RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Cole writes: "Trump's success stems in large part from his hucksterism, from his disregard for facts and his ability to pull the wool over the eyes of his cultists. It also stems from a shrewd use of logical fallacies in argument."

Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer for President Trump. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)
Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer for President Trump. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty)

"Reject the Evidence of Your Ears": Trump, Orwell, and Cohen Bunny Tape

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

25 July 18


rump’s success stems in large part from his hucksterism, from his disregard for facts and his ability to pull the wool over the eyes of his cultists. It also stems from a shrewd use of logical fallacies in argument.

After the catastrophic Helsinki summit, the question was, ‘Is he Putin’s poodle?’

That is a good thing, his flacks say, since peace with a nuclear power is much better than conflict.

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy, known as the False Dilemma. There just are other possibilities that fall between nuclear Armageddon and sucking up to Putin. For instance, you could even have a summit with him, and seek cooperation where there is overlap in interests, but just be forthright that you don’t think his unilateral annexation of Crimea and attempt to usurp other Ukrainian territory is right.

Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday, Trump cautioned his audience about the reporting on Helsinki and on the Mueller investigation,

“Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Twitter knew what to do with this unhinged remark. People quoted George Orwell’s 1984:

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

As the great science fiction writer Cory Doctorow pointed out, Eric “George Orwell” Blair, the anarcho-syndicalist journalist who fought in the Spanish Civil War, did not write 1984 as a prediction of the future but as a critique of his own present:

“Orwell didn’t worry about a future dominated by the view-screens from 1984, he worried about a present in which technology was changing the balance of power, creating opportunities for the state to enforce its power over individuals at ever-more-granular levels.”

Then, when on Tuesday night the Cohen tape was leaked to CNN, the Trump team actually attempted to dictate how it was heard by releasing an obviously doctored transcript of it.

Cohen sets up a dummy corporation for buying Playboy bunny Karen McDougal’s silence about their year-long affair, to reimburse David Pecker (yes!) of the National Enquirer for offering her an op-ed contract on condition she not reveal the affair.

Here’s the transcript according to WaPo:

COHEN: … Um, I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up and I’ve spoken —

TRUMP: Give it to me and get me a [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

COHEN: And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …

TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: … Funding . . . Yes. Um, and it’s all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yeah, I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because — here, you never know where that company — you never know what he’s —

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So, I’m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.

TRUMP: Check.

The Trump team, however, released their own version of the transcript, in which they maintain that Trump wasn’t suggesting that Cohen pay with cash but rather was insisting that Cohen pay by check.

Dispassionate news sources have not agreed with Giuliani’s spin.

In fact, Trump sent Hope Hicks out to deny any knowledge at all of the “catch and kill” contract between the National Enquirer and McDougal. “We have no knowledge of any of this,” she said.

But the tape shows that Trump knew all about it down to discussing how exactly to reimburse Mr. Pecker for the McDougal hush money.

“I’ll have to pay him something,” Cohen told Trump.

Trump wanted it all to be off the books. “Pay with cash,” he instructed.

Cohen knew he was taping himself qnd knew what paying with cash would make the whole thing look like. “No, no, no…” he protested.

It is not actually clear to me whether it is Cohen who then says “check” or Trump. If the latter, he is caving to Cohen’s refusal to pay Pecker cash.

In the end, the dummy corporation did not actually make a payment to Mr. Pecker. It is not clear that anything very illegal happened here.

It is not illegality that is of concern here. It is Trump’s instruction to Hope Hicks to deny it all. “We have no knowledge…”

The same denials have attended the numerous meetings of Trump associates with Russian contacts.

Back when Bush & Co. invaded Iraq, one of them, perhaps Karl Rove, gave an interview with Ron Suskind about criticism of the war of aggression on Iraq:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality–judiciously, as you will–we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

At the time, I called this way of thinking “Right Maoism,” after the Chinese leader’s insistence that he could industrialize China by sheer force of will, a fantasy that led to millions of deaths.

Likewise, of course, the Bushies were not “an empire” in Iraq but just incompetents who helped destroy the Middle East.

The response to the Suskind interview was the internet meme of the “reality-based community.”

Now Right Maoism has reemerged under Trump, even more virulently than under Bush. Just as Bush attempted to shape American perceptions of Iraq by constantly declaring the US occupation a shining beacon on a hill, so Trump attempts to portray his presidency as a march from victory to victory. why, he has denuclearized South Korea and cowed Iran, destroyed ISIL and put China in its place.

The US public was invested for perhaps 3 years in the Iraq War before they started rethinking the calamity, as evidenced in the 2006 midterms. In the case of Trump, they don’t have the luxury of mulling it all over for 3 years or more. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+24 # chrisconno 2018-07-25 18:12
I find the "maybe he gets hit by a truck' instructive. Is this a coded directive by suggestion? After all, Trump is little more than a two bit thug with access to the world stage where he sucks up to Godfather Putin. How many ways will it take to turn the tide to overthrow this regional crime boss.
-3 # HarryP 2018-07-25 20:43
chrisconno: The tape, at times, is diffult to follow. At times, the two are talking simultaneously or are making muffled offhand remarks.

Here’s the context (as I heard it): Pecker didn’t run the McDougall story but - Trump feared - what if Pecker “gets hit by a truck” and the next owner/publisher decided to run the story? It was best if the rights to the story were purchased from the National Inquirer.

Couple of sleaze bags talking, but not about rubbing someone out.
+13 # Salburger 2018-07-26 06:49
Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?
-19 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-25 18:26
You can't really talk to someone who has no concept of truthfulness. That is Trump's problem as Cole is trying to point out. But Cole has the same problem. He says, "his {Putin's} unilateral annexation of Crimea and attempt to usurp other Ukrainian territory is right." This is just totally false. Russia did not annex Crimea. The people of Crimea voted 93% to 7% to re-join Russia. Crimea was a part of Russia before it was a part of Ukraine. And Russia has scrupulously NOT tried to usurp any Ukranian territory.

Who cares about the Cohen tape. Private conversations between an attorney and a client often contain details that simply are not relevant to anything. No crime was committed. There are important things going on in the world. Cole should try to pull his head out of the sewer and think about what he actually sees -- - not what the WaPo tells him to see. The WaPo is Big Brother's Ministry of Truth. But Cole does not know that.
+12 # ericlipps 2018-07-26 04:45
Rodion, contrarian voices are welcome here, I'm sure. But when they become predictable, like your knee-jerk defense of Trump and Putin, people tend after awhile to just roll their eyes and move on. It's just a matter of time.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-26 08:51
eric -- you are not one to talk about predictability. Your posts are like a broken record, playng over and over an over.

You force me to repeat -- I'm not defending Trup. I am saying Cole's argument is filled with falsehoods and therefore invalid.

If you would have learned to read in school instead of learned to give orders, you'd see that I said Cole was just like Trump in his lying. That can't be a defense of Trump.

No one appreciates a Troll like you. Most of the time I try to be patient and respond to you on the content of your comment.
-2 # Benign Observer 2018-07-26 13:37
hahahaha Project much? YOU calling anyone else predictable is preposterous, eric! Most of us know exactly what you're going to say -- and it always ends with a whine about Hillary and socialist Bernie, no matter what the article's about!
+7 # economagic 2018-07-26 19:54
The entire exchange below reads like an argument between two economists, both citing statistics to support their specific claims (I recommend "How to Lie With Statistics," by Darrel Huff (1954, many editions), both defending in absolute terms positions that are at least partly true, but not defined in terms specific enough to say that either is "right" and the other "wrong." It is this kind of "debate"--withi n the economics profession certainly and with equal or greater certainty in the public at large--that has gotten us to this critical point in the human experience on "Planet Eaarth."
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-27 12:35
econo -- HA! HA! HA! My son is a statistician. He works for a healthcare think tank trying to understand something about healthcare. I can't understand a word of what he says. But others think he is really smart and right on the money.
0 # economagic 2018-07-28 20:51
Statistics is a legitimate discipline, unlike mainstream economics(class ical-tradition, Neoclassical), which is revealed dogma. I can say that: I have two graduate degrees in the latter.

It was exceedingly difficult for me to master even the basics of the former, considering that I was a math geek of more than 50 years at the time. A large part of the problem is the textbooks, which as an astute colleague pointed out are all written by statisticians.

The problem is that most people and many statisticians forget what it means, if they ever knew. Statisticians can parrot all of the caveats, just as economists can parrot all the dogmas, but are all too willing to heed them in practice.

When I spotted your reply last night I had just removed a T-shirt with the message, "Statistics means never having to say you're certain." That is actually a pretty good description of what statistics do. It is always probabilistic, as in "We have no idea what the real number is, but the probability that it is between these two is 90 percent."

Those estimations in turn depend on how the data are "distributed," or patterned (e.g., half below average and half below, more above than below, more below than above, etc., and by how much). And the true distribution of a data set is often unknown, although it matters less when the data set is very large ("Big Data"), If--and ONLY if--it is truly a random sample of all possible data.

I hope this add some clarity re damn lies and statistics!
0 # Benign Observer 2018-07-28 09:30
haha I see your point. I read Huff's book in graduate school and gave it as a gift to a professor who was offended by it.

I believe you meant your post to go below the exchange with Harry, right? You seem to be right, that posts are getting put in the wrong spots!
0 # librarian1984 2018-07-28 10:53
It seems more to me like Benign is presenting facts and Harry is just sputtering that it can't possibly be true + insult + avoidance + snark.
0 # HarryP 2018-07-29 14:14
librarian: Benign announces his “facts” with a trumpet blast - “3 MIND BLOWING FACTS” (being in caps they must be true, although he could have boldened and underlined them) - none of which (forgive my sputtering snark) can possibly be right. 70% of Americans living in poverty reminds me of Trumps charge that under Obama the unemployment rate was 50% (or some such made up number.) Can anyone explain how the Pentagon made $21 trillion disappear?
You can believe anything you want....but I’ll take a pass on what makes no sense.
+16 # Benign Observer 2018-07-26 07:00
It's one of the many insidious ways people are manipulated. The writer slips in falsities casually, as if everybody 'knows' Russia annexed Crimea, when that's not at all what took place.

Americans are constantly misinformed. That's what happens when 90% of the media is owned by six corporations. They're nothing more than propagandists now, and not just Fox. People would know more if they tuned out US media. Sy Hersh can't get published in the US!

The flip side is stories that go ignored. I spent yesterday listening to Thomas Frank, Mark Blyth, Richard Wolff, Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, David Degraw, Noam Chomsky. It did me a lot of good, to remember not everyone is blind to what's happening.

In listening to them I learned 3 MIND BLOWING FACTS I've seen nothing about in the msm:

70% of Americans can't afford the basic necessities of life. In the richest country in the world 7 of every 10 people have to go into debt to pay for housing, food, clothes and transportation. How is that not in every paper and on every news show? But not a word, even here. Plenty of articles about porn stars and prostitutes though.

The Pentagon cannot account for at least $21 TRILLION! IG reports that showed billions missing from Afghanistan and every other theater have since been redacted. I haven't seen anything about that in the msm. You?

We could eliminate poverty in the US with 0.5% of the wealth of the richest 1%

Where are THOSE stories?!
0 # HarryP 2018-07-26 10:52
Benign: Russian did “annex” Crimea. You can argue how it happened and the reasons for it (you can even call it “reannexation” if you wish), but one day it was part of Ukraine, the next part of Russia.
You can complain about the disgrace of poverty in the US but you shouldn’t be going off the deep end. Poverty (depending how you define and calculate it) runs between 13and 33%. It’s just not possible that 70% go into debt to obtain life’s necessities. If you have to borrow to buy purchase food, you will not have the credit to buy it.
As for the Pentagon’s well known profligacy, it is simply not possible to lose $21 trillion. It would have to lose all of the money allocated over the last 42+ years. That story, btw, has been debunked more than once. It’s the result of awfully sloppy accounting.
+10 # Billsy 2018-07-26 13:01
Begs the question, what are we doing with a naval base and prison detaining its inhabitants for years without due process in Cuba?
-2 # Benign Observer 2018-07-26 14:38
Why am I not surprised by your response?

The people of Crimea were forced to make a choice after the US helped neonazis overthrow the elected government of Ukraine, pushing NATO -- illegally -- to Russia's border, and we now conduct war games there, not at all provocative, eh? Then we forced the vote on Crimea -- and oops -- they CHOSE Russia.

The case perfectly illustrates two of the things I find most fascinating about neoliberals -- 1) for being so well educated and so sure of themselves they sure do fuck things up a lot -- Larry Summers, president of Hahvahd, broke our economy -- twice!, and 2) for being so 'best and brightest', and enamored of facts and statistics, you sure are adept at ignoring the inconvenient ones. Climate change deniers have nothing on you guys.

Poverty blah blah, eh? Your compassion is overwhelming. Here's David Degraw, cofounder of OWS who, before he started investigating military spending, was writing on economic justice, speaking with Thom Hartmann:

The 70% comment is 4 minutes in, and he is more believable than your casual dismissal.

Between 2007 and 2014 median income decreased 8.3%, median wealth went down 43% !

It doesn't matter if you choose to ignore the plight of the poor. MOST Americans are living it, whether you acknowledge the reality or not, and the effects are creeping up.

I'm sure I won't be surprised by your response to this either.
-2 # HarryP 2018-07-26 19:05
Benign: you don’t seem to care what you write. The overthrow of the Ukrainian govt did not lead to pushing NATO to RussiaLs borders. Look it up. The Crimean election too place after Russian troops took Crimea. Look it up. Why can’t you call it an “annexation.” Even Hitler was more honest when he took Austria, callin it an Anschluss. Hitler, no stranger to lying, could have called it the joyful return of parts of Germany to the Vaterland. “Look at the huge crowds, biggest of all time, all these cheering Austrians!”
I have no clue why you brought in Larry Summers. Or why you call me a “neoliberal.” I gather it wasn’t meant as a compliment. For all you know I’m a Rastafarian anarchist.
Between 2007 & 2014, median wealth declined 43%? What are you factoring in? The decline of the stock market? Is US society about half as wealthy today as it was in 2007? Think before you whack your thumbs on your keyboard. Please.
Your best comment is: “poverty, blah, blah, blah.” But you could have improved it by adding additional “blah, blah, blahs.” Don’t limit yourself.
-3 # librarian1984 2018-07-26 19:42
All hat, no cattle, Harry.
-2 # Benign Observer 2018-07-26 15:03
David Degraw has been devoting himself to the issue of military spending and the first (!) Pentagon audit, and he has some VERY interesting things to say, like 98% of our drone kills are collaterals. oops!

Here he is talking to Lee Camp (the first 18 min -- the last half is a great takedown of Clapper and Brennan):

His sources are Pentagon accountants and veterans -- and the number could be far higher.

$21 T works out to about $64.000 for every man, woman and child in the US.

And here's an article by Camp in which he addresses exactly the point you raise, that what's missing is greater than the budget:

Kind of amazing none of this is mentioned by the mainstream media, who need to fill 168 hours of programming a week but can't seem to fit this in. even as they belch up Trumpian tweets and Russia-gate 24/7.

They won't try to debunk it. They just ignore it, which works for all kinds of things, like election fraud, voter purges, wealth inequality, our many wars, rising infant mortality, falling longevity, a majority of the population living in poverty etc.

LA just evicted 30,000 elders from their nursing homes because Medicare won't cover their expenses.

As Ross Perot might say, What's that giant flushing sound? America going down the toilet - just another wannabe empire bankrupted by its military.
-2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-26 14:10
Benign -- "Where are THOSE stories?!"

One thing all critics of media know is that there is only so much time and space in any media. Those stories are pushed out by trivia like Michael Cohen's tapes, a reporter getting kicked out of the white house press pool, and more pointless wastes of time.

The minds of Americans are filled up with idiocies. The really important things are almost never mentioned.
+7 # Aremora2 2018-07-25 20:51
How many fingers Winston?
+9 # relegn 2018-07-26 06:17
There is no False Dilemma with regards to our Supreme Leader. He and his administration need to be removed from office.
+10 # Blackjack 2018-07-26 08:06
This kind of propaganda is only effective when a gullible public, devoid of critical thinking skills, buys into it. Unfortunately, through the skillful manipulation of the wing-nuts in the education environment, critical thinking skills is not at the top of the priority list. Having enough training (as opposed to real education) to perform some kind of skilled or unskilled job has become, in too many instances, number one on the priority list. Critical thinking skills simply gets in the way of that priority.
+4 # Rcomm 2018-07-26 09:05
And what was the reason for impeaching Clinton?
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-07-27 18:30
Republicans, esp. Newt Gingrich, did not like Clinton so they opened investigations of everything he ever did. Just like now. It is ironic that all the people in the FBI and DOJ who are trying to frame up Trump for impeachment are republicans. Many of the attorneys on Mueller's team are democrats, however. But they seem like equal opportunity assassins.
+1 # Benign Observer 2018-07-26 22:46
Well, since we're going to focus on insults rather than facts, let me try to salvage things by saying I'm sure you bring joy and happiness wherever you go .. as soon as you leave the room.

One could expound the fallacies in your response but that seems cruel when obviously there's a Don Rickles Club somewhere missing its charter member.

Here's something you might look up: civil discourse.
0 # Benign Observer 2018-07-27 09:56
This is meant to answer HarryP above, and I assume economagic's post, farther above, is meant to go there as well.

It does seem that placement is being messed up!
-5 # HarryP 2018-07-28 09:31
Benign: I assume this post is directed at me. I assume you don’t appreciate my comment that you don’t think before you write.

But what am I to make of your post?

Your opening sentence deplores insults only to conclude with an insult.

Your second sentence is another insult. You won’t bother, you say, exposing my “fallacies” and thus you take the easy way out. At least you’re consistent.

And in your third sentence you tell me to look up “civil discourse.”

Here’s where your consistency ends. Help me out: do you want insults or civility?

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.