The permanent crisis that is the Trump administration broke new, deeper ground on Tuesday afternoon as Baby Donald sacked FBI Director James Comey, whose sleuthing into connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia had discomposed him. The public uproar sounded immediately, as the cable channels went Full Bore Blitzer in their coverage and nearly every commentator and anchor (outside of the Fox News Channel) spotted the parallels between the Comey canning and President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, the 1973 firing of an independent special prosecutor snooping into his Watergate misconduct and crimes.
Cable news loves nothing more than a crisis, so it has taken visible delight in Trump’s scenery-hogging antics over the past four months. The president’s violations of Washington’s norms and practices are so extreme—his sloppy executive order that courts have ruled was designed to ban Muslims from entering the country; his suspension of the refugee program; Prince Jared’s conflicts of interest; and his daily flip-flops (on China currency manipulation, NATO, the Federal Reserve, his Syrian bombing run, the Export-Import Bank, his Twitter provocations, et al.)—that he’s kept the networks and the newspapers fully stocked with daily and sometimes hourly news pegs for coverage.
The Comey affair surpasses all previous Trump-devised news events in part because it came so unexpectedly. Rereading Trump’s tweets, we can find evidence of his agitation, but nobody thought he was about to drop that hammer. According to press reports, the White House idiotically thought that the Democrats who claimed Comey threw the election to Trump with his October surprise investigation of “new” Hillary Clinton emails would welcome the dismissal.
Instead, Democrats have risen to protest Trump say he has instigated a “constitutional crisis,” even though the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. CNN legal analyst Jeffery Toobin went falsetto in his outrage, correctly noting that Trump’s given rationale for the firing—Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case last summer—was a tissue-thin pretense: He had decided Comey must go and assigned the backing documentation to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That the president had the right to fire Comey didn’t make the firing at this junction right, Democrats, a scattering of Republicans, and the non-Fox commentariat howled, setting the stage for what promises to be a weeks-long news festival of accusations and recriminations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., affixed the sentiment that this Trump crisis will really, really prove indelibly, ineradicably, permanent on a billboard almost immediately. “This scandal is going to go on. I’ve seen it before,” McCain said Tuesday night. “This is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.”
Of course, an entire Zappos warehouse of shoes may drop, but Trump knows from experience that he can still bend the news arc in his direction and take the news edge off his lawful act with a well-timed wrist flick. This is the man, remember, who stepped on landmines almost weekly during the campaign. He belittled McCain’s prisoner-of-war years, mocked a New York Times’ reporter’s disability, disparaged Carly Fiorina’s looks, concocted a fairy tale about Muslims dancing on a Jersey rooftop in celebration of the 9/11 attack, praised Vladimir Putin, claimed he could get away with shooting people on 5th Avenue, aimed the Second Amendment at Clinton, and got caught on video bragging about grabbing maps of Tasmania and getting away with it.
The usual Trump Twitter bullshit, which he resorted to Wednesday morning, won’t be enough to stay the criticisms and calls for an independent counsel. As Daily Beacon Editor Matthew Continetti tweeted, you don’t make the Russia story go away by banishing its top investigator. Like the forces of Inspector Javert are going to give up because he’s gone off payroll? Trump knows he has to do something more dramatic to drive Comey off Page One, like pick a verdant valley or desert oasis in Syria to bomb. Maybe he’ll announce a trial separation of his marriage and then reveal a new love interest. Or he’ll turn Washington upside down by declaring a terrorist emergency and extend the White House security boundary to 17th Street NW, 15th Street NW and H Street NW. Or he’ll appoint Roger Stone to head a presidential commission on something. Or he’ll expunge his bad karma by making scapegoats of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner by firing them on national TV. In Trumpworld, all things are ready if his mind be so.
As Noah Feldman wrote Tuesday in Bloomberg View, the Comey removal constitutes no constitutional crisis, only a political one. As long as the Republican majorities in the House and Senate find it in their interests to keep Trump in the White House, he’s safe. Despite a few dissenting peeps from principled legislators like Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the Republicans will shoulder their Trump burden. Republicans would rather pass their social legislation, appoint conservatives to the bench and the departments and find new ways to distribute rent to favored corporations than inhibit Trump or snorkel to the bottom of the Russia cesspool.
A decade ago, the late novelist and filmmaker Michael Crichton lectured me about the “narcotizing flow of what passes for daily news.” The news business restricts our focus to the moment, he said. He invited me to set aside the newspaper and the nightly news broadcast from any random day, then return to it a month later and observe how all that seemed so urgent then had lost its potency. The news business never approaches controversies coolly and intelligently, I wrote. Instead, it partakes of the zealotry and intolerance of many of the advocates it covers. As I write, there are 32 Comey stories above the fold at CNN.com.
The current crisis is a case in point. Trump’s wits have allowed him to survive worse crises than this. File today’s New York Times and Washington Post in a safe place and revisit them this time next month. Trump may eventually face the comeuppance his foes dream of, but not over shoving Comey out the door.
“I call ‘journalism’ everything that will be less interesting tomorrow than today,” wrote André Gide in 1921. Send pithy quotations to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts avoid literature off all sorts, my Twitter feed reads only poetry, and my RSS feed reaches for its revolver at the mention of culture.