During the early part of the 20th century, legions of smooth-talking, quick thinking criminals traveled across America bilking people out of their valuables. Growing more skilled as time passed, they devised ruses each more intricate than the last, including staging scenes with props and sets and scripted dialogue. Yet con men shared information only through what might be called oral tradition. In his foreword to The Big Con, written by David Mauer and originally published in 1940, Luc Sante wrote, "To study the lingo of the con is inevitably to study the con itself."
In his book, Mauer asserted that, “Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat”. Enter Donald John Trump, a man who never had to work a day in his life, one born to wealth but not the aristocracy, and yet who longed desperately for that recognition. Trump yearned for the acceptance, the admiration, the recognition he felt was his due. He embarked on a strategy that would eventually turn a race for the United States Presidency into the biggest confidence game ever.
Earlier this year, in what was stunning, though not shocking, or even surprising testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal attorney, stated, “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.”
Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes truly studying Donald Trump must come away with the realization that Cohen’s assertion is spot on. While Trump is many things, top on the list of Trump’s attributes is just that—Donald John Trump is a liar, a cheat and a con man. However, the best descriptor of Donald Trump is the more formal term—Confidence Man—applied to these most aristocratic of grifters.
In an article published in Forbes, Stephanie Sarkis, a PhD licensed, board-certified mental health counselor and best-selling author clearly and succinctly described characteristics and traits common to confidence men that make them seem “bulletproof”. In this regard, Trump is nothing if not self-aware. During the campaign, he frequently bragged that, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?”
Sarkis wrote that con men are “masters at manipulating language”, often by “blatantly lying”. A con man is not concerned about lying, blatantly or otherwise. He thinks only of the bottom line—saving himself. Whatever Trump talks about, whenever he talks, the focus is always on himself, for he himself is all he is ever truly concerned about.
Con men look for those who will offer unwavering loyalty. In fact, con men demand loyalty. Notably, that loyalty is never reciprocated. Think about what you have heard and read about Trump. Does this clog not fit or have we become too wooden headed to see it?
In her article, Sarkin describes how a con man gains sway over his mark. “One common thread amongst a majority of con men is that they have perfected the art of charisma. They will lie to your face and you will enjoy every minute of it. You will go against what you hold near and dear just to bask in the light of a con man's attention. Con men build up your confidence in them—and one of the ways they do it is by making you feel like you are a necessity in their schemes.”
Americans who support Trump, and even some who do not, have become Trump’s marks. He lies to our face while trying to build up our confidence in him.
In his testimony, Cohen described Trump as, “…behaving kindly, but not kind—capable of committing acts of generosity, but not generous—capable of being loyal, but fundamentally disloyal…"
Sarkin summed up her article which offers clear guidance for what America should do when assessing Donald Trump:
“When interacting with a [con man], potential for good is meaningless. Look at their actions: that is where the truth lies.”
As the cowardly lion said, “Ain’t it the truth; ain’t it the truth!”
So, just what is the truth about Donald Trump? Is he a successful businessman…a great negotiator…a deal maker? Or, is he a charismatic, intelligent confidence man who knows how to manipulate people's hopes and fears? Is he that good, or did he learn the Reality TV game so well that he has become expert at staging reality with props, sets and scripted dialogue?
As one who became famous by growling “you’re fired”, he is unable to actually fire anyone face-to-face. Rather, he attempts to make the environment so caustic that those in disfavor just quit. Alternatively, he has his bodyguard deliver a letter to FBI headquarters on a day that FBI Director Comey was in Los Angeles. Not only can he not fire someone face to face, he can’t be in the same city. Even then, he had to place responsibility on someone else for the firing. Note his letter.
I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
For someone who has boasted about his negotiation skills, stop and ask yourself what deal has he truly “negotiated” with any opponent as President. For someone who constantly brags about his business skill, ask yourself how many businessmen do you know who have filed bankruptcy a half dozen times and have simply closed over a half dozen other businesses.
In the book, The Art of the Deal, Trump coined the phrase “truthful hyperbole”. But, in truth, Trump is more an adherent of the ‘big lie’ rather than truthful hyperbole. For 15 months, Trump conned his voters with the big lie. He was going to build a big, beautiful wall, from sea to shining sea, along our southern border. And, in an even bigger lie, he would get his marks to assert, “Mexico is going to pay for it!”
But, what is at stake here is not just money. It is American democracy; it is our freedom. President Reagan said it best, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
We must recognize the man who occupies the White House for the con man he is. We must recognize him less as a patriotic businessman, committed to “Make America Great Again”, and more like the populist autocrat he is, one dangerously similar to another historic figure described by Professor Walter C. Langer.
Never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
From where I sit, that description clearly and accurately describes Donald Trump. Well, Trump enjoys tagging others with nicknames, always with the intent to disparage, to belittle, to put down. So, here’s one Donald—Don the Con!