This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on May 14, 2017.
The U.S. president’s firing of FBI director Comey was unconscionable and indefensible, but too many voters are tired of the melodrama and constant outcries against every action Trump has taken.
This time, it’s different.
I have argued in the past that many of U.S. President Donald Trump’s actions have not been as harmful or dramatic as some have made them out to be.
Many Americans and media pundits overreacted to the election Trump, a man who, while considered offensive, ignorant and inflammatory by many, to a demographic of under-represented Americans who have for too long felt silenced has been a hero.
I have not agreed with most of his policy proposals or his actions, but it must be acknowledged that Trump was elected with a mandate that he has relentlessly, and often ruthlessly, carried out.
Many otherwise reasonable people have drawn unreasonable conclusions about many of Trump’s actions. Even innocuous and routine acts have been overblown by overwrought critics, who say he is an authoritarian ruler.
Critics decried the recall of politically appointed ambassadors. They howled when district attorneys across the country were dismissed, to be replaced by new ones named by Trump. When Trump shamed big corporations for cutting jobs, he was assailed for interfering in the market and overstepping the appropriate bounds of the presidency.
Critics said these things proved Trump was unfit for office and that the president was unworthy of governing the country.
But many of these things routinely occurred under former presidents of both parties. Voters become used to the whiplash: Trump does something that is decried as vastly inappropriate in the media, and then the action is revealed to be perfectly reasonable.
It’s a cycle that has lent itself to a voter fatigue with the anti-Trump forces, as I wrote two weeks ago. But perhaps more importantly, it recalls the fable of the boy who cried wolf. The near-constant outcry over Trump’s actions has served to make the public deaf to actual infractions.
This feeds into Trump’s bids to defend the indefensible.
But the firing of FBI Director James Comey is different. It is not business as usual in Washington, coming as it did amid the agency’s investigation of Russian intervention in the presidential election.
It is unconscionable for a president to remove the person responsible for investigating him. The removal of Comey is a wilful subjugation of the rules and processes that a democratic nation must support.
The 2016 election was a deeply flawed election in many ways. However, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons — not only, or even mostly, due to Russian intervention. As much as it pains CNN, he defeated her fair and square.
But any sensible observer would say that concern about Russia’s possible interference has risen to a point where it needs to be independently investigated and addressed.
That investigation has, from an optical point of view at the very least, been both damaged and compromised by Trump’s actions last week.
The administration’s justifications for Comey’s firing don’t even begin to make sense: they range from blaming others who report to Trump, to pretending this is what Democrats wanted all along. What’s more, those justifications change literally hour by hour depending on who is put up as a talking head on TV or who is lurking behind the White House bushes.
It is clear that the firing was personally motivated, and aimed at undermining the FBI investigation. It is equally clear the administration did not have a plan, or any semblance of a strategy, in firing Comey.
As many have commented, the situation is startlingly similar to Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, where the soon-to-be-disgraced president oversaw the firing of a special prosecutor responsible for investigating his overstepping. Both the attorney general and deputy attorney general at the time resigned in protest of the move.
Nine months later, Nixon resigned in disgrace.
We likely should not expect the same to happen today.
The little boy who cried wolf is back. The constant outcries against every action Trump has taken are coming back to haunt those who are desperate to protect America’s democratic institutions. Simply put, many voters are tired of the critics’ accusations, exaggerations, and the melodrama that comes along with all of the sky is falling talk.
This latest development is indeed a clear-cut case of unacceptable, inappropriate presidential wrongdoing.
And yet, there is so little public trust in traditional institutions and those that lead them that voters have simply tuned their messages out. Polls agree.
A week that before James Comey was fired, just 31 per cent of Republicans believed he should lose his job. Last week, despite the virtual unanimous criticism of Trump’s action, that number was up to 62 per cent.
It is hard not to feel pessimistic about the future of the democratic institutions of the United States — and even harder to decide where to lay the blame.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.