Cohen’s Overlooked Warning – and Other Media Silences Worth Hearing

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.

– Michael Cohen, speaking to the U.S. Congress, February 27, 2019

It’s the silences – the things left out and sent down the “memory hole” – that strike me most in the United States’ Orwellian capitalist and white-supremacist media.

Urban Racism as a Nonstory

Here in Chicago, the Jussie Smollett and R. Kelly cases were recently all the local media rage. By contrast, recent reports that 63 Black people have so far been exonerated after having bags of heroin and cocaine planted on them by the Chicago police (at the Ida B. Wells housing project earlier in this century) are just blips on the dominant media screen. Many of the victims served long prison sentences.

This is unsurprising to people who track racial media bias. The Smollett and Kelly stories match the predominantly white viewing public’s conditioned attachment both to celebrity and to racism-denial. The Smollett case involves a Black television star who appears to have staged a fake racist assault. The Kelly story plugs into the longstanding white image of Black men as sexual predators (and to say that is not to deny that Kelly is likely a predator).

The evidence-planting story is about institutional police state racism. That’s not a popular plotline in the audience targeted by the 10 O’clock News’ commercial sponsors.

Meanwhile, violence in the Black ghettoes continues to be a nightly news obsession in Chicago as across urban America. By contrast, the underlying, violence-generating nature of social and economic conditions in those segregated, opportunity-bereft neighborhoods is a perpetual non-story (kind of like the deletion of climate change from the nightly weather reports).

Socialist City Council Triumphs Not Fit for Prime Time

Metropolitan television reporting and commentary on the first round of Chicago’s mayoral and aldermanic elections last Tuesday is another example. The local news teams were all over the spectacular failure of big money white male candidate Bill Daley (the son and brother of two legendary long-term Chicago mayors named Richard) to make it to the two-person mayoral run-off election in April. The story on local television Tuesday night was about identity – how the run-off election will be between two Black females, Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot, one of whom (Lightfoot) is gay.

Lost in the coverage was the fact that each of the two final candidates can be expected to run Chicago’s City Hall in accord with the commands of the city’s leading corporate, real estate, and financial interests.

Also not meriting serious discussion Tuesday night was the remarkable fact that self-declared socialists – actual grassroots opponents of the city’s corporate and political machine – won in two of the city’s fifty wards and made it to the run-off in three more. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members ran in six Chicago wards. They won flat-out (with no run-off required) in the 35th ward (Northwest Side), where DSA member and City Council incumbent Carlos Ramirez-Rosa got 60% of the vote, and in the 1st Ward (North Side), where DSA member and aldermanic challenger Dan La Spata got 61%. DSA member Byron Sigcho-Lopez won the top run-off spot in the 25th ward (Southwest Side). DSA member Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez tied for the top run-off spot in the 33rd ward (Northwest Side). DSA member Andre Vasquez won the second run-off sport with 20% in the 40th ward (Northwest Side), where another DSA member (Ugo Okere) got 14%.

As someone who has followed Chicago political history for many years, I have to say that this is a remarkable development. The city is poised to have more openly “socialist” City Council members than any time since the 1910s, when Chicago voters elected several aldermen from Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party.

“The oligarchs are shaking in their boots tonight,” Ramirez-Rosa told a crowd last Tuesday evening. The defeat of Daley, who spent $8.7 million dollars, including $1 million from Illinois’ richest man, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, is just the tip of the iceberg. The real threat to the city’s neoliberal Robber Barons comes from the bottom up, in the neighborhoods.

Cohen’s Warning: “If He Loses…No Peaceful Transition”

Another example of telling television silence was on display on the national stage two days ago. After Michael Cohen’s dramatic testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, CNN and MSNBC talking heads rambled on and on about Cohen’s comments on the Trump Tower meeting, Trump’s sickening racism, Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, Trump’s corrupt foundation money dealings, Trump’s inflated assets, and Trump’s youthful bone-spur draft-dodging. Also drawing attention were the histrionics of the Republican Congressmen who attacked Cohen’s credibility and the asinine stunt pulled by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-GA), who pathetically used a Black woman as a mute stage-prop to buttress his idiotic claim that Trump could not possibly be a racist since the woman holds a position in the Trump administration.
Curiously denied remotely comparable attention was something remarkable Cohen said during his final statement to Congress. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” Cohen remarked, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

That would seem to have been a highly newsworthy comment. The president’s longtime personal attorney, confidante, and “fixer” Michael Cohen wanted Congress to know that Trump will not leave the White House peacefully if he is defeated in the Electoral College. Cohen told the House and the U.S. populace that Trump poses a dictatorial threat to the last vestiges of electoral democracy in the U.S.

That was a big deal. And yet I saw one CNN talking head after another ignore Cohen’s warning when the network’s host Anderson Cooper asked them “what leapt out at you during Cohen’s testimony?”

No serious journalist should find Cohen’s warning excessive. As a Canadian correspondent, Matthew Gosse, wrote me yesterday, “In 2016, [Trump] made it quite clear that he wanted to see blood in the streets in the event that he lost. He insinuated repeatedly that the election was ‘rigged’ [against him] and that the people would know that it had been stolen if any other event other than his victory was the outcome.”

Trump has already repeatedly laid the rhetorical foundation for claiming that a 2020 election loss by him will be illegitimate because of supposed illegal immigrant voter fraud. To make matters worse, a reputable poll has shown that most Republicans would support Trump suspending the 2020 presidential election “if necessary to guarantee a fair election.”

If Trump loses in 2020, he will encourage violence, telling his followers that the vote count is illegitimate. You can take that to Deutsche Bank.
Herr Trump and his authoritarian, white-nationalist Amerikaner base pose a real creeping-fascist threat to the last shreds of bourgeois democracy in the corporate-managed inverted-totalitarian United States.

“Can’t Happen Here”

Why wasn’t Cohen’s ominous warning a bigger part of the corporate media’s treatment of his blockbuster testimony? Maybe the chattering cable skulls are still caught-up in the mindset of “It Can’t Happen Here,” the title of Sinclair Lewis’s dystopian 1935 novel about a fascist American president who follows his election by stamping out the last embers of U.S. democracy. (The lesson of the novel: “The Hell it Can’t.”)

Or maybe it’s because they aren’t really in the business of promoting anything like actual democracy in the U.S. (or anywhere else). The reigning corporate media institutions are consent-manufacturing ideological assets owned by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of concentrated wealth and empire. They want Trump replaced by a better and more effective agent of corporate-financial oligarchy and imperialism, not by forces of popular sovereignty.

Could Trump pull off the suspension of the 2020 election or a White House refusal to recognize the election’s results? I find that hard to imagine. The national fetishization of the U.S. Constitution and its republican principles seem to me too strong to permit such “banana republic” developments. But, like all the “it can’t happen here” folks who couldn’t imagine the future dictator Buzz Windrip being elected in Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, I didn’t think a Trump presidency could happen in 2016.

What seems reasonable beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the orange monstrosity is a creeping fascist – a fact that started to belatedly dawn on Cohen (a descendant of Nazi Holocaust survivors) after Charlottesville – and that he is very likely to try to obstruct the “democratic” U.S. electoral process in ways that go beyond the longstanding bourgeois-constitutional norm in 2020. He will not go away quietly and without bloodshed. It’s no small matter. We’ve been warned yet again, this time by the tangerine mob/nster’s longtime fixer. The media might want to pay more attention.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).