trump Time Capsule #150: James Comey and the Destruction of Norms
The Daily Trump: Filling a Time Capsule
People will look back on this era in our history to see what was known about Donald Trump while Americans were deciding whether to choose him as president. Heres a running chronicle from James Fallows on the evidence available to voters as they make their choice, and of how Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major-party candidates.
A shorter URL for the above link:
The rules in politics havent changed that much in recent years. What has changed is adherence to norms, in an increasingly destructive way.
I made that case, using examples different from the ones Im about to present here, nearly two years ago. The shift in norms is also a central part of Thomas Manns and Norman Ornsteins prescient Its Even Worse Than It Looks and Mike Lofgrens The Party Is Over, plus of course Jonathan Rauchs How American Politics Went Insane, our very widely read cover story (subscribe!) this summer.
Before 2006, use of a Senate filibuster to block legislation or nominations was an occasional tool-of-the-minority, not a routine practice. Now it has become so routine and, well, normalized that a story in our leading newspaper can matter-of-factly say, It actually takes 60 votes to bring a Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor. Actually it takes 60 votes only if there is a filibuster, which didnt use to be normal. Inconceivable as it now seems, three of Ronald Reagans nomineesJustices Scalia, Kennedy, and OConnorwere approved unanimously. Most Democrats in the Senate disagreed with some or all of their views. Not a single Democrat voted against them.
The official rules didnt change in these circumstances. The normsthat is, the expectation of what you should do, what you really have to do, what is the right thing to do, even if the letter of the law doesnt spell it outhave changed. For its survival, a democracy depends on norms. Thats why the shift matters.
And that is the context in which I think about James Comeys plunge into electoral politics, with his announcement about whatever new Clinton-related email information the FBI may or may not have found.
No one knows what this will mean for the election. Millions of people have already voted; in the nine days until official election day theres not enough time to fully vet and consider what Comey may have found. Will the announcement re-energize Hillary Clintons supporters, making them worry that the race may be tightening again? Depress them? Motivate team Trump? Bolster the theyre all terrible case for third-party candidates?
We dont know. But anyone experienced in politics, as Comey obviously is, would have known for dead certain that his intrusion would change the process in a way that cannot be undone. This is apparently what other officials in the FBI and Justice Department were telling Comey before he took this step. Two former deputy attorneys generalJamie Gorelick, who served under Bill Clinton, and Larry Thompson, who served under George W. Bushmade that point in a new Washington Post essay that lambastes Comey for his self-indulgent decision (emphasis added):
Decades ago, the department decided that in the 60-day period before an election, the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps. The reasoning was that, however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process.
They conclude that this move was so selfish on Comeys part, potentially protecting him at the cost of broader institutional destruction:
He may well have been criticized after the fact had he not advised Congress of the investigative steps that he was taking. But it was his job consistent with the best traditions of the Department of Justice to make the right decision and take that criticism if it came. …
As it stands, we now have real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation. Perhaps worst of all, it is happening on the eve of a presidential election. It is antithetical to the interests of justice, putting a thumb on the scale of this election and damaging our democracy.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
Additional Time Capsules Found at this Web Address
Clinton Time Capsule #1: Lessons Learned?
Trump Time Capsule #149: Cancel the Election
Trump Time Capsule #148: Rosebud, and Hillary
Trump Time Capsule #147: Scion
Trump Time Capsule #146: Al Smith Dinner
Trump Time Capsule #145: ‘Nasty Woman’
Trump Time Capsule #144: ‘Animals’
Trump Time Capsule #143: Rigged
Trump Time Capsule #142: Drug Test
Trump Time Capsule #141: ‘Selling Their Souls’
Trump Time Capsule #140: ‘Lock Her Up’
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