Mea Maxima Culpa
Michael Cohen Comes Clean
By Doug Dworkin
It’s less than two months until the election, and insider books about the Trump administration continue to drop off the presses like the falling leaves of October. I’ve recently been slogging my way through John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, an informative but ponderous read weighed down by lots of detail and Bolton’s insufferable pomposity (slightly leavened by his biting sarcasm). Earlier this week, as a mental palate cleanser, I decided to take a break from Bolton and picked up Michael Cohen’s Disloyal, an account of Cohen’s time working for Donald Trump as his personal lawyer and fixer from 2006 through Cohen’s imprisonment on May 6, 2019.
On the plus side, Cohen’s account is a breeze to read, and if you have heard Cohen speak, his writing style mimics his speaking, flowing easily from scene to scene with a few too many clichés. On the downside, there is not much new revealed here, certainly nothing to compete with Bob Woodward’s about-to-be-released Rage. If you follow the news closely, Cohen’s book is mostly about things you already know. But if you’ve had better things to do than follow the details of Cohen’s career as Trump’s fixer, this is a revealing narrative of Trump’s nefariousness. At one point, Cohen compares himself to the fictional character in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” Personally, I don’t think Cohen could administer a beatdown like Ray, but he sure knew how to beat his gums as he carried out his tasks with a mixture of threats, lawsuits and financial trickery.
Cohen’s narrative takes the form of a confessional, detailing with regret all the despicable methods he used to pursue the ends of Trump, a man he describes as “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” He asserts that to him (and others), Trump was like the cult leader Jim Jones, “who took control of the minds of those drawn to him, not all at once but gradually over time, by luring them into his mind.” Those around Trump often told each other to “Stop Drinking the Kool-Aid” when they had to stay on his message, “even though we knew it was nonsense.” (In an amusing aside, Cohen reveals that Jones did not use Kool-Aid but a cheap knockoff, Flavor Aid. That would be a Trump move, but of course he never would have joined in the final quaff.)
Whether you buy Cohen’s remorse or not, it’s a revealing and seductive narrative, and there’s no reason to doubt the truth of most of it, since the antics he describes have been supported by many other authors, journalists and participants. No doubt some of the behavior will make you recoil and marvel that Trump has avoided a decisive comeuppance.
The mystery to me is the fact that all the business sophisticates around Trump, including Cohen, were taken in by him. It’s a mystery because the real unsung heroes of this story—Cohen’s wife, Laura, and their daughter Samantha and son Jake—presciently perceived Trump for what he is. They hated him for co-opting their father, who is lucky to have them after all the angst he brought upon them. Being Jewish, I assume that Cohen doesn’t do a religious confession, but he should devote his attention and gratitude to his family, whose support he is lucky to have.
Doug Dworkin is a former junior high school teacher, encyclopedia editor, and IT executive at IBM. Now retired, he Is beginning a new career as a professional dabbler and dilettante.