Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.
Often a celebrity author will have a ghost writer do the real work. As a result, the tone of the writing will shift abruptly between the “author” and the ghost writer. In Disloyal, however, it is Michael Cohen’s distinctive New York, decidedly non-literary yet intelligent voice throughout.
“This is the straight-up truth, no ice, no mixer, just a shot of reality.”
And so the book is, at least, his version of the truth. As the Guardian opined, the memoir is indeed highly “readable.”
Michael Cohen was an effective talking head on television in the beginnings of the Trump campaign. His gratuitously confrontational manner made for compelling television. Such strong-arming tactics was his genius in business too. His persona more recently though is as the sanctimonious whistleblower, contrite and sober. Michael Cohen’s memoir, which he wrote in part from prison, explains this transformation.
Two swashbuckling businessmen, Trump and Cohen, break all the rules. For example, after Trump’s haranguing Obama for not releasing his academic records, Cohen sends a threatening letter to Fordham reminding them of the “criminality” of releasing Trump’s academic records and possible “jail time,” while adding in the PS, Trump has “great respect for the University.”
Cohen describes the strange fixation in America on Italian gangster films such as Godfather and Goodfellas, a world of criminals not dissimilar to that which Cohen rubbed elbows with as a kid in Brooklyn. Like many Americans, Cohen was seduced by the power and glamor of this underworld.
The memoir begins with a 15 year old Cohen hanging out with Italian gangsters at the private club El Caribe, setting up ice creme stands and doing other small favors for the mob. It is at this club where Cohen witnesses a man being shot in the ass for floating in the pool naked. “Hey assh*le, put your f*cking pants on,” said an Italian-looking man prior to drawing his weapon. Cohen, like a good wise guy, told the cops he saw nothing and that he knew nothing.
His description of 1980s Brooklyn and “New York City mafia machismo” begins the memoir on a riveting note. But Cohen’s life only becomes more interesting after that; graduating from law school, and then joining forces with another figure known for his own brand of machismo.
Cohen frequently expresses his moral revulsion at his own actions and antics as Trump’s executive vice president and personal attorney. But he reserves his most fervent moral revulsion for Trump himself, a sentiment surely many of his readers will sympathize with–Trump’s haters seem to be his target audience. He refers to Trump as “dishonest,” “unethical,” and “cheating.” Indeed he gives concrete examples of such behavior, such as when they tried to hack an online poll measuring the top 200 businessmen in the US, racking up a 15k bill for the IT to do so (which Trump never paid). “Just make sure I make it to the top ten,” says Trump (according to Cohen).
Before you can call Michael Cohen a hypocrite or compromised, he beats you to the punch. Though Cohen is sanctimonious in his hindsight criticism of Trump, he forthrightly acknowledges his own glass house. While painting a deprecatory picture of Cory Lewandowski, Cohen admits that he knows servile behavior when he sees it because he was one of Trump’s “worst sycophants.” He describes family dinners being interrupted as he would never miss one of Trump’s calls, even just to hear him “rant.” His 21 year old daughter nags him to stop associating with Trump, especially when Trump’s public statements offend his daughter’s liberal sensibilities.
Cohen compares his fealty to Trump as a drug addict: “I was an addict unable to stop myself…” He was addicted to the fame and the power. These self-revelations make the memoir honest and authentic; well, as honest and authentic as could be possible from Michael Cohen. This introspection ties the narrative together, a persistent inner-voice of doubt and regret.
Cohen purports to feel culpable for Trump’s rise. He claims to have been the one to recognize Trump’s “nascent political talent” back in a speech he gave in 2011.
This is followed by the political sensation of the “birther” controversy. While Cohen writes it off as an issue that Trump sought to “exploit,” it’s more likely that Trump truly did not believe Obama was born in America. Cohen describes Trump calling friends and executives to ask them:
“You don’t think Barack Hussein Obama was born in America, do you?”
If it were all just a show for the media, why would he sound off to his friends in this manner?
From Cohen’s description of Trump’s meetings with Evangelical leaders, however, it appears that Trump’s religious beliefs were more geared for his intended audience rather than the salvation of his soul.
If it were not for the legal troubles that Cohen found himself in, which started with a dubious FBI raid, would he still be Trump’s right hand man to this day? If indeed it was only his legal jeopardy which caused him to turn against Trump, that is hardly a moral revelation but rather self-preservation.
I don’t quarrel with Cohen’s accounts of life with Trump in Disloyal, having no basis to contradict him; though one should hardly ascribe the purest motives to Cohen. Nonetheless, Disloyal is a gripping memoir.