Teri Kanefield @Teri_Kanefield Author, lawyer (U.C. Berkeley). I tweet about the law, books, politics, and history. All my threads are here as blog entries: t.co/vdLoEAoLvv Mar. 02, 2019 4 min read

(Thread) Michael Cohen, the GOP, and the Cult of Leadership

Michael Cohen, in his riveting testimony Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight, illustrated how Trump’s Cult of Leadership operates.

The classic definition of a leadership cult comes from Robert O. Paxton👇

1/ In a leadership cult the followers look for a strong authority (always male) culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny.

This is what Trump was getting at when he said, “I alone can fix it”
 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557/ 

2/ Lies are an integral part of a leadership cult.

The leader’s utterances don’t have to be factually true—as long as they advance the group’s agenda.

The agenda always includes consolidating power. Truth is “whatever permits” the Leader to dominate others.

3/ On Wed., Cohen explained how Trump signals to his supporters what lie they are supposed to tell.

“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” Cohen said. “That’s not how he operates.” How does he operate?
 https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000169-2d31-dc75-affd-bfb99a790001 
Cohen offered an example. . .

4/ During the campaign, while Cohen was negotiating with Russia on Trump’s behalf (to build Trump Tower Moscow), Trump often asked how the negotiations were going. Other times Trump looked Cohen in the eye and say, “there’s no business in Russia.”
Afterward. . .

5/ . . .Trump went out and told the same lie to the American people. Cohen thus understood that “there’s no business in Russia” was the lie he was supposed to tell.”

McCabe tells a similar story. After Trump fired Comey, he summoned McCabe to a meeting.  http://time.com/5531604/andrew-mccabe-60-minutes-interview-transcript/ 

6/ Trump offered a “gleeful” description of what happened with the firing of Comey. McCabe knew this wasn’t true. He also knew Trump expected him to “adopt” this falsehood.

McCabe refused. He said, “No sir. That’s not true . . . ” He knew that he’d “given him the wrong answer.”

7/ McCabe knew he would lose his job because of his unwillingness to tell the lie that Trump wanted him to tell.

Trump not only made sure McCabe was fired, he also made sure McCabe—after 21 years of service—would not receive his pension.

8/ @PreetBharara tells a similar story. was startled shortly after Trump took office when Trump personally reached out to him. It was odd,” Bharara said, “because as a general matter, Presidents don’t speak directly to United States attorneys. . . "
 https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/20/politics/preet-bharara-podcast-trump-firing/index.html 

9/ . . . "You know the number of times President Obama called me? Zero,” @PreetBharara said.

The calls were particularly awkward because Mr. Bharara was prosecuting Russian money laundering and Russian mob crimes in Trump’s own neighborhood of Manhattan.  https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/20/politics/preet-bharara-podcast-trump-firing/index.html 

10/ Bharara accept a few of Trump’s phone calls. Trump just called to shoot the breeze. Bharara suspected nobody knew the president was calling him.

He felt distinctly uncomfortable, so the next time the president called, he refused the call.

He was fired twenty hours later.

11/ McCabe and Bharara were clear warnings to what happens to those who ignore the leader’s signals.

There are too many other examples to count, like this one:

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to Comey’s memo.

12/ Cohen explained how he was drawn into the Leadership Cult:

“Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself — that you were somehow changing the world."
 https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000169-2d31-dc75-affd-bfb99a790001 

13/ Cohen ended up “touting the Trump narrative for over a decade.”

Cohen's job—and the job of everyone else in Trump’s orbit—was to stay on message and “protect” Trump.

They did their jobs willingly and even eagerly.

14/ A chilling moment in Cohen’s testimony on Wed. was when Cohen responded to insults by Congressional Republicans by saying:

“I am responsible for your silliness because I did the same things that you are doing now. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/michael-cohen-testimony/2019/02/27/089664f0-39fb-11e9-a2cd-307b06d0257b_story.html?utm_term=.c7ad96fce19d 

15/ Cohen then issued a warning: “People who follow Mr. Trump blindly will suffer the same consequences I’m suffering.”
 https://www.c-span.org/video/?458125-1/michael-cohen-president-trump-he-racist-con-man-cheat 

The left-leaning TwitterVerse assumes that Trump has blackmail material on Graham.

16/ The Graham-must-be-compromised theory arises because it’s hard to imagine how else Graham could have done such an abrupt about-face.

But left-leaning people aren not, by nature, susceptible to a leadership cult. Others are. See 👇

17/ One way to understand our current politics is that people like @Comey, McCabe, @PreetBharara were not susceptible to a "mesmerizing" Leader. Graham, much of the Congressional GOP—and the Fox crowd, is.

Cohen was drawn in, but could pull out. Manafort & Stone probably can't.

18/ That's what it means to say that we are up against a Cult of Leadership.

[Don't panic. All signs are that Truth and Rule of Law will win. I have threads on that]

Understanding the problem, I think, is the first step toward solving it.

19/ Actually, I agree. I should have phrased my tweet more carefully.

The kind of leadership cult that Paxton describes is more specific to the far right wing. He uses the word "fascist" which I didn't use here. Fascism is right wing.

All of my threads are now blog posts. You can read this one here:  https://terikanefield-blog.com/michael-cohen-the-gop-and-the-cult-of-leadership/ 


You can follow @Teri_Kanefield.



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