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Shirola: Comey’s memoir should be taken with a grain of salt

Wesley Shirola, Columnist

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I’m not quite sure what James Comey set out to accomplish when he published his No. 1 New York Times Bestseller, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” in April. While there is a driving theme, much of the book reads like a man pouting over the fact that he was fired from his job as FBI Director rather than a qualified ex-government official telling us that we should be extremely concerned about the values and leadership skills of our current commander in chief, which seemed to be what Comey was attempting. The book is part memoir, part manifesto — a call for what Comey terms “ethical leadership,” a set of guiding principles including truth, integrity, respect and tolerance. “Ethical leaders choose a higher loyalty to those core values over their own personal gain,” he writes.

The reasons Comey wrote the book are obvious. “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation,” he argues. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty.” He likens the Trump presidency to a forest fire inflicting constant damage and suggests that it is up to the few “fortunate ethical leaders” who still exist in Washington, as well as the American public, to contain it.

Indeed, Comey raises some important concerns about Trump’s leadership capabilities: that he is self-centered, unprincipled and so focused on personal loyalty that he threatens America’s democratic foundation.

Yet, while some of the points Comey makes are undoubtedly legitimate and worth our time to consider, I think it is important that we all be somewhat skeptical of his opinions on Trump. Perhaps he goes a little too far. In fact, on several occasions Comey compares Trump to a mob boss: “As I was sitting there (in an intelligence briefing), the strangest image filled my mind. I thought of New York Mafia social clubs,” he writes.

Furthermore, instead of advancing his claim, Comey all too often resorts to the good old “ad hominem” fallacy, aka attacking the opponent himself or herself instead of their actions. “His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assume he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed, bright blonde hair, which on close inspection looked to be all his. I remember wondering how long it must take him in the morning to get that done,” he writes. Perhaps Comey should have concerned himself more with Trump’s erratic policy choices and leadership style than on making pointless critiques of his physical appearance.

Rather than proposing solutions for Washington’s ethics problem and discussing how leaders can live up to high ethical standards, Comey seems to wallow in what he apparently believes to be his undeserved firing. “I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego,” he admits. “I’ve struggled with those my whole life.” In regard to how he handled the controversial Hillary Clinton email investigation: “I am convinced that if I could do it all again, I would do the same thing,” he asserts. While one can make the argument that the atmosphere in which Comey was fired was questionable, dwelling on it in a book intended to call for and promote ethical leadership counterproductively detracts from Comey’s objective.

I wanted to like “A Higher Loyalty,” but unfortunately, in upholding the very standards of ethics he calls for, Comey fell short.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at wesleyshirola2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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