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October 2019, Week 5

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 		 [ If the Trumps are the Corleones, that makes us the marks. ILike
a crime boss, Trump has emphasized loyalty above all other qualities,
and his management style reflects a justifiable fear of betrayal by
his subordinates.] [https://portside.org/] 

 THE WHITE HOUSE’S GODFATHER FANTASY  
[https://portside.org/2019-10-31/white-houses-godfather-fantasy] 

 

 Jonathan Chait 
 October 28, 2019
New York Magazine
[http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/10/the-white-houses-godfather-fantasy.html]


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 _ If the Trumps are the Corleones, that makes us the marks. ILike a
crime boss, Trump has emphasized loyalty above all other qualities,
and his management style reflects a justifiable fear of betrayal by
his subordinates. _ 

 Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images // New
York Magazine, 

 

“Do a Frank Pentangeli.” That’s what Donald Trump campaign
adviser Roger Stone urged an associate who was set to testify against
him to do, according to a federal indictment. During the 2016
campaign, Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks, which had obtained
stolen Democratic emails from Russian hackers through an intermediary
named Randy Credico. In 2017, Stone falsely testified to Congress that
he had no records of his discussions with Credico. When he learned
Credico planned to testify, he texted and emailed him on multiple
occasions, once counseling him to “start practicing” his
Pentangeli. “You should do Pantagela [_sic_] on Erin Burnett,”
Stone wrote soon after.

Pentangeli was a capo of the Corleone family in _The Godfather: Part
II _who planned to testify against Michael Corleone but was
threatened into changing his mind and ultimately committed suicide
rather than rat out the boss. Recently, prosecutors asked to show a
clip of the film to jurors in Stone’s trial for charges including
witness tampering and making false statements to Congress. Stone’s
lawyers objected on the grounds that screening the scene “will
instantly create a connection in the minds of the jurors that Stone is
somehow similar to a murderous mafioso.” Mercifully for Stone, the
judge denied the motion, but will permit prosecutors to share a
transcript of the scene.

Stone’s case underlines a principle that’s long been clear: It is
impossible to understand the Trump administration’s cast of
characters, their lingo, and their governing ethos without a working
knowledge of La Cosa Nostra and its Hollywood lore. If the Kennedy
administration created Camelot, the Trump presidency has built a kind
of cultural gangster state. The Francis Ford Coppola films are a
classic piece of 1970s-vintage social criticism, presenting gangsters
as stylized heroes and legal authorities as villains. “My father’s
no different than any other powerful man,” Michael Corleone tells
his future wife, Kay, “like a senator or a president.” When she
calls him “naïve,” saying, “Senators and presidents don’t
have men killed,” he devastatingly retorts, “Who’s being naïve,
Kay?” The most satisfying scene in the sequel is one in which
Michael is extorted by a corrupt politician and calls out his
hypocrisy to his face.

The films’ most fervent enthusiasts include gangsters themselves
(though obviously the vast majority of fans, myself included, are not
members of any crime syndicate). While their left-wing indictment of
American society is presumably lost on rank-and-file mafiosi, who are
not generally Chomsky- and Zinn-toting radical social critics, the
films romanticized their ethos of clannish loyalty and contempt for
the law. Mafia members adopted terms and methods from the movies. One
of the realistic touches of _The Sopranos_ was its depiction of
21st-century gangsters binge-watching and endlessly quoting _The
Godfather. _Art imitating life imitating art.

If the Kennedy administration created Camelot, the Trump presidency
has built a kind of cultural gangster state.

In his days as a builder — before he went bankrupt and transitioned
into the branding business — Trump worked closely with mobsters, who
controlled the city’s concrete trade and influenced its building
contracts. (“I have met on occasion a few of those people,”
he told
[https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/02/donald-trump-mafia-letterman-video] David
Letterman in 2013. “They happen to be very nice people. You just
don’t want to owe them money.”) Former FBI director James Comey
said in a 2018 interview that Trump’s style was eerily reminiscent
of that of the kingpins he had prosecuted. “I had a flashback to my
days investigating the Mafia,” he recalled of his early meetings
with the president. Trump was trying to create a patronage
relationship and demanding loyalty, Comey wrote, “like Sammy the
Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump in the role of
the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made
man.’ ” Comey’s successor at the FBI, Andrew McCabe, endorsed
the comparison. “That kind of overwhelming or overriding focus on
loyalty and sorting everybody out immediately — like, you’re
either with us or you’re against us,” he said of Trump’s
methods, “those are all traits that you see in organized-crime
enterprises.”

Like a crime boss, Trump has emphasized loyalty above all other
qualities, and his management style reflects a justifiable fear of
betrayal by his subordinates. (A source close to Trump warned in 2017
that Mueller was conducting a “Gambino-style roll-up”
[http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/11/trump-hasnt-fired-mueller-yet-lawyer-is-blowing-sunshine.html] of
the administration.) He frequently speaks to them one-on-one, reducing
the potential for hostile witnesses. The president went “absolutely
bonkers” when his lawyer John Eisenberg took notes during official
meetings, a former White House official told Politico
[https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/16/lawyer-ukraine-impeachment-trump-048755],
because “his sense was people were taking notes because they were
going to write a book or testify against him.” Trump likewise told
White House counsel Don McGahn, “Why do you take notes? Lawyers
don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” When
McGahn replied that this is what lawyers do, Trump retorted, “I’ve
had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn
[http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/04/frank-rich-roy-cohn-the-original-donald-trump.html].
He did not take notes.” Which seems like a sensible precaution for
the former counsel to such clients as Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno,
Carmine “the Cigar” Galante, and John Gotti.

Trump has done surprisingly little to cleanse his history. During the
primaries, Trump boasted about using donations to buy politicians. He
has bragged about the number of his business associates who have been
prosecuted on the basis of testimony by their underlings, not normally
a point of pride. “I know all about flipping — for 30, 40 years,
I’ve been watching flippers,” he told
[https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-rips-cohen-for-flipping-praises-manafort-in-exclusive-fnc-interview] Fox
News. “I’ve seen it many times, I’ve had many friends involved
in this stuff; it’s called flipping, and it almost ought to be
illegal.” He’s even invoked _The Godfather_ directly to
disparage his enemies, like when he mocked CNN anchor Chris Cuomo by
repeatedly calling him “Fredo.”

As Michael Cohen, who once described himself optimistically as the
Trump Organization’s Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall in
Coppola’s films), put it, Trump encourages his cronies to lie by
speaking in “code,” like when he instructed Cohen that Trump had
no business with Russia during the campaign, when both men knew
otherwise. Trump grasped over the summer that his bureaucrats objected
to trading diplomatic favors to Ukraine for an investigation of his
rivals, so he coded his demand as an effort to root out
“corruption” even though he was in fact working in conjunction
with the country’s most corrupt figures and against its reformers.
And Trump is surely the only president in American history to publicly
attack the act of cooperating with law enforcement on principle. He
has called John Dean, who testified truthfully against President
Nixon, a “sleazebag” and a “rat.” When Trump railed against
the FBI as “crooked, dirty cops,” he channeled Michael
Corleone’s justification for murdering a policeman who had been
bought by a rival family (“a dishonest cop — a crooked cop who got
mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him”). Trump’s
subversion of bourgeois morality is a key pillar of his support. He
can’t be expected to tell the truth or follow the rules, because
they all cheat, right? In the absence of virtue, all you can expect
from your leader is loyalty, a man who will make your enemies his own.

The Trump era has inverted many familiar cultural tropes.Liberals have
had the odd sensation of rooting for, and sometimes even lionizing,
Mueller and his team of FBI agents. _The Godfather _has joined a
long list of classic art that feels very different to watch now. In
the 1970s, it was subversive to imagine a world in which Paulie Gatto,
Sal Tessio, Frank Pentangeli, Carlo Rizzi, and poor Fredo all have to
die for betraying the family; politicians and judges are bought and
sold; and the goddamn FBI don’t respect nothing. Surely Coppola
never imagined that what was once a radical critique of power would
one day become a justification for it.

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