The racket inside President Trump’s head must sound like the roar of a train. Investigations are coming at him from all sides — from the special counsel, from the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, from the New York attorney general, from the relentless poking around of news organizations and, soon, from the hydra-headed investigations of a newly Democratic-majority House of Representatives. And he knows that as he inevitably weakens, the appearance of weakness will encourage others to pile on — the injured and the outraged, the mistreated and the merely insulted — and they will materialize with their meretricious lawyers and they will take him down, lawsuit by lawsuit, investigation by investigation, until he writhes on the floor, an ending as squalid as his administration.
The irony — not that he appreciates irony — is that the methods that brought him great success have failed him. The nondisclosure agreement has suddenly stopped working. He made virtually everyone sign one, but Stormy Daniels went public anyway, and Karen McDougal did, too. Daniels, in particular, just breezed by the legal implications and ran straight to the media, where she created a sensation — a book, television appearances and interviews in staid bookstores.
Daniels pulled the thread and the whole fabric of lies and coverups unraveled. All the usual methods failed. Michael Cohen did what Michael Cohen does, but it failed and he failed, and now he has turned against the boss, the man who made him. Cohen had dreams of going to the White House and, if not that, of being the president’s man in New York, but now he’s a broken man with prison time staring him in the face. He looks just awful.
It’s not just people who have failed Trump, but even his lies. He had always used lies for their wonderful utility. Sometimes the truth worked and sometimes lies worked, and you just chose the one that worked best. He should have said nothing back in April when he was asked on Air Force One if he knew anything about the $130,000 payment to Daniels. “No, no,” he said. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney.” The camera was on him, close. Did you see the “tell” of a liar? No. Did he blink, look away, drop his voice? No. No. No. The man is not merely an accomplished liar, it doesn’t even look as if he knows when he is lying.
Roy Cohn, Trump’s late consigliere, taught him these strategies. As long as Cohn was around, Trump was the second most amoral man in New York. No one beat Cohn. He was a homophobic homosexual who publicly denied he was gay to the day he died from an AIDS-related condition. He boasted about having helped send Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair when he was a federal prosecutor. They were convicted on shaky charges of “conspiracy,” and Cohn lobbied the judge to issue death sentences. Near the end of his life, the New York Bar finally had enough. They kicked him out.
Cohn taught Trump to always deny and always go on the offense. If you got sued, you didn’t just defend the suit, you countersued. You let the other party know that the suit would cost them plenty, and it would discourage others from ever suing. With Cohn as his lawyer, Trump even countersued the federal government for $100 million when his real estate business was sued for housing discrimination.
Now, though, Trump has run up against powerful forces. The spectral special counsel, unseen and amply funded, stalks Trump like the Greek furies of mythology, the appropriately female deities of vengeance. They swirl around him, hounding him, causing him to take inventory of his sins, his lies, his deceptions. So many. Robert S. Mueller III is the biggest threat Trump has ever encountered. How can Trump sleep when it seems Mueller doesn’t? If Trump had ever seen “Macbeth,” he’d know what’s happening. Mueller “doth murder sleep.”
It is all coming down on Trump. His incessant lying has cost him. The Post reports that most Americans no longer believe him. His deceptions and his encyclopedic immorality brought him success but now will likely bring him epic disgrace. He is about to fail at a level only a few have ever reached. His own name, his family’s name, his company’s name are being raised up to a Rushmore of shame. Trump can hear it coming, a ceaseless roar in his head. It’s what he fears most: mocking laughter.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.