Trump on a Hot Tin Roof

Newman, Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”


With all the craziness in the White House, it makes a certain kind of sense that Tennessee Williams would make an entrance. For the defense, no less.

Trump lawyer Matthew Dowd channeled Cat on a Hot Tin Roof over the weekend as he unloaded on the FBI. Regarding his client as the innocent victim of a corrupt Bureau that covered up for Hillary Clinton while targeting his boss, he quoted one of Big Daddy’s speeches. In Dowd’s version of events, former director Jim Comey refused to smell the mendacity around him. Lest we miss the parallels, the lawyer thoughtfully annotated the passage:

“What’s that smell in this room [Bureau]? Didn’t you notice it, Brick [Jim]? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room [Bureau]?… There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity [corruption]… You can smell it. It smells like death.” Tennessee Williams — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

By contrast, the Trump administration is a shining beacon of integrity:

I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.

Dowd claims to speak for the president, who is now making similar comments, and he appears to be following a well-worn Trump strategy: project your guilt onto your rivals and attack them for it. Trump, not the FBI, is the anxious cat on the hot tin roof, hiding from accountability under an incessant stream of lies. “Odor of mendacity” indeed!

Some see Dowd and Trump testing whether the president can get away with ordering Rosenstein to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and end the Russia investigation. We can expect Dowd to find Rosenstein brilliant and courageous if he does so, smelling like death if he doesn’t.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, like most of Williams’s plays, is about repressed secrets that taint everyone involved. The play opens with the family of cotton magnate Big Daddy hiding his terminal illness from him, but we soon learn that much more is being hidden. Goober, Big Daddy’s corporate lawyer son, is unscrupulously plotting to inherit the plantation while Brick, the favored son, is in alcoholic mourning for a male friend who committed suicide to hide his homosexuality.

Tired of the mendacity, Brick finally chooses transparency and speaks openly with Big Daddy, who delivers the passage quoted by Dowd. That speech, which appears in the film, combines several passages from the play, including:

Brick: Have you ever heard the word ‘mendacity’?
Big Daddy: Sure. Mendacity is one of them five-dollar words that cheap politicians throw back and forth at each other.
Brick: You know what it means?
Big Daddy: Don’t it mean lying and liars?
Brick: Yes, sir, lying and liars.


Big Daddy: What do you know about this mendacity thing? Hell! I could write a book on it! Don’t you know that? I could write a book on it and still not cover the subject? Well, I could, I could write a goddam book on it and still not cover the subject anywhere near enough!!– Think of all the lies I got to put up with!–Pretenses! Ain’t that mendacity? Having to pretend stuff you don’t think or feel or have any idea of?

Worried about the sensitive son who loves him, Big Daddy urges him tolerate mendacity since, after all, we live in an imperfect world. Trump’s enablers in the GOP appear all too willing to tolerate his mendacity in order to get what they want.

Rather than the flawed but humane Big Daddy or the decent Brick, however, Dowd resembles Goober, who engages in lawyerly shenanigans while blackening Brick’s name. At one point Brick’s wife Maggie justifiably calls him out:

This is a deliberate campaign of vilification for the most disgusting and sordid reason on earth, and I know what it is! It’s avarice, avarice, greed, greed.

The play’s drama reflects our current political uncertainty: who will inherit the estate, Brick or Goober? In the play’s somewhat happy ending, Brick appears to prevail—especially if Maggie becomes pregnant—but Goober threatens that high-powered lawyers know how to get their way.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid said Sunday that the Trump administration does indeed resemble a Tennessee Williams melodrama and mentioned The Glass Menagerie. She could have added a warning about lawyers throwing stones.

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