By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS — In the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, it is time to stop calling President Donald Trump and those who stand with him conservatives.
Conservatives respect institutions and the rule of law. Conservatives honor traditions. Conservatives revere limited government because they abhor arbitrary exercises of power and authority.
Donald Trump is not a conservative.
There is no temple he will not trash, no tradition he will not traduce, no principle he will not pummel, no rule he will not wreck if it interferes with his narrow, personal agenda or interests. His duty is not to his country, but to his own seemingly insatiable needs for money, power and attention. His cause is himself.
He’s not draining the swamp.
He’s filling it and turning it into a moat, one that will insulate him from the gathering hordes.
The question is why so many principled conservatives in the Republican Party are helping him do this — enabling him to wreak havoc with principles and practices they once held dear, even sacred. The longer they lock arms with him, the more he will taint everything they touch and erode the foundations upon which they stand.
That will be a tragedy of lasting proportion.
In a country that always has been and likely always will be itchy for the new, hungry for innovation and novelty, conservatism has served as essential ballast, a steadying weight that keeps the ship from drifting too far off course.
Conservatives — true conservatives — help anchor us in stormy times by reminding us, always, of first principles.
But those first principles are precisely what this president is undermining, even attacking.
We tend to forget that, among other things, the president of the United States is the nation’s top law enforcement officer. That means that he — or, one day, she — has a sworn duty not just to uphold the law, but to make sure that it applies to everyone.
Including the president.
That is why previous presidents always have been reluctant to report on or even comment about investigations in progress, much less interfere with them. To do otherwise is to violate at the very least the spirit, and sometimes the letter, of the oath they take and could make them subject to impeachment.
Even before this latest disturbing episode, Donald Trump had made a practice of lambasting judges who rule against him and questioning, either by himself or through surrogates, the courts’ right to question his policies.
Now, he’s fired the FBI director in the middle of an ongoing investigation about his and his presidential campaign’s links to Russian meddling in our election. This came right on the heels of a grand jury issuing subpoenas regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. That follows reports that former President Barack Obama warned Trump not to hire Flynn because of security concerns and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying that she warned President Trump about Flynn’s ties to Russia, a warning the president ignored.
Then there is the disquieting nature of Comey’s firing.
First, it came upon the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who supposedly had recused himself from the Russian investigation because of his own alleged ties to Russia but apparently still is keeping his hand in.
Second, there was the strange, strange second paragraph in Trump’s letter dismissing Comey:
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation ….”
It reads as if Trump wants to be his own judge and jury and bring in a verdict of not guilty before the charges even have been read and the evidence has been presented.
That interpretation has been reinforced by the Trump surrogates’ most frequent talking point — that it is time for us to put the Russian investigation “behind us.”
No, it’s time to find out how far this corruption reaches before it completely eats away the core of the country.
To do that, we need an independent special prosecutor to pursue the truth wherever it leads.
And, to make that happen, we need some principled conservative Republicans who are willing to act upon their stated convictions with courage and put country ahead of party.
This is a time of testing.
Who will answer the call?
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.