Poet Maya Angelou made a lot of profound remarks during her literary career. But the one that has always stuck with me is what she said indirectly about apologies.
“When people show you who they are, believe them,” she once said. When quoting Angelou, most people just end it there. Out of context, the statement begs an answer to whether an apology can reverse what someone has shown himself to be.
We have been asked to forgive a lot of people lately. Along with Roseanne Barr, the most difficult for me has been Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and self-proclaimed henchman.
If we are to believe him, Cohen did Trump’s dirty work for 12 years, acting as the go-between for questionable activities targeting anyone who stood in the way of the businessman’s quest to make an extra dollar. Now, Cohen says he is sorry.
The thing I learned a long time ago about apologies is that they are worthless when they come under duress. I’d be more open to believing Cohen’s regret had he come forward before he was facing three years in prison.
A year ago, Cohen was caught lying to Congress about what he knew about Trump’s alleged illegal activities. Last week, he appeared before the House Oversight and Reform Committee to “correct the record.”
For those who think that Trump belongs behind bars, Cohen must seem like a gift from heaven. He has forfeited his allegiance to a man he once said he’d take a bullet for. And now, with newfound virtue, he’s putting his “family and country” first.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s bunk.
But you might wonder what Angelou would say about a man who has lied time and time again, and now comes begging for forgiveness.
On an episode of “Oprah’s Lifeclass” that aired in 2011, the wise elder woman gave us her unequivocal answer. Clad in pajamas and chatting with Oprah Winfrey in bed, she basically said that we should run out of the room and slam the door behind us.
In one of her most famous life lessons, “When people show you who they are, believe them,” she continued with this:
“A person says to you, ‘I’m selfish or I’m mean or I am unkind’... believe them. They know themselves much better than you do.
“But more often than not, those of us who don’t trust life say, ‘Don’t say a thing like that, you’re not really crazy, you’re not really unkind, you’re not really mean.’ As soon as you say that, the person (slaps you) and shows you.”
‘I told you I was unkind, so now why are you angry?’”
Yep, that’s exactly what happens most of the time. Let’s take Barr, for example.
Last May, she was kicked off her TV show after likening Valerie Jarrett, former President Barack Obama’s African-American White House adviser, to an ape on Twitter. With her career on the line, Barr took to the apology circuit.
“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste,” she tweeted.
It hasn’t even been a year and Barr again is showing her true colors. This time, with nothing on the line, she told us exactly how she feels about women who are sexually harassed or assaulted at work.
Appearing on the online program “The Candace Owens Show” on Sunday, Barr told the conservative pundit that women in the #MeToo movement had traded sexual favors for money.
“Well, ‘cause they’re hos,” Barr said. “Like if you don’t run out of the room and go, ‘Excuse me, you talk to me like that, you don’t do that to me, excuse me’ and leave, but you stayed around because you’re like, ‘Well, I thought maybe he was going to give me a writing job.’ Well, you aren’t nothing but a ho.”
Women, in particular, seem shocked and hurt by Barr’s remarks. But we shouldn’t be. Barr showed us who she was a long time ago.
We could say the same of Cohen. This cheating dirtbag firmly established his identity during more than a decade in Trump’s employ. We know he has lied for Trump. God knows what else he has done.
The problem with his most recent revelations, even if true, is that we are forced to take them with a grain of salt. Conservatives would like everyone to think that anything coming out of Cohen’s mouth is a lie. But there’s a way to get to the truth.
In that hearing last week, Cohen named names. He laid out a road map for Democrats to get to the people who know exactly what Trump has been up to over the years. On TV, you could see people writing them down.
On Monday, Democrats went exactly where Cohen had led them. The House Judiciary Committee sent requests for documents to 81 individuals and entities associated with Trump.
Among them are at least 10 people cited by Cohen.
Without question, Cohen has shown us that he is a checkered suit-wearing sleazebag who does not deserve our forgiveness. But as long as we keep that in mind, there is no reason he can’t still be useful.