The firing of FBI Director James Comey sends a clear signal that this Administration and its supporters do not take the American experiment seriously. The dismissal was handled in a comically bad fashion, and onlookers were quick to draw comparison between the current President and the late Richard Nixon. But there is a difference: Nixon was a calculating man. Trump is not. The current President strikes out blindly, ruled by his impulses. He discharged Comey because the Director annoyed him. Yet the result is the same, whether he banished Comey on behalf of Russian orders or because of sheer spite.
Trump does not understand how the Constitution works, or how the Presidency functions. American authority is used under a system of checks and balances, weights and counterweights. Terminating the FBI Director who is investigating you violates that practice. This is what authoritarian governments do. It is dangerous. This is not a monarchy; the king’s person is not sacred here.
Trump does not comprehend this, because he does not care. The man is uninterested in the world, or in words which come from between the covers of a book. His followers do understand this, but they are willing to ignore it, to keep their power. Mitch McConnell, a man without principle, will not appoint a special prosecutor: A Republican presidency cannot be questioned.
The investigation of Trump’s Russia ties will now be conducted by a friendly inquisitor. Yet at this point—wild as it is to say—it matters much less what Russia did or did not do. Without more evidence, we cannot say what happened between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But the firing of James Comey is deeply troubling, even in a world where Putin doesn’t play chess with the American electorate.
I still don’t believe there was a Russian conspiracy designed to put Trump in power. Hacking, yes. Interference, sure. Wide-ranging Stratego, no. But the removal of Comey beats all of these possibilities, easily. The scarier story is Trump striking at any check on his influence. That is far more unnerving than the Russians having a hand in 2016.
Russia is a regional hegemon, but cannot threaten American institutions of democracy. Putin, at the zenith of his power and the height of malice, could not dream of dismantling our institutions. With a thousand million men and the treasury of the entire world backing him, he could not put a dent in the Constitution.
Russia can’t destroy our system of government. But the Presidency can.