Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary paints a picture of a ruthless lawyer who was as successful as he was unlikable.
Upon digesting “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” a lot of viewers will come away in agreement with longtime Cohn antagonist Gore Vidal. “Roy Cohn has managed to stay out of jail all these years and I admire him for that,” Vidal says, with Cohn by his side, during a late-’70s talk-show appearance. “I’d like to have him as my lawyer.”
Who wouldn’t? So constitutionally pugnacious he might have punched his way out of the womb, Cohn is a current subject of fascination—and of Matt Tyrnauer ’s entertaining but highly conventional documentary—for being “the common thread from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump. ” The title of the film, as many will know, is an alleged presidential quote made when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Oddly, the quote isn’t addressed in the film. But Cohn’s relationship with Mr. Trump certainly is.
There’s no mistaking Mr. Tyrnauer’s agenda, or the suggestion that painting a favorable portrait of Cohn might be an impossible task; even the late lawyer’s family members refer to him as ruthless, devoid of empathy and “the definition of a self-hating Jew.” In response to an interviewer who has asked about his unflattering public image, Cohn himself says, “the worse the adjectives, the better it is for business.” But the phenomenon of Roy Cohn—one interviewee describes being with him as being “in the presence of evil”—is about more than savvy business.
Most of what Mr. Tyrnauer serves up is not news, but to have it all in one place is to immerse oneself in a bilious lesson in history. Cohn, who first came to prominence prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was counsel to Joseph McCarthy during the Wisconsin senator’s subcommittee hearings into Communist infiltration of the State Department and later the Army-McCarthy hearings, which as the film points out originated in Cohn’s attempts to get privileged treatment for G. David Schine, a draftee with whom Cohn was, as a senator sneeringly puts it, “warm personal friends.” This viewer had never seen the footage Mr. Tyrnauer includes of the exchanges between Cohn and the senators questioning him, but the innuendo about Cohn’s not-so-secret homosexuality—which he denied till his dying day (of complications from AIDS in 1986)—is startling.
Among the revelations in “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is what one relation calls the Cohn family Passover story: According to the cousin, the housekeeper who worked for Cohn’s mother, Dora, died in the kitchen and was kept under a serving table so as not to interrupt the Seder. Some might see it as a way of blaming mom for her infamous offspring, but it’s certainly a blackly comic capper to “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” The subject always knew where the bodies were buried. And, apparently, where they weren’t.
Donald Trump: Middle-American Radical
Trump, he writes, “would more accurately be described as a ‘radical anti-progressive’” who is “at war with the progressives who have co-opted American civil society.” Moreover, Trump “is willing to go further than any other previous conservative to defeat them.”
.. “Radical anti-progressives” recognize that many institutions—the academy, media, entertainment, and the courts—have been co-opted and corrupted by the left. And as these institutions are not what they once were, they no longer deserve the respect they once had.
.. Trump sees many institutions as fortresses lately captured by radical progressives that must be attacked and besieged if they are to be recaptured and liberated. Cannon deals with three such politicized institutions: the media, the NFL, and the courts.
.. Trump does not attack freedom of the press but rather the moral authority and legitimacy of co-opted media institutions. It is what CNN has become, not what CNN was, that Trump disrespects.
.. These people are political enemies posturing as journalists who create “fake news” to destroy me
.. Before 2016, the NFL was an untouchable. When
- the league demanded that North Carolina accept the radical transgender agenda or face NFL sanctions, the Tar Heel State capitulated. When
- Arizona declined to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday in 1990, the NFL took away the Super Bowl. The Sun State caved
.. Trump delivered a full-throated defense of the flag and called for kicking the kneelers off the field, out of the game, and off the team.
“Fire them!” Trump bellowed.
.. Before Trump, the FBI was sacrosanct. But Trump savaged an insiders’ cabal at the top of the FBI that he saw as having plotted to defeat him.
.. Trump has not attacked an independent judiciary, but courts like the Ninth Circuit, controlled by progressives and abusing their offices to advance progressive goals
.. it let the Supreme Court seize its power over social policy and convert itself into a judicial dictatorship.
.. Trump instead seeks to fight and delegitimize any institution the Left has captured, and rebuild it from the ground up.”
.. Trump supporters who most relish the wars he is waging are the “Middle American Radicals,”
.. After World War II, as it became clear that our long-ruling liberal elites had blundered horribly in trusting Stalin, patriots arose to cleanse our institutions of treason and its fellow travelers.
.. The Hollywood Ten were exposed and went to jail. Nixon nailed Alger Hiss. Truman used the Smith Act to shut down Stalin’s subsidiary, the Communist Party USA. Spies in the atom bomb program were run down. The Rosenbergs went to the electric chair.
.. Liberals call it the “Red Scare.” They are right to do so.
For when the patriots of the Greatest Generation like Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy came home from the war and went after them, the nation’s Reds had never been so scared in their entire lives.