Comey Channels Reinhold Niebuhr


James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr (from The Episcopal Cafe)

We have done some posts this year on the James Comey-Reinhold Niebuhr connection. You can read them here and here and here.  I have followed Comey on Twitter @projectexile7, but his tweets are protected and he hasn’t accepted my follow request yet.  Stay tuned!

Comey is a big Neibuhr fan.  He wrote about Niebuhr in his senior thesis at The College of William and Mary. Frankly, I really wish I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with Comey.  I would love to talk with him about how and if Niebuhr’s still shapes his thinking about public life.

So was Niebuhr’s ghost present during Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee?  Yes.

1. Niebuhr valued humility.  It was clear to me that Comey does too.

When asked “do you want to say anything as to why we should believe you?”  Comey responded with this:

My mother raised me not to say things like this about myself so I’m not going to. I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony. As I used to say to juries, when I talked about a witness, you can’t cherry pick it.

2.  Niebuhr loved irony.  Though historian Julian Zelizer‘s tweet does not apply directly to Comey, it is still worth noting.

3.  Niebuhr was pessimistic about human nature.

When Mark Warner asked Comey what led him to take notes after his first meeting with Trump, Comey replied:

A combination of things. I think the circumstances, the subject matter, and the person I was interacting with. Circumstances, first — I was alone with the president of the United States, or the president-elect, soon to be president.

The subject matter I was talking about, matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility, and that relate to the president — the president-elect personally — and then the nature of the person. I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting so I thought it important to document. That combination of things I had never experienced before, but had led me to believe I got to write it down and write it down in a very detailed way.

4.  Niebuhr spoke truth to power.

Here is a taste of Comey’s opening remarks:

And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry that the American people were told them.

I only wish he would have been more Niebuhrian to Trump’s face during their meetings. But I guess that’s where the humility comes in.  Reinhold is smiling.

2 thoughts on “Comey Channels Reinhold Niebuhr

  1. That wasn’t my read on it, John. Whatever you think about what Comey did last year, and whether or not what he did was right or wrong, he seems (at least to me) to have been motivated by a sense of duty.


  2. Nearly anyone seems humble in comparison with our boaster-in-chief, but Comey’s actions last year and this suggest to me that he rather enjoys the spotlight.


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