The Ageless Age of Cohn

Arthur Danin Adler - Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Arthur Danín Adler

The time we live in has a malignant fundamental thread, a baseboard that extends to the founding of America. And the tailor who spun that thread, who wove it into the garment that American society now wears was Roy Cohn.

In a recent review, Scene4 Film Critic, Miles David Moore, presented a succinct and powerful description of the 'creature'.

  • Where’s My Roy Cohn? is a straightforward documentary of Cohn’s life, and equally straightforward in its loathing for Cohn and everything he stood for.  As [Matt] Tyrnauer tells us, Cohn’s entire existence began with a transaction: the wealthy family of the unattractive, bossy Dora Marcus told Albert Cohn that if he married Dora, they would arrange a judgeship for him. Young Roy himself grew up unattractive and bossy, spoiled rotten by two parents who barely spoke to each other.
  • Cohn’s character was already set in stone by the time he graduated from Columbia Law School at 20, a year before he was even allowed to sit for a bar exam. From his work as an assistant to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, to his prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, to founding his own firm, Cohn gained a reputation as a legal shark, so feared that opponents settled rather than face him in court. His legal philosophy never varied: never admit to anything, and always be on the attack, even if what you’re saying is an egregious and provable lie. A well-closeted gay man, he did not hesitate to ruin his opponents with accusations of homosexuality.

    Despite Cohn’s well-earned reputation for dishonesty, he was persona gratissima in New York society, where his ostentatious wealth and aura of success made him fit in even better than Gatsby. No one enjoyed Cohn’s company more than the young Donald Trump, just entering Manhattan society from his father’s real-estate empire in Queens. Trump, Tyrnauer tells us, was Cohn’s most adept protégé, and it cut him to the quick when Trump, like the rest of New York society, dropped him after he was disbarred for fraud.


    A few months later, Cohn was dead from complications of AIDS, which he always denied he had. But although Trump rejected Cohn in the end, he always remembered the lessons he learned from him, which he used to propel himself to the White House. The title of the documentary is allegedly a question Trump hurled at his Oval Office staff in one of his increasingly frequent moments of crisis.

    No one cites Cohn as a hero today. Yet a new generation of right-wing politicians has risen in America that uses Cohn’s lexicon of dirty tricks as holy writ, believing their opponents to be so evil that any criminality is justified to defeat them.  The logic is plain: if you believe that Joseph McCarthy was a courageous patriot (there are still many conservatives who do), and if you believe that Donald Trump is Making America Great Again (at least 62 million voters did in 2016), then Roy Cohn by definition is one of the shining heroes in the American pantheon.
    Miles David Moore/Scene4-November 2019

Cohn wove his garment de malaise by gathering the patriarchal, capitalistic, hegemony from Day One through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has always been there, this thread; it simply took an empathically-void creature like Cohn to raise it as a flag, to allow it to emerge as a visible political and societal fashion. It grew in visibility until it became the armor and shroud of Cohn's fellow traveler,
Richard Nixon. Even after Cohn died in 1986, the flag waved vigorously through the times of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Today, this vestment is a white silk suit worn by a street smart, not too bright, empathically-void con-man, D.J. Trump, striding the boardwalk of Atlantic City with the white shirts and t-shirts of his followers.

It's always been this way... there's always been a Roy Cohn.


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Arthur Danín Adler is a playwright, writer and the founding Editor of Scene4. He is the author of Medea Noir, directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms. More at
Darcy-Kane. His latest book, The Lyriana Nocturnes, will be published this year.
For more of his commentary and articles,
check the Archives.

©2020 Arthur Danín Adler
©2020 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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