Monday, June 12, 2017

Donald Trump Gave America a Political Concussion--James Comey's Testimony Did Little to Alleviate It

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Boxing is a beautiful, dangerous and violent sport. Two participants beat each other about the head and the body until one of them quits, is knocked out or the referee declares a winner. The boxing ring is also a crucible where a person’s essential character is laid bare for all to see. While a boxer is being hit he often does not feel the pain at that moment. Adrenaline, muscle memory and training have made him numb. It is after the fight — and in the months and years to come — when the damage is experienced most acutely and the physical abuse takes its cumulative toll.

Politics is a blood sport as well. Its traumas are different in character but just as real.

Since Donald Trump’s election last year, many millions of Americans have been suffering from a political concussion. Trump’s authoritarian politics, disregard for democracy, his cruelty, repeated scandals, serial lies and apparent encouragement of a foreign power’s interference in our politics — along with a Republican Party and a right-wing media that are determined to protect him from any consequences for his misdeeds — are repeated blows to the body politic.

In most other circumstances any one of these transgressions by an American president would dominate the news. But less than five months into Trump’s administration, this swirl of malevolent chaos and willful incompetence is a new type of normal. The sum effect is that the American people are dismayed, confused, angry and disoriented.

Thursday’s much-anticipated testimony by former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee did little to alleviate this state of affairs. Comey explained how Trump had pressured him in private to stop his investigation of Michael Flynn, the now-disgraced national security adviser and possible Russian operative. Like a Mafia boss, Trump also demanded Comey’s personal loyalty. When the director did not act the way that Trump desired, he was summarily fired.

Comey found Trump’s behavior so inappropriate that he began documenting their encounters. In the best-case scenario, Trump’s behavior demonstrates a brazen disregard for the norms of American democracy. In the worst-case scenario, Trump’s behavior constitutes obstruction of justice and what could potentially be an impeachable offense.

And Comey refused to confirm that the president of the United States would not come under active investigation in the future for possible colluding with Russia to undermine and interfere in the 2016 election to his advantage. Likely because of concern about revealing secret intelligence information or tactics, Comey would also not publicly confirm the contents of the “Steele dossier,” which is purported to contain salacious information that the Russians or another foreign power could use to blackmail Donald Trump.

Comey plainly and directly told the committee, however, that Donald Trump is a liar who did not tell the truth about Comey’s standing and tenure as at the FBI.

For people who already understand that Trump is an existential threat to American democracy who abuses his power, likely obstructed justice and seems to be under Vladimir Putin’s spell — perhaps working from the White House to advance the interests of the Kremlin rather than those of the United States — Comey’s testimony is further validation of what they already know.

For the Republicans who are in a de facto political suicide pact with Trump and for the president’s core supporters who still view him as their personal avatar and savior, Comey’s testimony will be distorted and selectively processed to validate their devotion and support.

Ultimately, Donald Trump, the Republican Party and their voters will go about their business undaunted as they work to make the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans worse by destroying the social safety net, poisoning the environment and taking away health care, food, shelter, medicine and schooling from the most vulnerable members of society.

In his book “The Fight,” Norman Mailer made the following observation: “Maybe all illness results from a failure of communication between mind and body. It is certainly true of such quick disease as a knockout.”

One of the cruel ironies of boxing is that being knocked out can also offer a type of relief. The punches have stopped. You put in a good fight. The referee’s count and the bell signaling the end of the contest means that the torment can finally end.

Donald Trump has so far avoided such a moment. Unfortunately, while testifying on Thursday James Comey did not land a devastating blow that left Trump writhing on the mat.

But the fight against Donald Trump is in the early rounds. He has been bloodied but shows no sign of quitting. The American people have suffered far worse injuries. They are punch-drunk but are slowly beginning to regain their senses. The question remains: Whose will is stronger? If there is no clear knockout, how will the judges score the fight — and did Donald Trump already buy them off before the opening bell rang?

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