I’ve spent many tossing and turning nights worrying about these crypto-fascist Republican crazies taking over this country and jackbooting the Constitution and destroying America. But after what I saw Wednesday at the Michael Cohen hearing, I’m going to start sleeping a little easier.
God, these people are idiots.
What Republicans proved Wednesday more than anything is that they live in a bubble where they just have no idea—or no concern—about how they come across to the majority of the world that lives outside it. If we are indeed living in a reality TV presidency, the reality TV show of this hearing would be called "America's Stupidest Prosecutors."
They really thought they were scoring points by puffing out their chests and calling Cohen a pathological liar, as though the same prosecutors who charged him and are the reason he’s now awaiting his prison sentence were just taking him at his word in their Trump probes?
Yet there they were, the GOP men anyway, engaged in some kind of penis-size contest with Cohen. There was Midwestern manly man and former wrestling coach Jim Jordan pointing his manly man index finger at the dweeby Jewish lawyer, thinking he was proving something. Proving what? What the dweeby lawyer already said about himself?
Of course he was a liar. He was a scoundrel and a scumbag. He all but threatened the life of a Daily Beast colleague. He was a disgusting thug.
But now? He’s not. The Republicans are at what we might call a great disadvantage of narrative here, by which I mean the following.
Americans understand the narrative of the thug who’s decided to sing. There are a thousand movies. The mob canaries. The hit men who turn state’s evidence. Al Capone’s accountant. All those gonifs who wore a wire on all those umpty-three years of Law & Order. Oh yeah, Law & Order alone, there’ve been hundreds of them. They were bad. They were in on it. And they were totally clammed up. Then Sam Waterston starts to work on them, and then he blurts out “man two, two to five,” and they sing like Slate-Colored Solitaires.
And here’s the thing: They’re always sympathetic characters, in television and movie land. Always. After all these years and all these scenes, our brains are wired to understand them as sympathetic. It’s the narrative of the turncoat who sees the light, and it’s time-honored.
Chairman Elijah Cummings caught the flavor of it in his closing remarks when he invoked his inner-city Baltimore roots and talked about Trump calling Cohen a “rat—that’s one of the worst things you can call a person.”
That's true as far as the other bad guys are concerned. But to the general population, the rats are almost always more sympathetic than the ratted upon.
So this is what the Republicans were fighting. They were trying to corner Cohen in a cage to which he’s already retreated, to stitch a scarlet “L” on his coat that he’s already sewn on himself. And Cohen was much smarter than they were (he was smarter than a number of the Democrats, too; I can see now why Trump wanted him around, that dinky little law school notwithstanding). He said: Yes, that was a lie. Yep, I lied then. Cuz I was a paid liar. And now I’m not. If Mark Meadows was looking for that Perry Mason moment, when the witness melts on the stand, he was looking at the wrong guy.
Cohen even went them one better by defending Trump here and there. Nope; I don’t know anything about abortions. Nothing about an elevator tape. No, the man I knew may have been a racist demagogue, but he was not a wife beater. I can’t believe he’d have done that. Gave him mountains of credibility.
I’d love to have been a cockroach on the floor of the caucus room where the committee Republicans all went to convene during the afternoon break. Oh, what they must have said! Jordan’s and Meadows’ neck veins must’ve been about to burst. They didn’t touch him, and while they’re idiots, they have to know they didn’t touch him.
Although… for the rest of this week, something will happen that will set everything right in their world. They’ll saunter into the studios of Pravda TV and Comrade Hannity will assure them that they were great, and all the good tovarischi out there sitting in their easy chairs will harrumph.
That’s life in the bubble. That chest-thumping, those Howard Beale theatrics… they don’t generally work in a courtroom, or in a hearing room. Brett Kavanaugh conspicuously aside, you’re supposed to keep your cool on TV. First thing the coaches tell you:
Let the other guy blow a gasket. Just sit there and nod. And when your turn comes, speak forcefully but clearly and coolly.
These Freedom Caucusers don’t get any of that. But they’re not playing to you and me, or to your average on-the-fence viewer. They’re playing to Pravda, where they will duly receive their affirmation; and then they’ll look up in a few days and see the polls all showing that most Americans agree that Cohen seems now to be telling the truth, and they’ll assign it all to a great liberal media plot, a conspiracy so immense, as their godhead Joe McCarthy used to say, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort—it’s just the bubble they live in, a bubble where Donald Trump is not a racist crook thug and the leader of North Korea is a man of peace and the children at the border are happily brocading flowers and, finally, where hauling an African-American woman up to the rostrum as a speechless exhibit prop is not in any way racially weird but is somehow proof of the opposite of racism.
They are crazy. They have no understanding of contemporary morality (what did they think they were proving by getting Cohen to admit he'd like to spend less time in prison?). And yet, they have half of Congress, so the rest of us have to take them seriously.
But there are a few people who don’t have to take them seriously: Robert Mueller, and the folks at the Southern District of New York. The only reactions to this we really need to care about are theirs.