A Higher Loyalty or Self-Justification? – by Amanda S. Green.
I planned on finishing up Thomas Sowell’s “Black Rednecks & White Liberals” this morning. That’s not going to happen. I have been struggling with the post and decided it is better to put it aside for a week than try to force it. Sowell’s work deserves better than a quick overview. It is important enough to be given careful consideration, even when he writes about things that might make us uncomfortable.
But that left me wondering what I should do for Sarah today. I didn’t want to leave her without a post. Then I remembered the book waiting in the TBR queue. You might have heard about it. Some fellow who used to work for the government wrote it. It came out earlier this week and has the distinction of pissing off people on both sides of the political aisle. Need another hint? The Clinton camp still blames him for her losing the election and the Trump camp blames him for not indicting Clinton – and others.
That’s right, boys and girls. I’m talking about James Comey and his new book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership. Before we get started on Comey’s initial comments in the book, I have done my best to put aside my personal feelings for the man and his actions over the last year and a half to two years. I want to give him, or at least the book, a fair shake. I also have promised friends of mine who know him and who are having problems reconciling the man they see on the promotion trail now with the one they worked with.
After a bit of trouble getting the e-book to open – for some reason, it doesn’t want to download to my MacBook Air – I finally opened it through the Amazon product page and started reading. While Comey probably had no input on the front matter, as a reader, the publisher (Flatiron Books, part of MacMillan) has already insulted me. Instead of the standard disclaimers, we are told this e-book is for personal use only and cannot be made available publicly in any way. Wait, what? Does that mean you can’t use excerpts in reviews? They might try to argue it but the wording is too vague. I am going to assume they mean you can’t loan it or share it with anyone.
But then you get to the copyright infringement language. Language the publisher so helpfully bolds just to make sure the evil customer who dared buy an e-book version knows. Talk about telling someone who just paid more than they should for the book that you don’t trust them.
The book opens with a note from Comey. That’s not so unusual in books like this. It seems authors – or their ghost writers – have a need to tell folks why they felt the need to write the book. Now, this is information that could be woven into the text elsewhere but why do that when you can put it right up front, making sure you set the narrative firmly in the reader’s mind?
Comey begins the book by asking a simple question, “Who am I to tell others what ethical leadership is?” He notes that anyone writing a book about this topic can come across as presumptuous and sanctimonious. He’s not wrong there. In fact, as I read the opening paragraph or two, those were my exact thoughts. Maybe it is my own knee-jerk reaction, but I’ve found more often than not that when someone starts off asking such questions, they are more than willing to tell you exactly why they are the one to write the book. But I pushed down that reaction and continued reading. After all, this is just the Author’s Note.
So why did he write the book if not as an exercise in vanity (something he denies). According to Comey, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country, with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized, and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”
When I first read that statement, I laughed and wondered if he had paid any attention to life in D.C. during his tenure there. Then I wondered if he had ever studied history. To think you’d find ethics and truth in the political hub of a nation is like thinking you will find the proverbial needle in a haystack while standing five miles away and the only tool you have to help you is a standard pair of tweezers. At least he had the decency to note this “dangerous time” isn’t limited to the United States.
In some ways, I can even agree with him. However, the behavior he condemns isn’t limited to the current administration. Nor is it anything new. If you’ve paid any attention to current events over the last several decades, you’ll know that.
This is, according to Comey, a time for “ethical leadership”. He admits he’s not an expert in what that term means. But he has studied it, read about it and thought about it. I guess that is enough, in his mind at least, for him to spend a book telling us what an ethical leader is and how they should act. We’ll see.
An ethical leader, he said, doesn’t run from criticism or uncomfortable questions. Ethical leaders look beyond the short term or the urgent. They take “every action with a view toward lasting values.” These values are found in religious tradition or in a moral world view or an appreciation for history. There must also be a “fundamental commitment to the truth” or we will be lost.
He ends this Author’s Note by discussing how he came up with the book’s title. It seems it came about because of a dinner he had with President Trump. During that dinner, the President allegedly demanded Comey’s loyalty to him personally over Comey’s duties as the FBI director to the American people. I say “allegedly” because, at this point in the book, there is no proof that this discussion ever took place or that the comments were made as Comey lays them out.
So far, however, I have not had a urge to throw the book across the room. That puts it far above Clinton’s book, What Happened. But it does leave me with a number of questions and concerns going forward. While Comey spends a great deal of time in this Author’s Note talking about ethical leadership, he never really defines it. He talks a good game, but he never really gets down to the bottom line.
I also find myself wondering if, as I continue reading the book, I will find it turns more into a diatribe against the man who fired him and less about the purported topic of the book. I will continue reading but my skepticism is starting to rise. Perhaps Comey would have been better served if his editor had decided to put this Author’s Note at the end of the book or, better yet, weave its contents into the book as a whole. As is, Comey comes across not as a dedicated public servant but as someone who wants to lecture and, quite possibly, justify controversial actions he took over the last few years.
If there is enough interest, I’ll do a couple more posts on the book after I finish the Sowell essay. In the meantime, I will continue reading until I either want to toss my tablet against the wall or I finish the book. As I’ve said before, the only way for us to understand what is going on in our country is to educate ourselves. Sometimes that means reading books written by those whose beliefs we don’t share or whose politics we don’t agree with. I look at it as learning what the enemy playbook contains. Whether this book falls into that category or not waits to be seen.
[OMG, the reading masochist is at it again. If you want her to do more snarkage, hit her pourboire jar. – SAH]