3 Mar 2019                     home

Cohen, Trump, and the Capacity to Rationalize

On Wednesday (Feb 27) to a congressional committee Michael Cohen described details of his having been associated with Donald Trump: a vice-president of The Trump Organization, Trump's personal lawyer and "fixer," co-president of Trump organization and board member of a children's health charity, and, from 2017 to 2018, deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Cohen we can assume was well paid and was doing well economically, but he became the target of a congressional investigation. In August 2018 he was charged with campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Cohen pleaded guilty. He said he had violated campaign finance laws at the direction of Trump and "for the principal purpose of influencing" the 2016 presidential election. The in November he entered a second guilty plea: for lying to a Senate committee about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen was on his way to serving three years in prison, but first, in front of the congressional investigation committee this past week (Feb 27) he described his re-evaluations. He spoke of having been a fool to work for and to lie for Trump, whom he had learned was a "racist", "con-man" and "cheat".

At the Feb 27th hearings, the Republican members of the committee (House Oversight Committee) stuck to their position as players on the Trump-Republican team. They castigated Cohen as a convicted liar who had committed bank fraud for his own personal benefit, but they ignored the fact that Cohen lies had been for boss Trump. They defended Trump with talk about his political accomplishments (specious in my view but similar to the political reprieve that helped President Clinton rise above his scandal.)

Then, yesterday (Mar 2) came Trump's 122-minute speech to the annual gathering of conservatives, CPAC, that the audience enthusiastically cheered throughout. Responding to an article in the Washington Post, some sent comments that described the cheering conservatives as morally depraved, as ignoramuses or morons. But they too were ignoring something: humanity's capacity intelligent people and dummies, to rationalize. For those enthusiastically applauding Trump at CPAC, Trump is their champion against their enemy, the Democrats, the force behind what they detest: abortion, taxes, big government, et cetera.

Trump's speech was full of inaccuracies, mischaracterizations, and what those who dislike him would call lies. (His speech fact-checked by the NY Times.) Trump's CPAC audience were not focused on finding faults with his speech. Their energies were devoted to approving his using his power to fight their enemies.

Republicans members of the House Oversight Committee accused the Democrats of creating the Cohen hearing to the sake of impeaching Trump, although not once did a Democrat on the committee speak of impeachment. The Democrats are surely interested in depicting Trump negatively. They know that Republican senators could block impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears unwilling to waste energies on an impeachment drive. But what does interest the Democrats is the impact of opinion on the elections in 2020. The conservative writer Peggy Noonan, speaks of the show business angle of Trump's politics and claims that the "Trump world does not do well with sunlight." But those called Trump's base appear to be hoping that Trump will be viewed as a man who not only loves them but loves also his country, the flag, God, and them.

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Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.