The Cardinal Sins – Envy
In his summing up speech, following the hearing of Michael Cohen’s evidence against President Donald Trump, Elijah Cummings, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, acknowledges a change of heart in the defendant. By so doing he validates Cohen’s evidence, and provides substantial grist for the mill when it comes to indicting Donald Trump for criminal offences including, fraud and tax evasion. But Cohen, though visibly repentant, does not come out of it morally restored. He is still going to prison for his own crimes and he has no qualms about admitting that a book and lucrative film rights will follow. I suspect that many of us are wondering how much more there is left to surprise us with in a fictionalised re-working of the Trump-Cohen saga. Might the book and the film not feel like a bit of an anti-climax? Unless of course, there is more underlying this story.
Cummings, in his speech, notes how Cohen has been caught up in a corrupt system from which he presumably thought he would be able to extricate himself before it was too late. By his own admission Cohen was a fool for thinking so. But is this not the classic modus operandi of what we call sin? We get caught up in destructive patterns of behaviour, thinking that just around the corner lies vindication and possible reward. When it comes to power politics, there are many who find themselves in Michael Cohen’s position long before they realise it.
One thing the Cohen hearing ought to remind us of is that the need for power begins in the heart of the individual. The other word for power is the need to ‘control’, and control is linked to the basic instinct for survival. Richard Dawkins calls this instinct the selfish gene. When it is played out in such a way as to cause damage to another person, or group, or nation, it becomes sin. So two questions need to be asked if we are to learn from the Cohen hearing: What, if anything, justifies the need for power, as a need to control circumstances or other people? And why is it necessary to maintain a grip on it?
It would be easy to dismiss the need to control, or exercise power over others, as something unattractive and fundamentally immoral, but it is not that simple. For some, there is a deep sense of personal inadequacy, or lack, which drives their need to control others. This sense of inadequacy is also the answer to the second question. We need to maintain a grip on power when we are in competition with those we fear, or envy, because they have the gifts or attributes we lack. But envy destroys a person from within and it can end by destroying the people and things they love. Perhaps, as Elijah Cummings seems to suggest, something like this has been happening to Michael Cohen without him realising it. Furthermore, and from what Michael Cohen has said, it seems that Trump himself suffers from this particular emotional dysfunctionalism. Perhaps he lives with a sense of deep personal inadequacy. If he were not so dangerous it would be tempting to feel sorry for him.
Those who are the victims of other people’s envy are victims in the fullest sense. They are powerless to change the envious person, because by virtue of their own attributes, they will never make that person less envious. It is also almost impossible for them to lessen the pain caused to them, either directly or indirectly, by another’s envy. This is because most envious people operate under a camouflage of seeming ignorance, mixed with self justification and ultimate indifference. Trump’s justification of his national emergency policies are a case in point.
The envious person can seldom be challenged outright, especially when envy is played out privately between individuals. But people who need to maintain a grip on power, exercised through the control of circumstances and in the manipulation of others, need compassion. They need it most of all from their victims because the compassion of a person who has been hurt by another’s envy is the only way they, and the envious person, can begin to heal.