The Tragedy of James Comey

James Comey is about to be ubiquitous. His book will be published next week, and parts may leak this week. Starting Sunday, he will begin an epic publicity tour, including interviews with Stephen Colbert, David Remnick, Rachel Maddow, Mike Allen, George Stephanopoulos and “The View.”

.. Yet anybody who’s read Greek tragedy knows that strengths can turn into weaknesses when a person becomes too confident in those strengths. And that’s the key to understanding the very complex story of James Comey.

.. Long before he was a household name, Comey was a revered figure within legal circles.
.. But he was more charismatic than most bureaucrats — six feet eight inches tall, with an easy wit and refreshing informality. People loved working for him.
.. If you read his 2005 goodbye speech to the Justice Department, when he was stepping down as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, you can understand why. It’s funny, displaying the gifts of a storyteller. It includes an extended tribute to the department’s rank and file, like “secretaries, document clerks, custodians and support people who never get thanked enough.” He insists on “the exact same amount of human dignity and respect” for “every human being in this organization,”
.. Above all, though, the speech is a celebration of the department’s mission.
.. Many Justice Department officials, from both parties, have long believed that they should be more independent and less political than other cabinet departments. Comey was known as an evangelist of this view.
.. Comey sometimes chided young prosecutors who had never lost a case, accusing them of caring more about their win-loss record than justice. He told them they were members of the Chicken Excrement Club
.. Most famously, in 2004, he stood up to Bush and Dick Cheney over a dubious surveillance program.

But as real as Comey’s independence and integrity were, they also became part of a persona that he cultivated and relished.

.. Comey has greater strengths than most people. But for all of us, there is a fine line between strength and hubris.

Trump is Sarah Palin but better at it

Palin remains critical: to a faction of the Republican Party, and to understanding the emergence of Donald Trump and Trumpism — the ideology created by the president’s most ardent supporters, though not necessarily by the president himself.

.. From the moment Palin entered the national scene, the praise for her on the right was heavily tied to her image.

.. Kathleen Parker said of her initial interest in Palin: “She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.”

Nowhere in the piece were Palin’s conservative viewpoints referenced; her views on, say, health care or school choice, or even abortion, went unmentioned. Palin’s problem, in Parker’s view, wasn’t her beliefs but her tendency to ramble. What mattered about the governor was what she could reflect back to a hungry Republican base: an “attractive, earnest [and] confident” woman in a position of power.

.. Palin said what the base was thinking.

  • She accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”
  • She praised those willing to “screw the political correctness.” She cheered the birther movement promoted by one Donald Trump.
  • As the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, she taunted Democrats, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out?”

.. Palin was an avatar for how her supporters felt about themselves and the world they wanted to see, one they saw rapidly slipping away from them. Sure, she might be wrong, they seemed to say, but she’s like us. She is us.

.. her departure left an opening that was filled by Trump

.. Trump campaigned on the Palin model. In fact, he improved upon it. His identity was his trademark, rendering the constant shifts in policy goals and promises almost meaningless. His base saw in Trump what they wanted to see.

  • .. Some saw a fighter who would stand up for them,
  • others saw a vaunted truth-teller,
  • and a few, truth be told, likely saw a potential white-nationalist hero.

And he gave it to them: the image, the veneer, the blank slate upon which their deeply held dreams

..His fans weren’t dissuaded by
  • his past support for Democrats (including his 2016 opponent),
  • or his lies,
  • or his personal liberalism,
  • or his crudeness,
  • or his long history of mistreating small-business owners of the kind he claimed to champion,
because his fans weren’t voting for Trump. They were voting for what Trump meant to them personally.
.. his base will not leave him, because to abandon Trump would not be to abandon the current president but to leave behind deeply held beliefs of their own.
.. His popularity is cultural, not political, resilient to the notions of truth and fiction and to Trump’s own failures.

Katy Perry Woke Up. She Wants to Tell You All About It.

Thanks to Madonna’s restlessness, female pop stars are expected to reinvent themselves every few years, but there’s no guarantee that listeners will accept the changes. For Ms. Perry, the stakes couldn’t be higher: She believes she is now revealing her true self. The old Katy Perry is gone.

.. She has a well-known strategy for frustrating the paparazzi (wearing the same Adidas track suit when she leaves home to make the photographs less sellable)

.. For all of Ms. Perry’s talk about feminism and unity, it felt like a conventional catfight.

.. you have to understand her relationship to her biggest album, “Teenage Dream.” It had five No. 1 hits, tying a record Michael Jackson set with “Bad,” and solidified her image as a charmingly goofy sexpot who sings about love, partying and inner strength.

.. Part of the pressure stemmed from maintaining her hypersexual image, which Ms. Perry takes responsibility for helping create. “I used to be scared of intimacy, I used to use my sexualization as attention, I used to oversexualize myself because that was the only way I knew how,”

.. later explained why she holds queer women in high esteem: “I admire that they’re doing it for themselves. They are not doing it for the male gaze.”) It’s easy to read her drastic haircut and new stylistic choices — her live stream finale outfit covered her in neck-to-toe sequins — as a reaction to having worn whipped-cream bras in the past.

.. Ms. Perry credits her shift in perspective on her sexuality — she calls it “a full sexual liberation” — to resolving issues with her father. “The reality is that I was retriggered on the election,” she said. “I was retriggered by a big male that didn’t see women as equal. And that had been, unfortunately, a common theme in my upbringing.”

.. the Katy Perry I spent several days with: gregarious, intense, bold, endearing and full of contradictions.

.. she proclaimed herself devoted to dialogue but spoke in a near uninterrupted monologue.

.. The old Katy Perry wasn’t a construct, she explained, and she isn’t dead. “I didn’t kill her, because I love her, and she is exactly what I had to do then,”

Miley Cyrus’s Creepy Return to Wholesomeness

when I spoke to her in 2014 (back then, she and Hemsworth were done, she was dating a woman, and had taken to sticking her tongue out all the time), I was struck by how earnest she seemed about everything. She pulls from a seemingly bottomless font of sincerity

.. Most everybody readily acknowledges the artifice inherent to pop music—as consumers, we know and understand, to some degree, that the whole business is and always has been an aggressively managed charade. Part of the deal is that we still feign chagrin or incredulity (or both) when a pop star announces another reinvention. These shifts aren’t so interesting for what they broadcast about the state of an individual performer’s philosophical posture—in fact, I’d argue that, in that regard, they’re largely meaningless; far more compelling is what they indicate about an artist’s commercial potential, which is inextricably tied to the public’s hunger for change, and for new and flashier iterations of the same thing

.. Pop singers seeking colossal stardom tend to operate in only one of two modes:

  1. guileless, fresh-faced ingénue;
  2. or a sex-starved, lingerie-clad vixen.

(“Regular” has yet to become an especially profitable option.)