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Stephen Colbert and James Comey Drink Wine and Talk Trump: “It’s Not Normal”

Or as I like to call it, Friday night.

Former FBI director James Comey visited The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and his appearance was the third most-watched show in Colbert’s tenure.

Comey is on a media blitz to promote his memoir, A Higher Loyalty. Unless you live under a rock (can I join you there?) or in a country blessedly free of our orange leadership, you’ve probably heard some of what Comey has to say about Trump in A Higher Loyalty. He calls the President a frequent liar, notes that Trump treats women like “pieces of meat,” and comes to the conclusion that Trump is morally unfit for the Presidency. For much of America, the Late Show may have been their first time seeing Comey speak in person, and he makes for a compelling guest.

“I expect loyalty,” Colbert starts off. “Can you give me that?” Comey’s blank-faced stare in return shows us just a hint of what Donald Trump might have run up against when, according to Comey, he tried to demand the FBI director’s loyalty over dinner.

Colbert and his team have done their research: soon enough, Colbert is breaking out paper cups to pour out some pinot noir. In A Higher Loyalty, Comey relates the surreal time after he learned of his firing by Trump via a TV news alert when he was in California. He wasn’t sure if he’d be permitted to take the government plane back to D.C., but once he was on the plane, he began drinking. (Comey, in short, joined many in America in responding to the reality of Donald Trump with alcohol.)

So I took a bottle of red wine out of my suitcase that I was bringing back from California, a California pinot noir, and I drank red wine from a paper coffee cup and just looked out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home. —A Higher Loyalty

“To the truth,” Colbert toasts Comey.

Comey explains that he wrote his book in a bid to feel “useful” following his firing, and that he was interested in exploring ethical leaders and leadership. This is because we are currently experiencing a vacuum of both: “The President is not that,” Comey says bluntly.

“Can he turn his Presidency around, in your eyes?” Colbert asks.

“I think that would be hard, considering the way he is as a person,” says Comey, which is what the kids would call a sick burn. “… Someone who doesn’t appear to have external reference points in his life.” (That’s not terrifying at all!) Comey also explains how his history of prosecuting mafia figures led him to draw a comparison between Trump’s leadership style and mob bosses. (That’s … not … terrifying? Hold me.)

Comey then explains that he was surprised at his firing because he was leading the Russia investigation at the time. Most exciting?

The whole interview is well worth watching for its importance as well as its humor.

“He’s tweeted at me probably 50 times,” Comey says of Trump. “I’ve been gone for a year, I’m like a break-up he can’t get over.”

If there’s a single crucial takeaway from Comey’s messaging, is that it’s not okay for us to “shrug” at Trump. I know I’m guilty of this: it seems like Trump is subject to a host of new scandals daily (because he is), and it’s exhausting to keep track of them all. Many of us have become numb in a sort of self-preservative fashion. It’s hard to stay so vigilant and thus invite in the anxiety that paying attention and pushing back can bring.

But Comey—as a once highly-placed public servant as well as someone who has now served under Trump—is here to remind us that it’s not okay, that nothing about this situation is normal. The things that Donald Trump says and does are dangerous to democracy, and we can’t lose track of them just because he says and does so many dangerous things every day.

“My first reaction to those kinds of tweets is a shrug — like, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ But actually then I caught myself and I said, ‘Wait a minute. If I’m shrugging, are the rest of the country shrugging? And does that mean we’ve become numb to this?’ It’s not O.K. for the president of the United States to say a private citizen should be in jail. It’s not normal, it’s not acceptable, it’s not O.K. But it’s happened so much, there’s a danger we’re now numb to it, and the norm has been destroyed. And I feel that norm destroying in my own shrug. So we can’t allow that to happen. We have to talk about it and call it out. It’s not O.K.” — JAMES COMEY (via The New York Times)

Cheers, Jim.

(image: screengrab)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.