In our historical moment, the mesmerists are worth considering, for they were frequently debunked but the debunkings rarely had much of an effect. Just as the repeated corrections of President Trump’s falsehoods have failed to discourage him or his supporters, so too the mesmerists escaped their exposés unharmed.
.. But mesmerists had a knack for turning such accusations of fraudulence into strength. Practitioners got some of their best material by embracing the debunkers’ theories as their own.
.. To the charge that they were deceiving their audiences, mesmerists responded that they were expert demonstrators and analysts of deception. Yes, Dods did trick his subjects — but only in order to illustrate how dangerous other tricksters could be.
.. When Dods offered to teach mesmerism to his audiences, he was offering to let them in on a powerful secret. Instead of being one of the dupes, you could be one of the mesmerists. All you had to do was sign up for his private class — for a hefty fee.
Imagine trying to take the wind out of Dods’s sails by calling him an impostor, as people did. Far from deflating Dods’s prestige, such accusations would only add to it. Control over the powers of deception was precisely what Dods was selling.
Or imagine trying to defeat mesmerism by calling it a ridiculous fad that a credulous public deserved. This argument, too, suited mesmerists just fine. The more fetid the swamp of public life, the more important it became to understand the mesmeric techniques of deception. How about signing up for that private class?
In the same way, exposing Mr. Trump’s lies seems to play right into his hands. We rarely consider the possibility that the president’s supporters want a scoundrel, as long as he’s their scoundrel. Great con men feed off accusations of dishonesty. They mesmerize us because we suspect them of deception, not in spite of that fact.
Like the mesmerists, what Mr. Trump is actually selling is anti-mesmerism. The mesmerists were offering a fantasy of turning the tables on con men by exposing their tricks. Mr. Trump, while constantly lying, denounces liars all around him. He tells us the game is rigged. The fake news media can’t out-fake him. This is how he gets away with making myriad demonstrably inaccurate claims, as he did at a rally with adoring supporters in Pennsylvania on Thursday, while in the same breath attacking the news media as “fake, fake disgusting news.”
Even if Mr. Trump’s audience retains a suspicion that he himself might be a swindler, that doesn’t necessarily work to his disadvantage. The attacks on his truthfulness have an alarming tendency to reinforce his message that he’s a master of the deceptive arts. In a treacherous world, you need a treacherous ally — treacherous, at least, to your mutual enemies. So become Mr. Trump’s apprentice! Sign up, as Dods urged, for the private class!
When no one is trustworthy, you might as well trust a con artist. There’s a strange logic to the idea. Innocent lambs may be admirable, but they’re not the defenders you want in a dog-eat-dog world. Better to have a sly fox at your side.
David Cay Boyle Johnston (born December 24, 1948) is an American investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting. More on the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/161…
The Making of Donald Trump is a 2016 biography of the American businessman, property developer and politician Donald Trump by the American investigative journalist David Cay Johnston. It was published by Melville House Publishing.
Johnston first met Trump as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in June 1988 and likened him to P. T. Barnum. He subsequently reported on Trump for almost 30 years, and wrote the book in 27 days. In an interview with The New York Times Johnston said that Trump had “…seriously damaged his brand” with his presidential campaign and would “follow him for the rest of his life”. Johnston also felt that Trump was “masterful at understanding the conventions of journalism” and “remarkably agile at doing as he chooses and getting away with it.”
The book entered the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list in fifteenth position and spent four weeks there.
The book consists of 24 chapters, with an introduction and an epilogue. The book details Trump’s family history, personal biography and an account of his business career and marriages.
David M. Shribman, writing for The Boston Globe, felt that the book was “a chronicle of mobsters and mistresses, shady construction deals and financial shenanigans, monumental projects and miserable (and possibly illegal) business practices” and that “Much of this slender volume’s contents are already part of the public record; some of it is new”. Shribman noted that the book focuses on Trump’s personal and business life rather than his political career and that “More than a dozen Republican candidates and the entire Democratic Party have made the very same argument Johnston puts forward here. It is an important critique, yet an ignored one. Trump may, and probably does, have all these flaws. He also possesses perhaps the most important, and in some quarters surely the most appealing, message in this year of fear and discontent. The book that explains that is the one worth writing, and waiting for.”
The book was reviewed by Michael Russell for the Herald Scotland who wrote that the “24 short chapters of the very readable book contain substantial detail regarding Trump’s activities since that time. They also dig into his earlier years and some of his family background. As to the truth of these claims, readers will need to make up their own minds.” Russell felt that Johnston “sometimes comes across as being almost as self-satisfied and assertive as Trump” but concluded that “Inauguration, unlike baptism, does not wash away sins nor confer wisdom. If even a 10th of David Cay Johnston’s stories are true, then Trump is morally, intellectually, culturally, economically, legally and politically unfit for office of any sort. No wonder so much of the world is shaking its head but also holding its breath.”
David J. Lynch reviewed the book for The Financial Times and wrote that “Johnston has done voters a service with this unblinking portrait. He makes a compelling case that Trump has the attributes of both “dictator” and “deceiver” and would be a disaster in the Oval Office. …Yet, ultimately this is a dispiriting read. If Johnston’s rendering of Trump is at all accurate, it is not just the New York businessman who deserves rebuke. So too does an entire American political system that has put him within reach of the White House despite his manifest flaws.” Lynch was also critical of Johnston’s prose style, feeling that “This slim 210-page volume feels a bit rushed: the transitions can be choppy and, like his subject, Johnston has a healthy regard for his own abilities. …Tip: when you are taking down one of the world’s great narcissists, go easy on self-promotion” but that it “is a minor flaw in a work that delivers so much insight”.
As Maria Konnikova wrote in her book, “The Confidence Game,” “The whirlwind advance of technology heralds a new golden age of the grift. Cons thrive in times of transition and fast change” when we are losing the old ways and open to the unexpected.
We are easy marks for faux Nigerian princes now, when chaos rules, the American identity wobbles, and technology is transforming our lives in awe-inspiring and awful ways.
Trump voters allowed themselves to believe they had a successful billionaire who knew the art of the deal when he only knew the art of the con. They bought his seductive campaign narrative, that the system was rigged and corrupt and only he could fix it. After winning by warning voters they were being suckered, he’s made them all suckers.
.. Those who ignored whispers about Weinstein’s grotesque behavior burned to believe that Hollywood was more than juvenile comic-book movies, that it could still make classy, sophisticated films with great roles for mature actresses like Meryl Streep and Judi Dench. And despite tales of misogyny and sickening transgressions, they wanted to buy Harvey’s grand narrative, that he was a liberal feminist who could raise enough money to help elect the first woman president.
.. With Holmes, people were longing for a young woman to break into the club of boy geniuses conjuring unicorns
.. She played to that, imitating Steve Jobs by wearing a black turtleneck
.. She pitched a Jobs-like mythic story about her company, that it was not merely about making money, it was designed to be “the most important thing humanity has ever built.”
.. High-minded elites like to scornfully say that Trump voters fell for his scam because they were ignorant and racist. But the high-minded elites fell for Holmes’s scam, even the fake deep authoritative voice she put on. Her board had George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis and David Boies; Rupert Murdoch and Robert Kraft were investors.
.. Jaron Lanier, the scientist and musician known as the father of virtual reality, has a new book out, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” He says that the business plans of Facebook and Google have served to “elevate the role of the con artist to be central in society.”