Last May in the NYTimes, former FBI director James Comey wrote,
How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr
Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?
How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?
And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?
What happened to these people?
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.Today, December 4, 2019, marked the passing of the torch in Congress, so to speak, from the House Intelligence/Impeachment committee to the House Judiciary committee. Judiciary is where Articles of Impeachment get drafted and approved for submission to the entire House of Representatives.
I watched a couple of hours of testimony today. There were no "fact witnesses." But four Constitutional Law professors testified on history and law related to impeachment of presidents. Called by the GOP members of the committee, George Washington University Prof. Jonathan Turley sounded very much like a cult member/zombie who had had his soul eaten. I couldn't tell whether it had been in small bites or large. Likewise, GOP committee members like Doug Collins, Jim Jordan, and Debbie Lesko (and every other GOP member on the committee) all sounded detached from rationality (consciousness, figuratively speaking).
On the other hand, committee chair Jerry Nadler invited three professors. Most notably, Pamela Karlan, from Stanford Law School. She (and they) didn't mince words about laws which demonstrate that Trump committed impeachable offenses, but (she) did mince GOP committee members.
Karlan also triggered a faux outrage and claims that she attacked Trump's youngest son.
Speaking of Stanford University and Trump eating people's souls, I've been thinking about ZOMBIES lately. Last month when I drove along University Drive in Tempe one late afternoon, I saw what looked like hoards of zombies going to and fro, perhaps to class at Arizona State. You may have witnessed similar scenes. Otherwise seemingly healthy adults walking about staring at a handheld device (instead of looking where they were going).
Zombies in philosophy are imaginary creatures designed to illuminate problems about consciousness and its relation to the physical world. Unlike the ones in films or witchcraft, they are exactly like us in all physical respects but without conscious experiences: by definition there is ‘nothing it is like’ to be a zombie. Yet zombies behave just like us, and some even spend a lot of time discussing consciousness.Of course, thousands (or perhaps millions) of people walk around these days staring at their phones, not just college students. But that strikes me as zombie-like.
Cult behavior also impresses me (not favorably) as zombie-like. What former FBI director Comey described in his NYTimes op-ed (excerpted above) evokes images of zombies. How does Trump do it? Let's go back to Comey's op-ed and see if what he describes might look familiar with the GOP members of Congress.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.
Speaking rapid-fire [Firehose of Falsehoods] with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.
I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.
From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.
Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.Many of my friends think former US Senator from Arizona Jeff Flake is a coward for not taking a stand against Trump when senate votes were on the line. But I'm not so sure many of those friends have walked much in Flake's shoes. We DO know that the late John McCain took such stands against Trump. McCain didn't seem to be bothered much by the peer pressure and Trump harassment. Trump didn't stop the harassment even after McCain died.
Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.
You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.
You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.
Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.
And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.
In the context of Comey's observations, I have to say Flake's insight (in a Sept 30, 2019 Washington Post op-ed) hit the mark,
I was convinced that his repeated disparagement of the judiciary, antagonism toward Congress and casual disregard for the truth were damaging our democratic institutions, and his persistent crudeness to his political opponents and cruelty toward vanquished foes were degrading our political culture. I knew that to have a chance of winning reelection, I would need to support policies I could not support and condone behavior I could not condone.
Trust me when I say you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.