They’re an odd pair, Bob Woodward & Michael Cohen. Or more properly, their books make an odd couple.
One man uses four letter words for his titles, the other book has a title with a sub-title followed by a sub-subtitle (although come to think of it he features four letter words throughout his book). Maybe the length of the titles tells us something about the writer & their confidence in their project.
One man might be identified as a crusader who already has a place in the history books (including the ones he’s authored). There’s the film we’ve all seen, All the President’s Men, where he’s portrayed by Robert Redford.
The other man went to jail, and might even be identified as a crook. More on that in a moment.
Michael Cohen’s book about his time working for Donald Trump is called Disloyal in huge letters, then A Memoir in smaller letters, and finally The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump. As far as I can tell it is his first and only book, and now a best-seller.
Rage is the latest Bob Woodward book about Donald Trump. Not only has Woodward written over a dozen books, he’s even written another one about Trump, Fear.
After a taste of Disloyal and a sniff of Rage (that is, sampling each book), I dove into Cohen’s book without hesitation as I found it much easier reading. The book by the beginner is full of wit & reads like a conversation. The book by the professional is a slower slog, much more careful in its construction and as a result much harder to read.
I wonder, does this perhaps parallel the larger world & the discourses surrounding POTUS #45? The beginner politician might be expected to flounder although to some (himself especially) he is the greatest ever.
Conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to Trump. Indeed he seems to deliberately push against the mainstream, and that guarantees him publicity & his ongoing ownership of the headlines & our attention. Cohen writes the way Trump tweets, which is to say without expertise and without any evident hesitation. It seems impulsive & organic, where Woodward’s writing is accurate but careful & deliberate. If this were a morality play, Woodward would be the personification of the rule-book & convention. We see the path to Trump’s White House of maskless self-indulgence in Cohen’s book, a thrill-ride with no fear of consequences or the bill to pay. And it’s natural to encounter Woodward as the nagging voice asking about the morning after, about where it leads & how much it will cost.
Needless to say one is more fun than the other, a guilty pleasure.
If you think Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost you will love Cohen’s book & the villainy it captures. It’s a matter of aesthetics & politics, taste & morality. The Godfather books & films are much clearer in telling us who is a good guy or a bad guy than Disloyal. But come to think of it, everything seems blurry lately, as far as which way is up, who’s good or bad.
There is a strange pair of voices heard in each book.
For Woodward it’s what we might have demanded of the press in 2016: that for every known falsehood, that it be balanced with truth. And so Woodward interviews Trump for hours, capturing all sorts of falsehoods and half-truths inside the quotation marks, followed by a kind of rebuttal in the next sentence from his authorial voice, as though to set the record straight.
For Cohen it’s more a matter of his conscience. He’ll be doing something awful and telling us that he knows it’s wrong, perhaps mentioning the disapproval of his wife and children, and shifting his tone to comment upon himself, asking why he was so mesmerized by his leader. We hear about Jim Jones & the Koolade, the question of Trump’s cult-like following. Clearly cognitive dissonance was mild for Cohen, possibly because he was riding the coat-tails of his boss Trump.
I read the books one after the other, startled at how nicely they go together.
I offer a cautionary note to anyone considering these books. If by the time you are going to read, it turns out that the election is over and Trump has been re-elected, I wouldn’t recommend the books. They will depress you if you’re a Democrat. If you’re a Republican, they might promote cognitive dissonance, although maybe you can ignore the sensation if you are sufficiently enamored of the joys of “winning”.
Woodward’s book is more timely for me, given that the elephant in the room—COVID19—steps forward in 2020. The pandemic wasn’t relevant for Cohen’s book. There’s a natural sequence to the books, that I hit by accident. Cohen tells us how the idea for a Trump presidency was born, and takes us through the campaign, ending in 2019. Woodward’s book is much more current, taking us into 2020 & right up to the present day pandemic horror show.
And of course I will have a different perspective when I wake up next week, depending on the outcome of the election.