Roy Cohn and the Amoral President
"Hit them them back harder," is a lesson that has stuck with President Trump
The once burning beacon of America’s democratic ideals is fading quickly and has been for four years under a president who has no more regard for the Constitution than an aethiest for the Bible. After four years of sending countless tweets like a pubescent discovering social media, President Trump has left no doubt to the extent of his narcissistic personality, his petty grievances, and his paper-skin sensitivity to anything less than adoration.
Revelations from recent impeachment hearings appear to point to a man who would subvert democratic principles and law to get at his political enemies. But this should come as no mystery to anyone familiar with his history. As it is said, “past is prelude,” and this axiom applies to no one more than Trump who grew up under the influence of infamous Roy Cohn. As Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the Army–McCarthy hearings in 1954, he assisted the red-baiting McCarthy’s investigations of suspected communists during a dark period of American history that ruined many lives. Towards the end of his career he became a political fixer and Trump’s personal lawyer. History regards Cohn as a reviled human being. The kindest thing anyone said about him is, “He is a new strain of son-of-a-bitch.” Trump admired him and in times of trouble, the president has reportedly wished that Cohn were still here.
Yet, even after the death of Cohn by AIDS at the age of 60, Trump seeks to channel his mentor, particularly, in the face of 30 or more Congressional, federal and state investigations. Cohn believed in making his own rules and, more importantly, in payback. The latter is Trump’s most learned lesson. “When someone hits you, you hit them back harder,” Trump has said. The two men had plenty of instances to practice their punches. Cohn worked with Trump in over 3,500 lawsuits in which he had been either plaintiff or defendant.
Indeed, Trump appears never to miss an opportunity to go for the knock-out punch with an opponent. (Subtlety and nuance of verbal sparring are as foreign to him as humility and self-deprecation.) No amount of honor, prestige, and reputation is too high for a Trump low blow, even if it is someone who has served his or her country admirably and with courage as Senator John McCain and Ambassador Marie Yavanovich have.
Cohn is not the last of his unsavory kind that Trump has gravitated towards. Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, all appointees and associates of Trump, have been been convicted or admitted wrongdoing. One can’t help see the irony of Trump’s famous inaugural line, “I will drain the swamp that is Washington.” (No sir, the justice system will.) In addition to the above roll call of convicts, Trump seems to have drawn similar sycophantic personality types from Congress, where there are countless apologists standing in line to defend their man, put party over country, and prostrate themselves to power in a political downward facing dog. One could imagine if they were nimble enough they would enjoy kissing their own asses.
If there is an unintended consequence to such a litigious life learned from Cohn it may be the addiction to dodging bullets and the thrill of ‘getting away with it.” And that may be the most significant insight to Trump and why he takes an amoral view of life, even in the role of president. Like the adrenalin junkie, his highs come from taking risks.
Unfortunately, that is not the personality we need sitting in the Oval Office.