I have a hardback copy of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” and I have a Kindle copy of Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House.” But while I started them both, I haven’t finished reading them. When I picked up James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” on the other hand, I had a hard time putting it down. While it is a historically important book, Comey’s down-to-earth style and willingness to convey emotions as well as hard facts also made me feel like I was getting to know the author personally.
In the book, Comey focuses on his concept of good leadership, using examples from his boss Harry Howell at a grocery store in Allendale, New Jersey, to some of the former U.S. presidents he has served. He repeatedly refers to the qualities of an effective leader, who creates “an environment where disappointing him causes people to be disappointed in themselves. Guilt and affection are far more powerful motivators than fear… A leader who screams at his employees or belittles them will not attract and retain great talent over the long term.” The last sentence made me think of Donald Trump, but Comey wrote it while describing how he became the director of the FBI in 2013.
While reading about significant events from Comey’s professional career, I felt like a privileged “fly on the wall” who also had the benefit of knowing what Comey was thinking and feeling. I got the inside scoop on the New York mafia, on how the decision was made to prosecute Martha Stewart for insider trading and on the agonizing dance involving the Clinton emails. I learned what it was like to work for Rudy Giuliani. And in the final chapters I found out what it was like to deal with Donald Trump one-on-one.
In this 275-page book, President Trump is not elected until page 204, and yet, of course, Trump and his administration figure very importantly in it. Comey makes clear that his loyalty is to the law and the truth, and the book is a story of the struggle between this kind of loyalty and loyalty to individual people or political parties. The story’s denouement, of course, is Comey’s firing from his job as FBI director on May 9, 2017. The months before that saw some grotesque, futile attempts by Trump to control Comey, who, on his last day on the job, was in Los Angeles giving a pep talk to FBI personnel when he was surprised by headlines on TV screens in the back of the room saying “Comey Fired.” Like a number of others, Comey paid the price for refusing to give Trump the personal loyalty he demanded.
For people who care about the truth and the rule of law in this country, and who put country above political party, this book offers a useful perspective on events that are unfolding even now.
Reviewer Bill van den Berg is a retired State College Area High School physics teacher. He now volunteers with Fair Districts PA and teaches windsurfing to raise money for nonprofits.