James Comey Is Tweeting Real America

The former FBI director’s Twitter output, reviewed.

“Thinking about Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer.”

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

James Comey has quietly been on Twitter since 2014, but since that time, the former FBI director had only tweeted once—and it was only after Gizmodo blew up his spot. Then last week, as though suddenly possessed, he started tweeting, posting five times in six days, a fairly rapid rate for someone whose previous output was a single Will Ferrell joke. Still using the name Reinhold Niebuhr, for the theologian he wrote his college thesis on (and still not bothering to change the default profile picture), Comey decided to allow us a peek into his post-FBI, country-spanning, decidedly Under the Tuscan Sun–like journey of self-reflection, which has taken him from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Iowa. Yes, Iowa—the very place you go to kick the tires of a presidential run. (Comey’s wife is from Iowa, but c’mon, we all have “relatives from Iowa.”) Whether Comey is trying to lay that particular groundwork or simply feels inspired to connect with regular Americans (who can one day buy his book, which is conveniently forthcoming) is anybody’s guess. For now, all we have to go on is the tweets themselves. Let’s review them, with the forensic attentiveness Comey would no doubt demand, one by one.

We begin at the beginning, back in March, with Comey’s response to the Gizmodo investigation by Ashley Feinberg:

It’s a macro of Will Ferrell in Anchorman, and it feels a lot like Dad trying to pretend he’s in the know with what the cool kids are doing—the outdated movie reference (Daad), the way he capitalized the F in (Daaad), the laissez-faire “I don’t even care that you found my secret Twitter” attitude (Daaaaaaaaaaaad). Not cool, Dad. Grade: D

Reinie Niebs was quiet until this past Wednesday, when he was so moved by nature and the view at West Point that he decided to fire up the ol’ Twitter and to post what is essentially an out-of-place Instagram. It’s still the work of an old who doesn’t understand the platform or how most people use it, but instead of repeating the embarrassing try-hardery of the Anchorman tweet, it’s endearing. He loves his country and his country’s historic military academy, he loves rivers, and he finds beauty in images of men striking out on their own. Which, reminder, he does too from time to time. Lordy! Grade: B

This photo is of a bunch of rocks, but not a very aesthetically pleasing pile of rocks. Comey still gets points for being at Gettysburg, the Mecca of late-middle-age patriots. He loses points for “Good place to think about leadership and values,” which is a bit too transparent. You’re not supposed to tell people you’re thinking about leadership and values, Jim, you’re supposed to imply it with your constant self-seriousness. Anyway, what, pray tell, would all that thinking about leadership and values yield? “Ah! Here I am at Gettysburg. Now I will reflect on leadership as well as values. Both … are good?” Grade: C

First of all, this is just a nice picture: nice sky, nice sunset. There’s a “Where’s Waldo?” aspect of it, because you have to find the former FBI director hiding among the corn, and that’s always satisfying. (But then you imagine Comey asking his wife to go take a picture of him hidden in the corn, and it’s back to being weird.) The text itself is an understated gem: Yes, it is good to be back in Iowa. Iowa is real America. By the transitive property, James Comey is real America? It seems like Comey wouldn’t be mad if that was your takeaway. Exactly. Grade: A-

Why is this guy so obsessed with Niebuhr! Confidential to James Comey: Most of us still have no idea who that is. And, please, show don’t tell: A picture of birds in a V formation, subtly reminding us that Comey believes in following procedure and the chain of command, is much better than stating, piously, that you’re thinking about a prayer that happens to be your favorite theologian’s claim to fame. Grade: B-

Another one presumably taken by Comey’s long-suffering wife: “Hon, could you get one of me in the street here?” That he wanted a shot of him looking plaintively into the Iowa distance is understandable, though it’s somewhat undercut by his giantlike stature. Still, he’s learned: He doesn’t tell us that he’s thinking about leadership and values, but clearly that’s what he wants people to read into this photo, even if one gets lost trying to envision the scale like the tweet is a math problem on the SAT: “If he’s 6 foot 8, then how wide is the road??” Hiding in plain sight amid the strange composition, Comey finally mentions what he’s really been up to with this slow-form tweetstorm: “Gotta get back to writing.” I think you forgot the #ad hashtag there, buddy. Then (note the hapless two spaces between sentences), “Will try to tweet in useful ways.” What could he possibly mean by “useful” here? Can we expect a tweetstorm with instructions on how to dismantle the government? Trenchant commentary on the Russia investigation? So far, his tweets are the opposite of useful. But in their entertaining bizarreness, they offer a small insight into the mind of a guy who wants to say more than he’s been able to, and, we hope, one day soon will get a chance to. Instant follow. Grade: B+