Michael Cohen (among others) proves that simplicity isn’t always a virtue

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, tells reporters he will "continue to cooperate" with investigators departing after a full day of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

On Feb. 27 Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” as the media has so flatteringly labeled him, testified before the House oversight committee. Cohen began by describing his former client as “a racist,” “a conman” and “a cheat,” degrading terms which have undoubtedly become staples of the discourse in which politicians, news commentators and even average citizens engage. As Cohen later outlined Trump and his campaign’s shady tactics prior to and throughout his tenure in office, even expressing regret for his role in such matters, several witnesses championed Cohen as an almighty hero. Although I appreciate Cohen’s open testimony and believe that Trump is guilty of legal and humane injustice, I’d like to testify that perhaps we shouldn’t oversimplify one’s true character or motives.

For starters, I’d avoid treating Michael Cohen—and other former Trump cronies—like saints. Those of us who’ve been patiently and desperately anticipating the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report appear willing to grasp at straws and latch onto the slightest indication that our president is as criminally liable and morally deficient as we believe he is. Yet while I might feel giddy witnessing Trump’s henchmen turn the tables on him, I must remind myself that for years Cohen and others of his ilk enabled the monstrosity that is our current president (which Cohen, to his credit, has acknowledged). Therefore, I don’t exactly feel obligated to glorify them now. Politicians and the media construct overly narrow, rudimentary perspectives and impose their skewed agendas. Although it’s only natural to fall victim to confirmation bias—as there’s comfort in maintaining our beliefs and dispeling any challenge to them—and to focus our commentary around one central idea (e.g. “this person/thing is wholly good,” or “that person/thing is wholly bad”), my counterargument to these tendencies’ merits is the nature of counterarguments themselves. Counterarguments are basic tenets of any thoughtpiece—and of critical thinking in general—ensuring a fair, all-encompassing viewpoint. Politicians and journalists must stop casting said counterarguments aside and devaluing their own credibility in the process. Our good-hearted but sometimes foolhardy tendency to seek the best in people and trust them blindly, despite evidence that suggests we should be more skeptical, certainly doesn’t help matters either. I mean, I’m not exactly thinking to myself, “Oh, poor Michael Cohen! This young, naive 52-year-old lawyer couldn’t have possibly known any better than to allow his client’s heinous behavior to run rampant!” While I respect Cohen’s cooperation with federal officials and his more honest reflections on his time with Trump, I’m hesitant to bestow too much praise upon him given his shaky history.

On the other side of the coin, I’d argue that we shouldn’t harp too much on Trump’s every misguided action. Yes, I said it, but not for the reason that you might expect. I don’t approve of Trump’s humiliating, vile everyday behavior and banter (in fact, I’m the furthest thing from a Trump supporter), but even I can acknowledge that some of the criticism we levy toward him becomes a bit overblown. Sure, Trump’s vulgar, mean-spirited insults of his critics don’t fit the standard of someone in his position, nor is his mission to “Make America Great Again” by building a wall along the southern border to expel all those he dislikes from our country morally sound. Although our president has an uncanny ability to say and do incoherent things, we shouldn’t dwell on his minor transgressions, for we can’t allow them to distract us from legitimate developments in the Mueller investigation or from Trump and his administration’s truly awful misdeeds behind-the-scenes (although late night hosts and “Saturday Night Live” probably appreciate the bottomless supply of comedic fodder with which our current predicament provides them). Besides, the whole schtick gets old after a while. I’ve reached a point where I couldn’t care less about the next crazy thing that Trump does or says because we’re really just beating a dead horse by recognizing it. While Trump’s incessant cries of “FAKE NEWS!” and “THE MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” are incredibly harmful and unfounded, our obsessive critique of his every quirk lends some credibility to his dismay; thus we should reserve our greatest outcry for those situations that warrant it most.

Ultimately, multifaceted figures like Michael Cohen and President Trump illustrate the downsides of character oversimplification. After all, most people aren’t so one-dimensional, so we must stop boiling everyone down to wisps of water vapor and instead taste our food for thought before serving it.


Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email michael.katz@uconn.edu.