The difficulty of being Captain Courageous in front of a narcissistic boss

Observation of Mr. Comey`s private meeting predicament with POTUS 45

Sen. Marco Rubio: As you perceived it, while it was a request [to drop the Flynn investigation] that he [POTUS 45] hoped you would do away with it, you perceived it as an order?

James B. Comey Jr: Yes

Sen. Marco Rubio: At that time did you say anything to the President about that, that’s not an appropriate request or tell the White House Counsel that this is not an appropriate request, somebody needs to tell the President that he can’t do these things?

James B Comey Jr.: No

Sen. Marco Rubio Why?

James B. Comey Jr.: I don’t know. I think the – as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such, I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind and I don’t know, I don’t want to make you sound like I’m Captain Courageous, I don’t know if I had the presence of mind, I would have said, Sir, that’s wrong.  In the moment, it didn’t come to my mind, what came to my mind is be careful what you say and so I said, I agree Flynn is a good guy.

Excerpt from the Rubio- Comey exchange during the June 8 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (see. C-Span)

Most of you probably are familiar with the Scorsese movie “Goodfellas” of 1990. If so, you will surely remember that scene when – in the split of a second – the mood of a group of mobsters goes from hilarious to dead serious after one of the rank and file crooks laughs a tad bit too long over a joke that his highly irate, violent and unpredictable boss Tommy de Vito (played by Joe Pesci) has cracked a second ago. Unaware of the danger he might be incurring for himself the rank and file guy supplements his amusement by telling his boss that he is “so funny” whereupon Joe Pesci becomes even more tense.  “What do you mean, “I’m funny”, he says, “ … What the fuck you`re saying? Do I amuse you, – like a clown?” … The silence is deafening now. Everybody realizes that this could go really ugly;  -until, after another tense pause -, Pesci lets it slip that he was only joking…  “I almost had him,” he says, banging the table and breaking into a high-pitch laughter….

Now clearly, nobody is inferring here that Mr. Trump is a Tommy de Vito or a Joe Pesci character for that matter. Far from it. But there can be no doubt that he, Mr. Trump, has the hardest time to deal with criticism (see footnote *) and that he likes to employ bullying and intimidation tactics in order to achieve his goals (see footnote **).. So there is without a doubt an authoritarian element to his character.

Former FBI-Director Comey must have undoubtedly felt in his various meetings with POTUS 45 that this man in front of him doesn’t take a candid rejection of his wishes in a stride. That is why he opted for an appeasing response to the President’s inappropriate request (see fottnote ***) to drop the Michael Flynn investigation rather than to courageously call the Commander-in-Chief to order.

Here is the funny thing about speaking truth to power. It is so much easier to do that when you have a balanced and intellectually trained mind to speak to. And it is so much more difficult to do that when you are dealing with an opposite number who is not used to questioning himself, who does not understand the importance of a non-emotional analyzes, who has never heard of Max Weber before.

Most people obviously think that starting from a certain pay grade, it should not matter whether your boss is mature or immature, you should speak your mind case. But, alas, nothing is further from the truth. A clear and reasonable argument needs a clear and reasonable mind to receive it, otherwise subject argument will not be able to unfold its entire magnificence. Or otherwise put, your performance is only as good as your audience is.  This is why Marco Rubio’s questions to ex-FBI Director Comey during the June 8 Senate Intelligence committee hearing were somewhat disingenuous. After all, it had taken him too a painfully long time to fully take on Mr. Trump during the Republican Primary. Before that he had probably felt the same de Vito inspir0ed unease that Mr. Comey must have felt in his later meetings with POTUS 45. The only difference is that Sen Rubio first avoided direct confrontation with Mr. Trump when they were still equals, whereas Comey wobbled n front of him, when Trump had already become POTUS45.


Footnote * :  Witness his fury during the infamous Feb. 16 press conference where he blasts away at the White House press corps; witness his anger on Twitter after Meryl Streep called him to order for mocking a disabled reporter; and witness Trump’s lashing out at Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka’s brand from their line-up

Footnote**: Witness his countless attempts to quench potential business conflicts by threatening and initiating massive lawsuits only to pursue hush out-of-court  settlements later; Witness his “Comey better hope that there are no tapes” tweet; witness the shoving aside of Montenegro’s Prime Minister at the June NATO summit photo-op; witness the mauling handshake with President Macron



Footnote ***: “I hope you can let the Michael Flynn investigation go”, is what Trump says ro Comey. Imagine, just imagine, Joe Pesci  would say that ro you. Would you understand this as a request or an order? Chances are you would view this as an offer you cannot refuse, correct?

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