There are of course a glut of books about Donald Trump, especially now we’re fewer than two months away from the U.S. election. We have previously looked at several of these from an investment point of view, and most recently Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough.
On the weekend I read Michael Cohen’s Disloyal, which — like Mary Trump’s book — provides the kind of insider perspective that outsider journalists and authors can’t quite match. Cohen spent a decade as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and as he says in the book, “I know where the skeletons are buried, because I helped bury them.”
In its review this week, the Washington Post is a bit harsh on Cohen but I found the book to be among the most insightful I have read about Trump: certainly more enlightening than John Bolton’s snoozer, or some of the early journalistic books like Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury.
Below are a dozen takeaways that provide either insights not before quite articulated, or which seem to bear repeating. While much of what follows may be known or hinted at it in earlier books and journalistic investigations, Cohen wraps it all up with his ten years of close observance of Trump as he evolved from real estate hustler to Reality Show “star” and now his turn as the Reality TV president.
Clearly, Cohen views Trump as a purely transactional beast who cares little for anything but his own hide and possibly his close family members. He doesn’t come out and say it explicitly but my own view of Trump is that he epitomizes the single-minded pursuit of the four goals cherished by many in this secular society: Money, Power, Sex and Fame. And give him credit for this if nothing else: he certainly has attained copious quantities of all four.
1.) Motivation to run in the first place was as a “lark and a PR stunt.”
Trump, largely at Cohen’s instigation, initially decided to run for president because “it would be cool” and as “a lark and a P.R. stunt.” Or as Cohen has famously said, the presidency would prove to be “the greatest infomercial in the history of politics.” Not exactly noble motivations and there’s not a hint of even pretending it was ever about “public service.” Even if Trump’s team thinks he deserves the Noble Prize (which his team infamously misspelled the other day, when the correct spelling of course is “Nobel,” after Alfred Nobel.)
2.) What’s with the Putin obsession?
Trump’s fascination for Russia’s Vladimir Putin is based on his perception that Putin is also the richest man in the world, and therefore hugely influential. He also serves as a model for the “dictator for life” aspiration Trump clearly harbours. And, Cohen insists that should he lose the November election, he will try to find a way not to leave.
3.) “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”
No surprise here on this list of character traits. From page 15 of the e-book I read on SCRIBD:
“…. I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”
It’s been previously reported how Trump has repeatedly stiffed contractors but Cohen cites several particular examples, including even those that backfired: like when he tried to welch on one of those famous $130,000 porn star payoffs covered by the tabloid National Enquirer.
4.) Pathological lying and baseless smears
The dirty tricks and pathological lying will continue. Cohen nicely recaps how the birtherism lie about Barack Obama originated, which first propelled Trump to media prominence. Similarly, he recaps the shameful smears that let Trump eliminate his Republican rivals in 2015-2016, ending with the smear about Ted Cruz’s father’s alleged (and ridiculous) role in the assassination of JFK.
5.) Sexual allegations
There’s plenty of salacious material about Trump’s sexual predator inclinations, both as the owner of beauty pageants and various ogling incidents, including ones about Cohen’s own daughter on a tennis court. That same daughter declared soon after Trump’s run was announced that he “wasn’t qualified” to become president. Out of the mouths of babes ….
6.) The kids and an extended Trump political dynasty
Trump’s kids all seem cut from the same cloth: Eric and Don Jr. were often treated abysmally, reminiscent about how their grandfather mistreated Mary Trump’s father, while Ivanka can do no wrong in Daddy’s eyes. If, as Cohen warns, Trump finds a way to run beyond even the 8-year supposed limitation, we can expect possibly decades of a Trump political dynasty: an extension of Trump Tower into the White House and beyond.
7.) Loyalty a one-way street
Loyalty with Trump is a one-way street. The very fact that Cohen did so much to put Trump where he is but ultimately wound up in jail despite his undying loyalty and professed willingness to take a bullet for Trump. (Incidentally, Cohen reveals he often used to carry guns with him). It’s hard to come away from the book’s closing pages — when the FBI suddenly and crushingly closes in on Cohen — and wonder which of the pair should really be in jail. As Cohen says on page 20:
“I’m certain that Trump knows he will face prison time if he leaves office.”
Or from page 415:
“Trump knows perfectly well that he is guilty of the same crimes that resulted in my conviction and incarceration.”
8.) Cult of Trump: those who drink the Koolaid may never see the light.
The ongoing theme of Cohen’s memoir is how he was blinded by Trump’s celebrity, wealth and supposed charisma, so much so that he put aside his own moral compass in order to uncritically due his master’s bidding. Or “Boss,” which seems to be Cohen’s most common phrase when addressing Trump directly.
9.) Taxes are for little people
in various places in the book, Cohen makes it clear Trump plays it fast and loose on both personal and corporate taxes. At one point, he says basically Trump’s “entire life was one giant or huuuuggggeeee tax deducation.” Cohen has previously pointed investigators to the fact that Trump overstates the value of his properties when he’s trying to get bank loans, and simultaneously understates their value when it comes to paying tax on the income they generate. With this book out in the open, it’s baffling to me that four years after Trump used the bogus excuse of being under audit as a reason for not making public his taxes, he is still getting a pass just weeks before his possible re-election.
From page 99:
“ … when it came time to pay taxes — an obligation Trump didn’t minimize or avoid, but rather almost certainly illegally evaded.”
10.) The Mueller investigation was not just a witch-hunt
Cohen makes this much clear in his forward: “Trump had cheated in the election, with Russian connivance … because doing anything — and I mean anything — to ‘win’ has always been his business model and way of life.” Trump kept pursuing his dream of putting a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow well into the first election campaign. Cohen writes:
“the candidate blatantly lied to the American people saying,’ ‘There’s no Russian collusion, I have no dealings with Russia … there’s no Russia.”
11.) The “Billionaire” cheapskate whose rise was fuelled by free publicity
For all his supposed billions, Trump come across as a colossal cheapskate. Several times, Cohen recounts episodes where Trump proves to be penny-wise, pound foolish. The time he got the worst paint to repaint one of his hotels, only to complain and try to get his money back or stiff the supplier, when the paint job was as bad as he had paid for. From page 168:
“Trump was cutting corners, having ‘cheap attacks’ and screwing the many contractors and subcontractors.”
Or the time he got into more trouble stiffing the National Inquirer for payments to cover up his porn star alliances.
From page 229:
“I knew there was no way he was going to spend his own money on politics. He was far too cheap …”
And yet this cheapness apparently paid off: Cohen says the media was complicit in giving Trump all the free publicity that propelled him into the White House, and may yet see him re-elected. From pages 124 and 126:
“ … the media has fallen for it over and over, to this day and beyond …. the media’s psychotic fascination with Trump was one of the biggest — maybe the biggest — cause for his rise to power.”
12.) A religious and racial charlatan
Cohen makes clear what most people already realize after Trump’s recent bible-brandishing PR stunt. He’s nowhere near being religious but nevertheless successfully courted the evangelical vote. The situation is similar with his pretend concern for any race other than the white cohort that constitute his base. It was Cohen who noted that much of the early TV coverage of Trump rallies showed nothing but a sea of white faces, a situation soon rectified by making sure a few people of colour were visible just behind Trump whenever the TV cameras are rolling.
From page 136:
“Trump hadn’t darkened the door of a church or chapel since the age of seven, as he would openly admit in his past incarnation.”
Here’s a Trump quote from page 114 that manages to be both racist and homophobic in one short sentence:
“’There was no way I was going to let this black fag win,’ he said to me.”
All in all, a compelling read. Pity that the 40% that constitute his “base” will likely pay no attention to it, while the book only confirms what most voters probably now realize. Still, if it influences even a few undecided voters, it may be of some value.
Finally, if this all seems a bit depressing, hit this link for a bit of comic relief from well-known Trump impersonator J-L Cauvin. Don’t be put off by the title: Donald Trump destroys Michael Cohen’s new book.