Maureen Dowd: The Don and his Badfellas may not remain untouchables
The Trumps have often been compared to a mob family – and with good reason
US president Donald Trump in Washington last week. The Trumps have created a dark alternative universe in the White House, where the main value is loyalty to the godfather above all else. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
I saw Robert De Niro at a party in New York recently and approached him gingerly. I wanted some insight into gangsters.
What did an actor who has brilliantly portrayed mobsters make of a president who was doing a two-bit imitation of a mobster?
De Niro, leaning against a wall and looking cool, took the question under advisement. I got my answer three days later when he took the stage at the Tony Awards and offered a succinct obscenity aimed at the president.
The Trumps have often been compared to a mob family. Certainly, in the White House, they have created a dark alternative universe with an inverted ethical code, where the main value is loyalty to the godfather above all else.
An anti-Trump group called Mad Dog PAC has a billboard reading: “MAGA, Mobsters Are Governing America.”
Now the treacherous arias are getting louder and the long knives are coming out. Our classy president is tweeting about Michael Cohen’s taxi medallion tomfoolery. After months of Trump distancing himself from Cohen, his ex-lawyer resorted to playing the role of Sammy the Bull. Cohen secretly taped an incriminating call with the Don featuring a staccato exchange about paying off a Playboy playmate – and an aside by Trump to someone to “Get me a Coke, please!”
As Michael Daly noted in The Daily Beast, “Traditionally, rats begin wearing a wire after they get jammed up.”
And as in The Untouchables, a bespectacled accountant is now at the center of the action. In the taped call, Cohen tells Trump that he has talked to the mogul’s trusted money manager and Apprentice guest star, Allen Weisselberg, about how to set up a company to reimburse David Pecker, the National Enquirer owner, for buying off Trump goomah Karen McDougal. Federal investigators in Manhattan now want to interview Weisselberg.
“Long term, this could be the most damaging,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me, “because it gets into Trump’s wallet.”
CNN reported that Cohen the Fixer claims Trump knew about the Russian meeting during the campaign with his son and Paul Manafort. The president hit the mattresses on Twitter, denying it all.
This could be the ballgame, says David Corn of Mother Jones, who wrote: “This ex-consigliere poses a triple threat to the godfather he once ruthlessly served.”
Given that this is Trump, however, it’s possible that there could be a twist. Rhona Graff, the Don’s capo at Trump Tower, could come sit in the back of the courtroom and stare at Cohen until the wannabe wise guy suddenly recants, Godfather-style: “Look, the FBI guys promised me a deal. So I made up a lot of stuff about Donald Trump cause that’s what they wanted. But it was all lies.”
Rudy Giuliani has somersaulted from a RICO-happy (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) prosecutor to a man acting like a Mafia lawyer, telling Chris Cuomo that Cohen is an “incredible liar” when only three months ago he pronounced him “an honest, honorable lawyer”.
If the White House seems more and more like Goodfellas, it is not an accident.
“Trump has a very cinematic sense of himself,” O’Brien said. Like many on social media, he is driven to be the star of his own movie. He even considered going to film school in LA before he settled into his father’s business.
O’Brien recalled that Trump told him that he thought Clint Eastwood was the greatest movie star. “He and Melania model their squints on Eastwood,” the biographer noted. Trump also remarked, while they were watching Sunset Boulevard on the Trump plane, that a particular scene was amazing: the one where Norma Desmond obsessively watches her silent films and cries: “Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them!”
Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Goodfellas and The Godfather.
Grabbed the limelight
As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the VIP box: George Steinbrenner, Lee Iacocca, Frank Sinatra, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch, Gary Grant. He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.
“In his first big apartment project, Trump’s father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families,” said Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer. “He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.
“When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad – which was the only time he got to spend with him – he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about Goodfellas – people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn’t have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk.”
As Steve Bannon noted approvingly, Trump has a Rat Pack air, and as O’Brien said, Trump was the sort of guy who kept gold bullion in his office.
Trump’s like a mobster, D’Antonio said, in the sense that he “does not believe that anyone is honest. He doesn’t believe that your motivations have anything to do with right and wrong and public service. It’s all about self-interest and a war of all against all. He’s turning America into Mulberry Street in the ’20s, where you meet your co-conspirators in the back of the candy store.”