Over the past five years, I have performed many masochistic acts known as Trump book reviews – particularly the large volumes of his family, former collaborators, and the journalists who came closest. This started with Trump’s own bestsellers before and after his campaign and the most revealing Trump biography. Ivanka’s cut-and-paste mess followed; Michael Wolff is overly gossip Fire and anger;; Bob Woodward’s 2018 book on Trump, the Boring, and the Wrong fear;; Omarosa’s self-deceiving half-apology; James Comey̵
My goal was not to judge the books by their newsworthiness, as the news cycle in each case was full of juicy tidbits. Instead, I judged them to be books. Are you page turner? Can the author or the mind he chooses actually write well? Is the story connected or does it fall into a chaos of self-contradiction? Do we go away from the last page and feel like we have learned something, or do we want to poke out our eyes with a pencil? In almost all of these cases it was time for pencil engravings.
So it was a pleasant surprise to pick her up Disloyal, the new book published this week by Federal Inmate No. 86067-054 better known as Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen. With all the books that preceded him, my expectations were low. But Cohen’s narrative arched over her nonetheless. Disloyal is amazingly the first Trump employee’s Trump book worth reading in full – even if you’ve already read the juicy excerpts (like Cohen’s new proof of the existence of the infamous pee tape).
At the center of his attraction is the fact that Cohen has run out of fucks to give. The worst has already happened. He’s in the federal prison system. In fact, he was left for dead in a COVID-19 infected prison when Attorney General Bill Barr changed the terms on the prisoners’ release just before Cohen was due to leave, in apparent retaliation against a man who attacked Barr’s boss. The prison guards were Trump fans who made his life hell. If you’ve ever made an honest assessment of your life and don’t want to leave a bad stone unturned, then you’ve hit rock bottom.
Cohen did a thorough self-assessment and the verdict is: He was a huge dick.
Cohen did a thorough self-assessment and the verdict is: He was a huge dick. A pathetic mob glamorous New York Goombah whose SopranosThe tactic of a bully boy in style allowed an even bigger dick to become a fascist monster. He knows history will always hate him for it, he knows exactly how much his wife and children hated him for it, and he accepts everything as his fault. “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t stop it; I didn’t want to stop it,” he writes. “I have had an odd joy in harming others in the service of Donald Trump to my eternal shame.”
This is not just a one time way of possessing one’s actions. Cohen is calm and consistent, like a medieval monk. Take the time he brought Trump and late Fox News chief Roger Ailes together on the phone to nicely dress up after Trump insulted Fox’s Megyn Kelly following his initial debate, which resulted in Kelly and her family hid. Cohen wonders about Ailes’ hypocrisy in defending Kelly for abusing her and dozens of women at Fox as well. Here he was on the phone with “two old white sexual predators,” notes Cohen and then corrects himself:
There were three douchebags on that call, not two. I enabled two fat, rich, old, disgusting horrors as safely as a drug dealer would push a free serving of heroin or oxycodone over the counter for a drug addict.
Bingo. Here at last is the self-awareness about complicity that is lacking in Comey and Omerosa, even in Mary Trump, clearly in Ivanka. Little did Michael Wolff know that he was a mouthpiece for Steve Bannon. Bob Woodward was similarly played by his administrative sources; Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Lindsay Graham, and the woman who hit Rob Porter came out fear looks pretty good. Cohen knew he was regularly played by Trump; he longed for it anyway, for the heady rush of power and celebrity access it gave him.
A whole book of Mea Culpas would get boring very quickly, but that’s not what Disloyal is. Most of the time we see things through Cohen’s eyes at this time, from the mob hit he saw as a teenager to over two decades of getting worse and worse for “the boss,” as he calls Trump . We see it without forgiveness.
This is the main tension in the narrative: Cohen knows that the president is a corrupt and petty nightmare totally unsuitable for the job, he wishes he hadn’t started his campaign, and yet he feels related to his early bird yeller . Stiff contractors, sue creditors, demolish brokers: good times. “I still care about Donald Trump to this day, and I had and still have a lot of affection for him,” says Cohen.
It’s all very Succession – a special crossover episode with Saul Goodman.
Much of his pathetic submissiveness to the Trumps is burned into Cohen’s DNA right now. He repeats the title he held with the Trump Organization, Executive Vice President and Special Counsel like it was a mantra. He still has a blind spot about Melania as a good person, probably due to the crushing guilt he felt when he had to lie to her about the boss’s antics. Cohen loves Ivanka, who apparently loved his lasagna and called him MC, and passionately hates Jared. He feels bad for Junior after repeatedly seeing his father verbally abuse him. Other intruders are all bad, the kids can’t go wrong. It’s all very Succession – a special crossover episode with Saul Goodman.
More importantly for our purposes, Cohen loves words. He’s not always great with them – the guy clearly has to learn what a dangling participle is – but there is some charm about his unvarnished New York style. And at least he knows how important brevity is. Cohen quotes Elmore Leonard, not only a great crime writer, but also a great writing teacher who advised to work out anything the reader would skip.
Fortunately, we do not get any retrospectives on well-known moments in the history of the Trump campaign that come from excerpts that fill almost all other books. What is left is a pretty tight narrative. Cohen was not involved in the election except for important payments to buy the silence from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, both of whom wanted to publish Trump affair stories, and beyond some early decisions.
But these decisions, which are kept out of light, are terrifying enough. For example, Cohen wanted to add a veneer of racist seriousness to Trump’s clearly racist campaign. He sponsored two bloggers named Diamond and Silk. He was the one who seeded Trump rallies “with a few token minorities in the background as he spoke to avoid the KKK appearance lurking just below the surface” of previous all-white events. Cohen initially gave permission for many voters to vote their racist fears without being too obvious.
Cohen disagrees with federal charges against him; He claims he was unaware of tax evasion in his taxi medallion business and pleaded guilty only to save his wife from charge. But he knows he is damn guilty of activating Donald Trump, so his defense is muted and skipped until the last chapter.
It’s just a ring next to the ringing bell that he’s ringing. The one who warns us that Trump is harshly submissive to wealthy autocrats like Putin (whom Trump believes is the world’s first trillionaire) admires them so much that he will provoke a constitutional crisis if he loses and jokes not about running again in 2024.
Given this assessment, which so many people have to hear as often as possible in a narrative gripping way, Disloyal could well be called one of the most important books of the year.