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Opinion: Trump’s Reruns — ‘Slippery Ethics, Harsh Pronouncements and Shiny Gilt’

Comey firing just the latest episode

President Donald Trump walks toward Marine One before departing from the White House on April 28. Two reports out Friday allege he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey helped him, and that a close aide is a person of interest in a FBI probe of the 2016 election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks toward Marine One before departing from the White House on April 28. Two reports out Friday allege he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey helped him, and that a close aide is a person of interest in a FBI probe of the 2016 election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Is everyone exhausted yet?

The one thing America could count on was that Trump, as promised, would put on a surprising show. But not even four months into the Trump presidency, the one surprise is how depressingly familiar the playbook has become. The hopes and dreams that candidate Trump promised to fulfill? Hold off on those.

But he has delivered the slippery ethics, harsh pronouncements, and shiny gilt that, up close, chips off into cheap, dull flakes, like the facade of his once new, now failed and closed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

New Yorkers and TV viewers, in particular, have come to recognize that Donald Trump.

Among the well-worn motifs: reality-show refrains (“You’re fired, James Comey! And Sally Yates and Michael Flynn, too.”); presidential family members by blood and marriage putting for-sale signs on everything from access to fast-track U.S. entry; and Trump, ever the showman, figuratively emblazoning Trump properties with the White House brand.

From Florida to Fifth Avenue, where the First Lady resides and is protected at great expense, you can hear the grumbles.

As voters searched for attributes in candidate Trump, many were minuses turned into plusses. He was inexperienced in politics, which would be a change from the status quo but could also mean he would have no idea what to do once the pomp and circumstance subsided.

He was a businessman, not a politician; but if running a government, complete with unwieldy bureaucracy, is nothing like running a business, would America be out of luck?

And what about the co-equal branches of government, not obligated to take orders from a CEO? Anyone who had not mastered elementary civics would indeed be dangerously lost.

Timing is everything

After the abrupt firing of FBI director Comey, embattled and attacked at one time or the other by every party, many Democrats questioned the timing — after Comey had confirmed deeper investigations into Russian interference into the 2016 U.S. elections and possible connections with some in Trump’s orbit.

After all, Trump had not seemed pleased when Comey dismissed his tweeted claims that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

Then, The New York Times reported that days before he was fired, Comey had requested additional resources from the Justice Department for the FBI’s Russia investigation. It all certainly called into question the official story that Trump found religion and suddenly was just as concerned as Democrats that Comey smothered Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes with his October surprise revelation of more email questions.

Because it is always about him, Trump could not resist exonerating himself from any Russia wrongdoing in his bye-bye letter to Comey, who is probably consulting with lawyers as Trump prepares to name a man (probably) to wrap up the FBI’s work.

Uneasy Americans may have counted on those branches of government as checks and balances. The courts have challenged Trump’s travel bans. But in Congress, just as there have been no shortage of Democrats and Republicans to advise, the GOP in control of the House and Senate most often are happy to consent.

Congressional hearings and investigations will take care of Russia probes, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who rejected calls for a special prosecutor or an independent investigation. Despite his own questions on the timing of the firing and a statement of support for Comey, Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel would continue its thorough work and that would be enough.

If any American has not read the Constitution lately, they must be wondering if it’s worth the effort.

Truth, justice and the American way

Yet, this week, for anyone following the story, there was the bright spot of Yates, the fired acting attorney general who testified that she warned the White House that the lies of Michael Flynn, its national security adviser, left him open to blackmail by the Russians. With her accent, sweetened with a Georgia lilt, and a background as a career government lawyer before being tapped by President Obama to serve, she would seem to be beyond partisan sniping. No such luck.

But few who saw Yates’ unshakable testimony could buy into the attacks, especially as some of her male questioners’ insistent grilling made her — with a no-nonsense haircut and minimal makeup — look more Joan of Arc by the minute. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, of course, pompously pushed it, prompting a constitutional smackdown from Yates and a side reminder of why he will never be president. If a depressing story needed a heroine, she was it.

Just as the Yates congressional appearance recalled memories many would love to forget — of Anita Hill and the white male senators who would dismiss her, and now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor being lectured on the meaning of “identity politics” by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — the Comey firing had some reaching for a Watergate comparison. It was not that, exactly, though it is helpful to remember where Nixon’s paranoia landed him.

When the show starts looking like reruns, disgusted viewers change the channel.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.  

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