A Question of Loyalty

OneOldCop started several pieces concerning former director of the FBI, James Comey. None were completed because it seemed writing anything definitive about him would be the equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle. One moment he appeared to be the well-intentioned if somewhat befuddled public servant caught in a difficult situation. The next he sounded like a snake-oil salesman pushing a product everyone knew was bogus. Then he came across as a grandstanding weasel looking to condemn someone while claiming there was not enough evidence to condemn them.

Comey’s public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee did little to change OneOldCop’s impression of him. At times he appeared to be an earnest professional caught in a bad situation. Then he would sound like an attention seeking megalomaniac, and the next minute a self-deprecating and humble public servant. Of course, that is one man’s impressions, and everyone who saw or heard him speak or testify has their own feeling about him.

The foregoing aside, some of what Mr. Comey said, wrote, or gave to a friend to pass on to the press deserves a bit of analysis. It does not necessarily deserve analysis because Comey said it. Rather, it deserves analysis because of the way he and others reacted to it.

Comey alleges President Trump asked him for loyalty. Comey’s reaction to the alleged request, and the reaction of others, seems to illustrate a misunderstanding of what the word means. Either that, or it speaks volumes to the lack of moral character in society today. From Speaker of the House Ryan to almost any talking-head one can think of the idea of the president allegedly expressing a desire for loyalty from a subordinate seems to reek of corruption.

Speaker Ryan and many others seem to confuse the word loyalty with the word fealty. Perhaps that is an honest mistake, or it may be because they assume asking someone for loyalty is asking someone to swear a an oath of fealty. Just for clarification, Merriam-Webster on-line states,1FEALTY implies a fidelity acknowledged by the individual and as compelling as a sworn vow.” LOYALTY, on the other hand, “implies a faithfulness that is steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, or betray.”

The definitions above seem crystal clear to this writer. Unfortunately, the reactions of Speaker Ryan and others indicate many, especially in Washington and the media, find them unclear. Accordingly, consider the following.

Command level positions in any organization normally include the authority to choose those who serve in high level and important positions. In some cases, that authority may be clear, concise, and final. In other cases, it may require a bit of cooperation or support from others, but a president, CEO, chief of police, or commanding general needs to be able to trust top level subordinates.

In other words, the leadership of any organization, especially the upper most tiers, need to be loyal to the leader. That does not mean, they must unthinkingly obey every order or request made of them. Rather, as the definition above states, they must be steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, of betray.

Being steadfast in one’s support of the leader does not automatically mean one will follow every order without question. Even in the military one has the right to question a superior’s order, and refuse to obey it if it is illegal.

If the last couple of paragraphs don’t make my point clear, a comment made by Christopher Wray during his confirmation hearing for Comey’s old position should. Mr. Wray was asked how he would handle a situation in which the president wanted to do something illegal or unethical. Mr. Wray’s answer was clear and unequivocal, and it is the answer many dedicated professionals would give in that situation.

Mr. Wray said he would first try to talk the president out of taking the action. If he was unable to convince the president it was a mistake, he would resign.

It appears Comey did not feel he was being asked to do anything illegal or unethical. Either that, or he does not have the backbone Mr. Wray claims to have. Mr. Comey allegedly told the president he would give him “honest loyalty,” and the president accepted it.

It is impossible to know if Mr. Wray would actually resign before he agreed to something he knew was wrong. As someone who has faced such a situation, OneOldCop knows it is much easier to talk bravely than to actually standup under pressure.

Telling someone with the power to fire you or demand your resignation you will not obey or agree with them is uncomfortable to say the least. Still, it is better than living in shame and under the control of someone who would use their power in that manner.

If President Trump asked then Director Comey to pledge fealty to him, no matter what he called it, Comey should have resigned immediately. In fact, regardless of what the president meant, if Comey thought that is what the president was asking, Comey should have done more than tell the Attorney General not to leave him alone with the president again.

The president committed no crime or error by asking Comey to be loyal. Loyalty would simply mean standing by him if he was attacked unfairly. Loyalty would simply mean defending him if he was doing something that was right, but unpopular. Loyalty would simply mean not trying to undermine him when he made decisions which were legal and appropriate, but with which you did not agree.

Comey’s response to the president and his actions after that meeting, indicate loyalty is not one of his virtues. Of course, it could be he, like others it seems, does not understand loyalty.

  1. See Synonym Discussion section.

© OneOldCop – 2017

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