James Comey’s public testimony on Thursday proved to the world once again that the United States remains, as John Adams put it, “a government of laws and not of men.”
Many will undoubtedly view the spectacle surrounding the congressional hearing as yet more evidence that the republic, to quote Hamlet, is severely out of joint.
It shows the opposite.
A sitting president fired the independent FBI director. But that director then testified before elected officials, those officials were able to ask probing questions, the president also publicly responded and the press broadcast and reported the facts, allowing the American people and their elected officials to make informed judgments.
Comey testified that Russia used “technical intrusion and lots of other methods” to try to “shape the way we think, we vote, we act.”
Russia, he said, thinks “that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible.”
But what took place Thursday shows the system is not down or dirty.
While the media frenzy may seem like a distraction to some citizens who would rather have politicians tackling pressing policy matters, the public process — with all of its messiness — is what sets the United States apart from many nations around the world, including Russia.
Public officials are held accountable, and Americans can continue to have faith that sunshine will expose pernicious forms of corruption or undue influence that creep into government and politics.
Perhaps the most poignant points in Comey’s testimony touched on not only the president’s alleged attempts to influence the investigation into his then-national security adviser Michael Flynn but also, on the other side of the aisle, Loretta Lynch’s attempt to influence how the Hillary Clinton email investigation was presented to the American people.
This shows that the temptation to misuse power is ever present and checks, balances and a free press continue to be lode stars of the republic. Indeed, in the end, Comey’s testimony is not a statement about America’s disorder but rather the American system's continued strength. It remains, in Comey's words, that “shining city on the hill.”