Will Michael Cohen Unleash A Torrent Of Anti-Semitism By Turning Against Trump?
I can already hear the dog whistles. New York Lawyer. Shylock. Judas. Michael (((Cohen))).
Whether we would have chosen him or not, the President’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, who pled guilty on Tuesday to evading personal income taxes, making an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and six other counts, is a Jew. This unfortunately makes him everything many Trump cultists could hope for in terms of a traitorous villain to this story.
I spent Tuesday with my mouth slightly ajar, like most people watching the “Breaking News” television crawl seemingly set on an automatic loop. But Cohen’s decision to cooperate with law enforcement after pleading guilty to a litany of damning charges isn’t entirely a surprise.
For weeks, the man and his legal team hinted at their openness to switching allegiances, shooting out statements and “leaked” rumors like flares from a sinking ship. Still, it didn’t lessen the shock of Tuesday’s news cycle, watching in awe at just how quickly a watershed moment in American history can unleash itself.
Of course, I cheered the downward spiral of modern history’s worst presidency.
But there’s this nagging feeling behind the cautious optimism and anticipation.
We’ve seen for a while now how anti-Semitism once again doesn’t have to hide, or even veil itself behind the veneer of white identity politics. Trumpism allowed it walk out in the open, tiki torch in hand, letting us know we “will not replace” it.
Many if not most of the bigots drank that poison long before Trump descended his golden elevator, though certainly more than a few found it over the past couple years. Regardless of how they came to their hatred, it’s not something that will wholly ebb away with a midterm referendum or a crushing Presidential reelection defeat or — hope against hope — an impeachment.
What’s more, a key component of any possible outcome now hangs in large part on the actions of a nebbishy New York Jew lawyer trying to wriggle his way out of a prison sentence.
It’s simple and unavoidable fact — the optics on this ain’t great.
Ending this nightmare by any legal means necessary is unquestionably what the country needs right now. If Michael Cohen’s the person to kick it off, so be it.
But for all the talk of Trump’s unpredictability and his administration’s tactical chaos, there have been, and always will be, obvious threads pulling it all along. They’ll lean even harder towards their unflinching base, embracing their most xenophobic, scapegoating distractions in desperate hope to redirect our rage.
In fact, it’s already started. Within twenty-four hours, the Trump agitprop began exploiting the death of Mollie Tibbetts to wrest the narrative back towards immigration fears. Trump himself breathed life into the stale corpse of South African white genocide, a literal calling call for racists at cesspools like Stormfront and 4chan/pol stretching back years.
Does anyone really think Trump’s supporters in and outside the administration won’t look to the easiest ways to dehumanize and villify the man holding the keys to their closet bursting with skeletons?
Cohen has plenty to be held accountable for, but his ethnicity, faith, and family history aren’t among them. Unfortunately, for many Trumpists, it’s those latter attributes that will be the real treachery he bestowed on them.
So what’s there to do about it?
I have no real damn idea. The easiest and most immediate strategy for media outlets and journalists is to carefully assess how they describe Cohen as we move forward. The track record isn’t great so far. The tragic murder of Tibbetts was immediately pinned to an “illegal” immigrant even though there are disputes to that status — not to mention immigrant crime statistics in general — as well as Tibbetts’ only family members pleading to leave race out of the discussion.
One only needs to see the photos chosen for white suspects versus their black counterparts to see an immediate racial and ethnic disparity in media coverage. As often as Trump’s cronies spew their “truth isn’t truth” and “alternative facts” garbage, their calculated decisions coupled with our unintentional oversights can make those phrases a reality.
Monitoring Cohen’s ensuing media coverage, and our own depictions of him, could be one key to keeping the narrative focused on actual crimes instead of racist slights of hand.
Michael Cohen is a shonda. Potentially bringing down the greatest threat to modern democracy to save your own hide does not make you a hero, nor does it retroactively erase the decade of loyalty you offered the man who evolved into said threat.
At best, he’s the hero America deserves, not the hero we need.
He exemplifies this era’s version of craven narcissism, desperate opportunism, and allegiance to nothing other than power and wealth.
Those traits aren’t particular to lawyers, turncoats, or Jews. They’re endemic in our culture with no race, class, or ethnicity able to claim them solely for themselves.
But if we’re not careful, they’ll paint us with that same brush dipped in pascal lamb’s blood, we the Shylock globalist rats, because that’s what they’ve done time and time again.
They fight against Jews “replacing” them, but what’s to stop them from fighting to replace the real villains with Jews?
Andrew Paul has written for GQ, Slate, The Believer and Oxford American. He grew up in Mississippi, and currently lives in New Orleans.