Fred Trump and Roy Cohn: The Voices Inside Trump’s Head

There were two huge stories coming out of the House Intelligence Committee hearing this week. First was the fact that the FBI is conducting a counter-intelligence investigation to determine whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. Other than making that announcement, FBI Director James Comey couldn’t say much else about that one. So as some have suggested, it hangs like a cloud over this presidency.

But the second revelation is the one that is reverberating in the here and now. After investigating Trump’s tweets about Obama wiretapping him, neither the FBI nor the entire Justice Department found any evidence to support the claim. In other words, he lied.

As a result, this morning I’m reading headlines like, “GOP Congressman Warns Trump’s Refusal to Retract Obama Wiretap Claim Could Endanger the Country,” and “How Sean Spicer lost his credibility.” But the most devastating critique of Trump comes from the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. Their headline reads: A President’s Credibility: Trump’s falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad.”

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.

The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had “found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence.

Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims…

Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.

When the editorial board of the WSJ compares a Republican president to a drunk clinging to an empty gin bottle, you know he’s in trouble.

And yet, I can assure you that Trump is not likely to back down. Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman explore the reasons why. There is probably truth in a lot of them. But this one stood out to me:

…fighting back — in this case, against Mr. Obama, the F.B.I. director and members of his own party who say his claim about phone taps is false — is an important part of the president’s self-image. The two most influential role models in Mr. Trump’s youth were men who preached the twin philosophies of relentless self-promotion and the waging of total war against anyone perceived as a threat.

Mr. Trump, according to one longtime adviser, is perpetually playing a soundtrack in his head consisting of advice from his father, Fred, a hard-driving real estate developer who laid the weight of the family’s success on his son’s shoulders. Mr. Trump’s other mentor was the caustic and conniving McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn, who counseled Mr. Trump never to give in or concede error.

Most of us have the experience of hearing the voice of one or both of our parents inside our heads as we reach adulthood. The process of maturing is all about replacing those voices with our own. It’s also not unusual for a POTUS to have “father issues”—it is often what drives their ambition. That was certainly true of John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But none of those voices seem to have been as debilitating as that of Fred Trump, especially when combined with Trump’s other mentor, Roy Cohn.

Listen to how Tim O’Brien, author of TrumpNation, describes the president:

“He’s deeply, deeply insecure about how he’s perceived in the world, about whether or not he’s competent and deserves what he’s gotten,” he added. “There’s an unquenchable thirst for validation and love. That’s why he can never stay quiet, even when it would be wise strategically or emotionally to hold back.”

That “unquenchable thirst” is driven by the voices inside the president’s head of Fred Trump and Roy Cohn—both of whom are now gone—because he assumes that they would see him as weak and unsuccessful if he admitted to being wrong.

Understanding all of that doesn’t change anything. It simply tells us that this is part of the pattern we can expect during Trump’s presidency, one that, as the WSJ pointed out, erodes public trust both at home and abroad.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.