comparisons of the Comey firing to Watergate have occasioned the word "loyalty" to crop up in numerous political articles in the past week. The key difference that is noted in piece after piece is that some Nixon-era Republicans chose principle over party, the good of the country, and the value of democratic norms and institutions, not to mention the rule of law, over personal loyalty to the president or their political party, or even their own career.
In reading one of these articles, I learned, to my dismay, that half the U.S. population was born after 1979. So, if the above is opaque to you, read the Wikipedia entry on the Saturday Night Massacre. I'll wait.
Back? Ok, so why did Trump go full Nixonian and fire Comey? I know, he's given at least five different reasons so far. Wait until his next Tweet or interview and there will be a new one. It's not the Russia enquiry. Trump has viewed that as an annoying mosquito buzzing around him without any chance of it biting him. He wishes he could slap it dead but he has no fear of it in part because he is a man incapable of believing he has ever done wrong. He's happy to sacrifice others as needed—like firing Flynn when then Acting Attorney General Yates warned him that Flynn could be blackmailed over his Russian contact lies. No, it's not the FBI's Russia investigation that goaded Trump into firing Comey, not that it helped. Nor was it Comey's dismissal of Trump's wiretapping claim, although that put him on thin ice. It was one word: "nauseous".
When Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was "mildly nauseous" that his announcement about the Clinton email investigation could have affected the election, Trump was outraged. Trump, you see, isn't interested in non-partisan or apolitical government officials. He isn't even interested in parties, policy preferences, norms, laws, or institutions (I could go on…..). Like a petty third world autocrat, he is focused on personal loyalty, full stop. He interpreted the Clinton email announcement that helped swing a close election as a personal favour, an endorsement of his candidacy. It would never cross Trump's mind, nor could he comprehend it if someone explained it to him, that Comey may have been acting, however blunderingly, in a way he believed to be nonpartisan and dictated by the obligations of his role. Likewise, Trump never interpreted the Russia investigation as a nonpartisan endeavour by the FBI. He has repeatedly asserted that it's nothing more than Democrat sour grapes and sought Comey's personal loyalty and assurance that it was a mere formality. True, he was increasingly frustrated that Comey would not swear unconditional loyalty to His Serene Highness but it was the "nauseous" comment, and that alone, that precipitated the firing.
Everything that diehard Trump supporters say is disturbing—and, to borrow a term, more than mildly nauseating—but I've been particularly alarmed by their uncritical embrace of the loyalty concept. They say that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein better not appoint a special prosecutor, and that Congress must not do so either, because that would be disloyal to Trump. The implications of that reasoning are chilling.
They have also expressed disdain for Democrats denouncing Comey's dismissal after calling for his head in October. Trump himself was clearly not expecting that Democrats would have any objections, with White House spokesweasel Sarah Huckabee Sanders snapping, “How could he have, considering the fact that most of the people declaring war today were the very ones that were begging for Director Comey to be fired?” I myself wished President Obama could have fired Comey then but I was under no illusion that he could do so as the appearance of partisanship would have been beyond the pale. I'm no fan of Comey and I doubt many Democrats are sorry to see him out of the job but that's not remotely the point. The reason that all sane people, Democrats or not, are appalled by his dismissal is its obvious partisanship and attempt at obstruction of justice. Trump fired for disloyalty an official whose job demands rigid nonpartisanship. Trump's supporters are incapable of seeing that Comey's sacking sets an alarming precedent and is a dangerous abuse of power that overshadows any personal opinions about the official himself.
Better get yourself a bucket because it's going to get much worse before it gets better.