Truth and Consequences
Truth and Consequences
You Don't Get To Pick And Choose

You Don't Get To Pick And Choose

Whether it is Republicans enabling Donald Trump or people ignoring Kanye West's mental illness, at some point you need to take a stand. Also, my Zoom Chat with Ben Burrell and play it f***ing loud.

I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to subscribe, you can sign up here.

On Friday, I sat down with Ben Burrell to Zoom Chat about all things Bob Dylan, and it was a ton of fun. We discussed why Bob Dylan is a punk rocker at heart, his aversion to fame, our favorite non-pantheon Dylan records, and why Dylan still matters 60 years into his musical career. Check out the conversation above for 59 minutes of Dylan goodness!

Trump’s Party

US President Donald Trump speaks during a retreat with Republican lawmakers and members of his Cabinet at Camp David in Thurmont, Maryland, January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

In a normal political world, one would expect that allegiance to the US Constitution is the baseline requirement for any person who seeks political office in America. So if, for example, a politician … let’s say a former president … calls for the “termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” so that he can be president again, there would be widespread consensus, across the political spectrum, that said person had disqualified themselves from ever holding political office.

And yet.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, over the weekend, former President Trump called for the suspension of the Constitution because he still has a sad over losing the 2020 election.

And here is Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, on ABC’s “This Week,” not only refusing to condemn Trump’s statement but also clearly stating that he will support whoever is the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 … even if it’s the guy who called for terminating “the rules, regulations, and articles” of the Constitution.

It bears noting that Joyce is not a flame-throwing MAGA Republican. He’s what qualifies as a moderate in the current Republican Party. But his reluctance to condemn Trump has not been the exception; it’s been the rule. As NBC News noted, “As of Sunday morning, Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, as well as the Republican National Committee, had not publicly commented on Trump’s post. NBC News reached out to spokespeople for McConnell, McCarthy, and the RNC for comment Saturday but did not receive any response.” Rep. Mike Turner went a bit further, noting that he “vehemently disagrees” with Trump’s statement but continually dodged questions about “whether the front-runner for the GOP nomination in the 2024 election should make such a statement.”

To be sure, congressional Republicans taking the spineless and cynical route of refusing to publicly criticize Donald Trump’s abhorrent behavior is about as rare as a day that ends in “y.”

But this latest bit of cowardice is telling because it comes after weeks of breathless punditry that suggested Trump’s grip over the Republican Party was fading. “The GOP is ready to move on from Trump,” or so we were told. Yet, in the past two weeks, House Republicans, including their leader, Kevin McCarthy, have resisted entreaties to condemn Trump for a ) having dinner with an anti-Semitic, white supremacist, Holocaust denier … and Kanye West and b) calling for the Constitution to be suspended. Both of these would qualify as the “sure I like ice cream” of benign political statements, yet, for Republicans, they are a bridge too far.

As I noted the other day, much of this has to do with the dynamics of intra-party GOP politics. Of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January 2021, only two survived the experience. The rest either lost in primaries to MAGA Republicans or didn’t run for reelection. Members of Congress like Joyce and Turner aren’t taking any chances. There’s still a reasonable chance that Trump will end up as the 2024 nominee; and a good chance that he will remain the most influential figure in the Republican Party. There’s no real upside in getting on his wrong side, and clearly, neither is willing to risk it. As long as Republicans believe that Trump can control their political fates, there’s literally nothing he can do that would cause them to abandon him. And that isn’t hyperbole. Refusing to condemn meeting with neo-Nazis or suspending the Constitution is falling off the political enabling tree and hitting every branch on the way down.

They’d rather look the other way than do what’s best for the country. That’s, of course, been true for the past six years — and from a narrow and cynical political perspective (and if you only care about your political ambition and nothing else), it makes sense. One bad midterm result isn’t about to change things.

This Is Not A Post About Kanye West ... It’s About Mental Health

This makes me legitimately angry.

It feels like it shouldn’t be necessary to point this out ... but just because your friend with bipolar disorder (n=1 sample size) doesn’t embrace conspiracy theories about Jews and embrace Hitler, it doesn’t mean that Kanye West’s increasingly bizarre behavior has nothing do with his bipolar disorder (West has been diagnosed with bipolar and has spoken about it publicly) Mental illness does not manifest itself the same way in every person. It would be completely bizarre if it did. Just because Kanye’s particular illness is likely the reason why he’s going around complaining that people are too mean to Nazis and spouting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories does not make his mental illness any less profound — or his need for treatment any more urgent.

And while I can’t say with certainty that mental illness is causing Kanye to act the way he is, the guy went on Alex Jones’s radio show (in of itself a sign of poor mental health), wore a skin-tight black mask for the entire three hours, and, at one point, held up a small orange net that he said was a stand-in for Benjamin Netanyahu. The man’s brain is broken. Period. If West had gone on Jones’s show and said space aliens abducted him and experimented on his body, we’d all say he was nuts. But because his particular manic episode has led him to embrace anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praise Nazis, lots of people want to act as though West's racism has nothing to do with his apparent mental health issues.

Jesse Singal hits the nail on the head:

What appears to be going on here is people look at someone’s behavior, and then, based on how much it outrages them, they decide whether to attribute it to personal shortcomings (their fault) or mental illness (not their fault). It’s safe to chalk up a desire to play FIFA all night to mental illness, because there’s no major moral taint associated with gaming too much. But anti-Semitism is, on the other hand, very stigmatized — as it should be — so if someone does something anti-Semitic, all that nice, cute, cuddly talk about destigmatizing mental health goes out the window. It’s time for us all to become “personal responsibility” conservatives, to demand that the Kanyes of the world stop blaming others for their problems and pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

If we accept that mental illness is a disease that causes people to act in ways that are, for lack of a better word, not normal, then we should be accepting of mental illness that manifests itself in highly disturbing ways. Picking and choosing when mental health is a factor — and when it’s not — is not how this is supposed to work.

Today In Bob Dylan

Ben and I referenced this song in our chat on Friday … Dylan’s rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” from his 1966 gig at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (often wrongly identified as the Royal Albert Hall). What makes this set legendary is the heckler who yells out, “Judas.” Dylan retorts, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” Dylan was frequently heckled and booed on his ‘66 tour by fans outraged by his decision to “go electric.” But it was rare for him to respond so directly. He’s rightly pissed to have a biblical epithet thrown his way, and he answers the only way a man as beholden to his artistic integrity as Dylan can — by turning to his band and telling them, “Play it fucking loud.” Dylan doesn’t sing the lyric; he puts it in a crossbow and fires it at the audience. Mickey Jones's snare drum intro sounds like a cannon blast. It’s legitimately one of the greatest moments in rock ‘n roll history, and this version of “Like A Rolling Stone” is astonishing - eight minutes of greasy, grungy, angry, chaotic, careening, utterly life-affirming rock ’n roll. (I’m pretty sure that the audio below is not from the Manchester show — though it’s a great version of the song. It is, however, a fun video to watch, and you can check out the real thing here).

From the same show, this version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is not as famous but nearly as good. Robbie Robertson’s guitar solo is incandescent.

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Truth and Consequences
Truth and Consequences
Weekly discussions with some of the smartest historians, journalists, and pundits on the latest doing in American politics.