On its face, it may seem that Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey was perpetrated as a way to hinder the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian intelligence services to win the election. I believe this is incorrect. Alternatively, it may seem that Comey’s dismissal was the result of poor and inconsistent handling of politically sensitive investigations. I believe this is also incorrect. Comey was fired for a simpler reason, he was becoming famous and not submitting himself to Donald Trump.
As a political calculation it is hard to justify the firing of Comey, knowing that it will likely have the opposite effect to that which was intended. Firing Comey will put pressure on Congress to ask for a special prosecutor and has the effect of making Trump look guilty.
The stated justifications for Comey’s firing are also nonsensical. Trump and his administration are clearly not upset that Comey was too easy on Clinton during the email investigation (especially not after the letter announcing a reopening of the investigation days before the election). It would only make sense to fire him now after revelations that he misstated some facts during his recent testimony before congress – but then firing was clearly planned before that testimony.
Trump’s narcissism overwhelmed good political sense. Outraged by Comey’s failure to be obsequious and obedient in the media, while at the same time making more and more public appearances, Trump’s ego would not allow a Comey to continue on as the director of the FBI.
As a trait, narcissism is beneficial to one’s career in modern American democracy. Certainly some level of egomania has always been present in every political regime to ever exist, but it is particularly well-suited to the constant campaigning and competition of our current system. Trump’s narcissism helped get him elected. His arrogance and shameless self-promotion make for good television and entertainment. Arrogance and shameless also insulated him in debates and made hijacking the spotlight easier. With his narcissism he was able to lie unthinkingly and repeatedly to the electorate and make outrageous promises. These same traits, risible in private life and advantageous in self-promotion and campaigning, are widely shared amongst other prominent American politicians – to a degree.
Barack Obama certainly had some degree of arrogance and ego, enough to think he should be the leader of the most powerful country on Earth. He also probably believed in his own legend; the media hype that enveloped him from his first announcement may have warped his view of himself and his ability to an extent. But Obama would never have made such a short-sighted political move to placate his envious ego. Obama, Bush, and Clinton may have made poor decisions out of arrogance, even poor political decisions. Comey’s public appearances, and refusal to say what Trump wished him to, may have been an irritant to the three previous presidents, but they never would have risen to the level of being able to wound their egos or to override larger political calculations.
Here we have a perfect example of how Trump is uniquely dangerous in the office of president and how he is also weak in the office of president. Trump just made a grave political error in firing James Comey, and he did it at the behest of his wounded pride. A man with that much power, who makes decisions based on his thin-skinned vanity, may make dangerous decisions on a whim (such as using military force or calling for radical political change). However, being so bogged down in the minutiae of his ego likely means that the fears of progressives and liberals that he will be able to radically alter the American system of government are unfounded.
Anyone so absorbed in preening and guarding their ego does not have time for the messy political processes of making serious changes to government or public policy. It is apparent that Trump has ceded foreign policy to the generals in his administration while ceding domestic policy to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. He spends his time looking for cheap photo-ops and obsessing over his media coverage.
It was widely known and reported during the campaign that Trump was thin-skinned and seemingly unaware and uninterested in the actual difficulties of governing. James Comey’s firing has exposed the gap between the “healthy” narcissists who may have preceded him as President and his own petty, all-consuming narcissism. While his ego may have helped him win office, it will also destroy the effectiveness of his administration.