Redemption Song

Watching this morning I am left wondering why people have been raving about Elijah Cummings closing remarks. I am truly curious.

In case you missed it, the keyword of the Democratic majority as regards Cohen is “redemption”, and these closing remarks were just a rambling improv on this consciously held theme, by someone well-versed in the tropes of political theater. This focus on redemption doesn’t primarily express a concern for Michael Cohen’s “soul”, or family, but for his popular reputation. The real hope here is not for him, but about him. Democrats are selling Cohen’s redemption to lend credence to his testimony. It’s an agreed upon talking point, worked out in advance, for political purposes.

Cohen’s interests lie along this same narrative. Now that he’s been sentenced to three years in prison, his only hope for lessening that time is to produce material that helps with the prosecution of Trump. His contrition may or may not be sincere, but it is certainly in his self-interest to perform it for investigators and the cameras. He’d be a fool not to play the penitent soul, who only hopes that his personal conversion will be instrumental in the redemption of the nation as a whole.

The Republicans, by contrast, are framing Cohen as a convicted liar in order to undermine his testimony. Rather than redemption, they want to portray this testimony as another example of his well-demonstrated willingness to distort the truth in service to powerful others.

It’s hard to really come to terms with how deeply we are embedded within propaganda. It’s hard to be sufficiently cynical about the way cultural reality is produced without falling into some form of madness. This, I think, because a basic sense of trust in the appearances of other people is essential to sanity. To lose this basic trust is to open oneself to the endless anxiety of having to calculate who anyone is, and what it is they really mean by what they say and do.

Hence – again, I think – people fall into various habits of cynical analysis, so as to lessen the cognitive load of having to constantly resolve uncertainty of intent. Even nihilism, in this view, is just a way to escape the anxiety brought by this endless analysis. To believe nothing comes as a relief.

So, too, is partisan belief. We want to belief in the narratives we are handed, because the psychic cost of disbelieving in them is so high.

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