“The statue of justice has a blindfold on, because you’re not supposed to be peeking out to see if your patron is pleased with what you’re doing.” — former FBI director James Comey
I watched former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Judiciary committee and was impressed by his unassuming honesty and sincerity. What was particularly striking, however, was the eerie similarity between what Comey recounted and what a bullying boss would do in the workplace.
Has a boss ever asked you to close the door behind you as your heart pounded at what he or she might say or how they might speak to you? Perhaps you’ve even been caught off guard when asked to comply with a direct or indirect unethical request or were belittled in some way that makes higher-ups feel good but leaves you tongue-tied or at a loss about how to respond.
Some people question Comey’s reluctance or inability to confront the president given the former’s stature and intellect. That’s often easier said than done. According to Comey’s own testimony, he had no support from his own direct supervisor. I’m sure Comey has mulled his interactions with the president, wondering if he could have said or done anything differently — something many people can relate to in their own work environments.
Victims of workplace bullying often document conversations between themselves and their supervisors. Like Comey, their intuition may tell them that those interactions should be chronicled. Workplace bullying can take many forms, including passive aggressive intimidation. Comey alleges that Trump asked him if he wanted to keep his job, a question that can be interpreted as a veiled threat: do as I ask, be loyal, or your days as director are numbered. This is an intimidatory tactic often used to coerce an employee to toe the company line.
Kudos to Comey — who, as I understand, is a Republican — for continuing to be bipartisan and remaining professional and committed to the integrity of his work and that of his department. How many capable and professional workers have been terminated for refusing to do something that did not reflect their agency’s mission statements, moral standards, or follow best practices? How many lawsuits have followed as a result?
A workplace bully will often fabricate the truth and try to disparage you while throwing you under the bus. We saw that with Trump who said of Comey that “he’s a showboat, he’s grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil.”
Often bullies find their way to the top by taking credit for other people’s work, harassing those who don’t make them look good, and/or forcing workers to leave because they feel their position is threatened in some way. Targets of workplace bullying don’t always have to be weak, vulnerable scapegoats. In fact, targets can also be strong personalities with a set of leadership skills that contradict those of the bully who may feel threatened by them. I believe Sally Yates, who was also fired, is a case in point.
Workplace bullies tend to surround themselves with a crew of devotees who will endorse their behaviour. While some bullies are obviously aggressive, others are more subtle in their approach. The outcome is always the same. Their motivation? Keep moving to the top.
I’m often bewildered by the whole concept of rewarding bullies with promotions. Is it that we think they are strong and their aggressive behaviour is seen as an asset? Some get caught, but only when it’s glaringly obvious. Rather than identifying Trump’s behaviour as bullying, the media and others often look at it through a lens of ratings and satire, while teachers struggle to name the behaviour as bullying or teach their students virtues and values that are opposite to those Trump is championing. Did we not bear witness to a long, drawn-out US election campaign that was based on bullying tactics aimed at demeaning and humiliating one’s opponents or detractors?
Workplace bullying is often misconstrued as an outward act of abuse, be it verbal or physical. While this does happen, there are many tools in the bully’s arsenal. Some bullies ignore protocol and follow their own rules. Others pretend they have all the answers, pay lip service to others who may have different points of view or solutions, and then do as they please anyway. Sound familiar?
Comey’s evidence is an eye-opener. It’s a huge spotlight on the face of Americans and the world. It’s an SOS signal to Congress and the American public to put their differences aside and come together to save American democracy. Those who continue to believe Trump and can’t see that Comey is telling the truth have their own agenda that doesn’t include knowing the truth about Russia’s election interference, upholding human rights, or securing the future and prosperity of the American people and democracy itself.
Today, many organizations offer avenues for complaint but the process may not be as straightforward or simple for those who find themselves in these disagreeable positions. For Comey, it seems it clearly wasn’t. He strikes me as someone who loved his job, took pride in his work and, like others who have experienced workplace bullying, may have felt defeated and unnerved.
While I and many others weren’t happy with Comey making public comments about Clinton’s use of a private email server as the election drew to a close last fall, I am grateful to see his courage, due diligence and, most of all, honesty in going against America’s “bigly bully.” After watching him testify, I was reminded of a book by fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell called, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants in which the premise upends the view that Goliath is a big, powerful giant and David is a vulnerable shepherd boy (Ironically, Comey’s height does not make him the giant in this case).
Comey’s notes will speak for themselves. Will they be the slingshot that takes down the awkward, bumbling president who seems to act like he’s mighty and powerful and cannot be defeated? I anticipate that James Comey will not only be heard, but be trusted and vindicated. It’s not enough to sit back and watch this all unfold like a Trump reality TV show. People need to both understand Trump and take action. Naomi Klein, another Canadian author and social justice activist got it right 10 years ago. Read her next book, it’s a must in my opinion.
While I don’t see workplace bullying ending anytime soon, the devastating impact it has on society and those who are its targets is taking a toll, both monetarily and in lives. Comey did the right thing by taking notes and sharing them. His wife knows what he went through, along with his closest friends.
Trump hints there may be tapes that tell a different story. Release them then.
In the meantime, I believe Comey. And I don’t believe there are any tapes.
Sandra Weames is a resident of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.