The Trump-Comey contest is a titanic clash of worldviews

Trump lives for loyalty but seems incapable of showing it. He demands sycophancy and yet, driven by his own obsessions and disorders, he regularly exposes his closest aides to public ridicule and humiliation. Why, by Trump’s own standard, should members of his administration be loyal? Not for personal reasons, given his rule by ridicule. Not for ideology, because Trump does not really possess one. The only plausible reason for loyalty to Trump is the opportunity to exercise power. But his rented recruits end up discredited by the daily work of defending the indefensible. And Trump himself ends up isolated by his own suspicions and distrust.

Comey, in contrast, explores the line between righteousness and self-righteousness. The defense of truth seems to justify a variety of measures — including strategically leaking information in hopes of ensuring the appointment of a special counsel — that earn the description of extreme political hardball. Comey seems to regard the FBI as the priesthood of norms — an institution to be defended at nearly any cost. The president’s alleged request to end the Flynn investigation, for example, was not reported upward, but rather kept in a back pocket for future use. “We decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed,” Comey explained. This is a fairly cold calculation, even if in a good cause.