News Analyst on Comey Firing: 'The Strangest, Most Surreal Period of American Politics'

May 11, 2017

Lake Effect heard about the First 100 Days from Charlie Sykes last week, and this week our analyst is Ruth Conniff, editor of the Madison-based magazine The Progressive. Conniff breaks down this week's news: the firing of FBI Director James Comey, France's election and the race for governor in Wisconsin.

President Trump & James Comey

There’s never a dull moment in Washington these days, but Tuesday produced some especially not-dull times.  President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, citing the way he handled the investigation into the use of a private email server by Trump’s opponent in the Presidential race, Hillary Clinton. 

Meanwhile, that throws into question the future of the FBI probe into potential meddling in the election by Russia, which is sparking calls by Democrats and some Republicans for an independent special prosecutor on the case.  

Credit Photo by Greg Anderson / The Progressive

"It's just the strangest, most surreal period of American politics in my lifetime," she says. As an editor, Conniff has had to report on a plethora of topics for a magazine that itself has been around for more than 100 years.

However, while Conniff and others may want to impulsively compare Trump's firing of Comey to Watergate, she notes that the atmosphere around this presidency is much different.

"In Watergate, we had a bipartisan group in government who stood up and said this is not acceptable," Conniff explains.

"[Today] our media environment is so different and the country is so divided into silos that the big question to me is can we as a country come together in a shared perception of the facts around this and really defend our public institutions and our democracy?" she asks.

Conniff thinks that Republicans need to decide if they want to separate themselves from being associated with President Trump. "Within the Trump administration there's a lot of self-dealing and it compromises the interests of the United States," she says. "I think that's something a lot of Republicans are going to have to wrestle with and think about - where they really want to come down on that."

Presidential Election in France

The world of politics also followed France's elections closely, which produced centrist Emmanuel Macron as the new President-Elect.

"For Europe and for the idea of a European Union, and just as a push-back against an increasingly ugly nationalist strain in politics, it's really positive news," Conniff says.

Race for Wisconsin Governor

As politics progress in the state of Wisconsin, Conniff is curious to see who will run against Scott Walker for governor.

"Wisconsin's very divided, but it can't be that we can't make the case that the shape that our economy is in, the cynicism, the transfer of wealth to the rich, the attack on our public education system; that those things are unassailable and popular - because they're not," she says. "So I'm interested in seeing Mike (McCabe's) campaign and other progressive campaigns that try to take a shot at really doing something new."

Previous campaigns for governor such as Mary Burke and Tom Barrett have proven to be unsuccessful, and Conniff believes it is because the same failing strategy was used three times.

"(The Democrats have a) theory that they should run a centrist good-looking candidate who can get a lot of corporate funding," she notes. "I think it's a good idea that we start thinking about what happened with Bernie Sanders and what we can learn from that going forward."