Why Do We Love to Hate James Comey?

He's the most annoying good man in America.
March 29, 2019
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(Art by Hannah Yoest / photo Getty Images)

During this hyper partisan time, it’s hard to find something—anything—that unifies both the right and the left, that bridges the divide between Fox News loving MAGA hat wearers and the educated elites who still read the failing New York Times by the millions. But Jim Comey is here to help. He’s a uniter, not a divider.

Comey is an amazing figure. A public servant. A Boy Scout. An inspirational thought leader. Perhaps the tallest man in America not known primarily because of his height. So why is it that dunking on Comey is such a beloved, bipartisan sport?

Let us stipulate to the fact that Comey is a good man and a fine human being. In a political climate of sin, where the leader of the free world is a thrice-married adulterer who paid off a porn star whom he was sexing while his (latest) wife was recovering from childbirth, this is no longer a given. And we should appreciate Comey for it.

Comey has six children, all with the same woman. He has been married to his wife since roughly the Pliocene epoch and in his spare time they serve as emergency foster parents for homeless kids. No, really. He explained to NPR that, as foster parents, they often get more love out of these relationships than they put into them, even. “Little boy who came to us born a month premature in a homeless shelter to a drug-addicted mother and born in very very difficult circumstances so we got him right out of the hospital,” Comey said of one of his many foster children. That baby boy was later adopted, but, as NPR reports, the Comeys still watch him a couple times a week. “[W]e’ve stayed very close,” Comey said. “We’ll look after him his whole life.”

As I said: A good man. A fine human being.

But good people can still be annoying as fuck and James Comey is proof of this.

The charitable interpretation would be that people hate Comey because he’s not a reliable partisan. “[H]e has always ignored politics when it comes to the law, he has annoyed his masters in both parties,” an unnamed government official tells the Daily Beast. And maybe that’s true. Republicans hated him for being a preening scourge of Donald Trump. Liberals hated him for blowing up Hillary Clinton’s campaign and costing her the election.

But it’s also possible we hate James Comey for his breathtaking ability to disappoint us on cable news shows. How many times have you sat through a Comey interview waiting for him to say something newsworthy only to watch him refuse to answer questions because the information was “classified”. As if we still live in a world where the security of nation is more important that producing the cable news content we the American people crave.

Or maybe we hate him simply for the sheer number of interviews he gives. He’s like the anti-Mueller. Think about it: For the last two years Robert Mueller has been the second most famous man in American politics. Have you ever heard his voice? Have you even seen his lips move? Do you follow his Twitter feed?

That’s a trick question, of course. Mueller is more likely to bang Stormy Daniels than get on Twitter. But that brings us to another problem with Comey: His social media presence.

It’s not just the fact of it—a former FBI director should not be on Twitter, full stop. It’s the form of it. Twitter Comey is tedious and pretentious and completely, utterly, totally humorless.

Comey’s Twitter (and Instagram!) were first discovered in 2017 by internet treasure Ashley Feinberg. Back then, His anonymous twitter account was named after Reinhold Niebuhr. Maybe that was kind of adorable or maybe it was a subtle suck-up to Obama. Either way, there was something delightfully dorky about the whole thing.

But Comey Twitter went from adorkable to unbearable awfully fast.

This past week, following the close of the Mueller investigation, Comey went the full Jack Handy. As Ashley Feinberg put it, “This weekend, former FBI director and Extremely Tall Man James Comey let the whole world know he is really Going Through It, by posting two pictures of himself in nature, with moody captions that seem like they were written by an eighth-grader feuding with their former best friend.”

I assume Comey was trying to convey how tormented he was by the mess he caused by—again—helping Trump get elected and then starting the investigation on Trump.

It was almost as if Comey suddenly realized that he’d been the FBI’s Jimmy Carter and was coming to Twitter for absolution.

And maybe that’s why we hate him. Everyone knows that Twitter is the most unforgiving place on earth. If you want forgiveness, go to church or Oprah. You come to Twitter to fight and express garbage opinions and sell books.

It’s almost as if Jim Comey thinks the normal rules of nature don’t apply to him because he’s just so gosh darn good. And while we’re happy to stipulate that he actually is gosh darn good, no one likes a guy who’s always saying it out loud.

Think about Mueller again. He’s disappointed both sides, too. The Trumpkins hate him for investigating the Dear Leader and the Resistance hates him for not delivering the goods—yet. Except that neither side really hates him. They both have grudging respect for a guy who never talks, who isn’t writing a memoir, who runs away from cameras, and might not even know what Twitter is.

If Comey conducted himself like Mueller, he’d be a saint. Or at least a Reinhold Niebuhr.

As it is, he’s the most-hated good man in America.

Molly Jong-Fast

Molly Jong-Fast is a contributor to The Bulwark and the author of three books. Follow her on Twitter @MollyJongFast.