Roy Cohn sits in a restaurant with Martin Heller, Cohn’s friend in the Justice Department, and Joe Pitt. Martin claims that by the 90s, there will be so many Republicans on the courts that Republicans will be able to start striking down affirmative action, abortion, liberalism, socialism, etc. Joe tells Martin that this “sounds great.”
Martin presents Joe with an ironic political prophecy—in the near future, the “savior” will bring conservatism to the U.S. forever. Joe thinks this sounds great—and in the 80s, it seemed like a real possibility (and Reagan did indeed appoint some of the most conservative justices ever on the Supreme Court, such as Antonin Scalia. whose influence on U.S. law is still very present).
Abruptly, Cohn tells Martin Heller to rub his back, calling him “darling.” Martin obliges, saying that Cohn is a “saint of conservatism.” Cohn tells Martin about Joe’s wife—the reason that Joe is reluctant to go to Washington D.C. Martin urges Joe to accept Cohn’s job offer. Joe claims that he can’t discuss this with Cohn and Martin.
Cohn reminds us of the distinction he made for Henry about homosexuals and powerful people. Cohn enjoys Martin’s backrub (and the whole scene is erotically charged), but the enjoyment he gets out of it also seems to be rooted in a sense of power—clearly his sexuality is also connected with his lust for control and influence.
Cohn shows Joe a legal document, explaining that his colleagues are going to try to disbar Cohn for borrowing money and not returning it. Cohn tells Joe that by working for the Department of Justice in Washington, Joe could protect Cohn, convincing Cohn’s enemies to “ease up.”
Here, we see how corrupt and hypocritical Cohn really is. Cohn is a symbol of legal might and influence, but he’s also a blatant criminal, who’s been “borrowing” (i.e., stealing) money for decades. He’s appointing Joe to the Department of Justice, not because he particularly admires Joe, but because he’s trying to save his own skin.
Joe is disturbed by what Cohn is suggesting—he claims that it would be illegal and unethical to interfere with Cohn’s disbarment process. Cohn tells Martin Heller to leave the table. Alone, Cohn chastises Joe for embarrassing him in front of Martin. Cohn claims that “it’s the end times.” Politics, he suggests, is a dirty, “bloody” business—a business that Joe can’t pretend to stand above. Cohn concludes that he himself will “always be a lawyer, just like my daddy”—no one can disbar him.
Cohn seems like a horrible person through and through, and yet Kushner also makes us feel some sympathy for him. Not only is Cohn a victim of AIDS, but he’s also desperate to keep his legal license because he wants to be just like his father—in other words, Cohn has let tradition and the past shape the course of his own life. He seems imprisoned by the very “family values” he’s spent his life trumpeting. The reference to the “end times” further emphasizes the theme of prophecy.
Martin Heller returns to the table, and Joe tells Cohn that he’ll “think about” Cohn’s plan. Martin tells Joe, “You can almost always live with the consequences.”
Martin’s words to Joe are incredibly cynical. Essentially, he’s saying, “Yes, this is a corrupt thing to do, but don’t worry—one day you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror.”