Almost the moment he took his seat before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former fixer, dumped out a trove of glittering doubloons. Then, for good measure, he emptied two massive lawn bags of breadcrumbs.
The coins were damning facts about the president. The breadcrumbs were names of other witnesses who could bring the committee more gold.
In short order, we got the inside line on how the gray-green Trump sausage is made. You pretend to be rich when you want a loan; you pretend to be poor when you ask “the tax department for a deduction.” You pretend to be a ladies’ man when you think the microphone is off; you pretend to be faithful to your wife by having your lawyer lie to your wife. You tweet that you’re a paragon of health; you pretend to be frail to sit out Vietnam.
All that pretending takes some virtuoso fixing, where “fixing” is breaking the truth and hot-gluing it into the weird garbage art that Trumpworld uses to justify itself.
But Cohen gave the American public something much more valuable than doubloons and breadcrumbs. He gave us a way out.
Cohen’s performance supplied a sterling template for those still loyal to the president, a way to relocate their moral compasses, regain their dignity and break free of the spell Trump seems to cast over certain vulnerable minds.
First Cohen detailed without flinching his own 10-year descent into corruption and lies for Trump. It was almost a 12-step drunkalogue.
“Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating,” he said. “I ignored my conscience.”
“I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong.”
When told by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., that one of Trump’s employees, presumably because of her race, would not work for Trump if he were a racist, Cohen shot back: “As neither should I, as the son of a Holocaust survivor.”
Cohen’s message was clear. Under the influence of ambition, desperation and a cult of personality, people do things they know are wrong. A person can lose his bearing — and learn to cheat, tell lies and advance con games.
Sound familiar? An array of formerly self-respecting adults inexplicably have forfeited their principles and dignity for the president, as Cohen did. A small sample might include Vice President Mike Pence, musician Kanye West, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., first lady Melania Trump, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and reformed Trump troll David Weissman. The redhats and MAGA acolytes across the country who regularly embarrass themselves in Trump’s name also seem to be intoxicated, mesmerized and often caught up in wrongdoing.
Perhaps, Cohen suggested time and time again, Trump’s lackeys will one day be lucky enough or smart enough to get what he got — along with felony convictions, disbarment and a stint in federal prison — out from under. Maybe one day they will be willing to tell the truth, spite the devil and free themselves.
Cohen wasn’t quite willing to promise rapture to anyone who broke with Trump. But he did present himself as a cautionary example of the misery awaiting those who don’t see the light. “I can only warn people,” he said. “The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
As Cohen spoke, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein, who was watching the hearing, tweeted about Teshuvah, a process in Judaism that is something like repentance.
“Teshuvah,” Bronstein wrote, “is defined as: 1) stop sinning 2) regret 3) confession 4) future commitment. So he’s well on his way?”
Bronstein’s question mark was on point. Because who really knows whether Cohen the cooperating witness has undertaken Teshuvah in earnest? But the man does seem to have at least a shot at a better life now that he’s not bullhorning someone else’s lies for a living.
The bigger question, though, is what’s to become of all the Trump supporters who are still in thrall to the man Cohen called a “racist,” a “cheat” and a “con man”? And especially what will become of the loyalists who are still bullhorning — whether they’re yapping about “no collusion” on Facebook or manically smokescreening about LannyDavisTomSteyerPeterStrzokHillaryClinton in the Oversight Committee hearings — that would be you, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Wednesday.
Whoever steps out of Trump’s dark shadow has to accept their role in the disfiguring and brutal Trump reign in America. “That reckoning,” as the Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) put it to Cohen in his closing statement, is part of the “destiny” of anyone who has smoothed Trump’s way.
“Hopefully,” Cummings told Cohen, “this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world.”
Virginia Heffernan wrote this piece for the Los Angeles Times.