Is Trump a con artist?

Maria Konnikova:
... A grifter takes advantage of a person’s confidence for his own specific ends—ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?

For a con artist, no matter the chosen racket—Ponzi schemes, à la Madoff; feats of imposturing, as from “Catch Me If You Can”; romance scams; psychic scams; old-fashioned street grift—the end goal is the same: personal profit. But the profit need not be financial. Often, it isn’t. Underlying almost any con is the desire for power—for control over other people’s lives. That power can take the form of reputation, adulation, or the thrill of knowing oneself to be the orchestrator of others’ fates—of being a sort of mini-god. The path to that end is entirely secondary. Ferdinand Waldo Demara, one of the greatest con men in history, was known as the Great Imposter. He never finished high school but impersonated everyone from a professor to a surgeon to a prison warden. Demara was often penniless, despite his scams—but he found ways to enjoy the admiration of multitudes and to exert power over the lives of others (very concretely, in the case of surgery). The racket itself mattered less than those ultimate goals.

If Trump were a con artist, he would be interested in politics only as a means to some other end. He wouldn’t believe in his political opinions; instead, he would see those opinions as convenient tools for gaining what he actually desires. Insofar as he believed in any of the policies he espoused, that belief would be purely incidental. Con artists aren’t true believers; they are opportunists. Trump, as a con artist, would give up on politics the moment it stopped serving his purposes, moving on to the next thing that gave him the same level of attention and adulation. He might, for example, drift away from political life the same way he drifted away from “The Apprentice,” or from any of his business or real-estate ventures before that.

We already see some evidence of that drift in the evolution, such as it is, of his political views. Take, for example, immigration. One of the few points that he’s raised during his campaign is a promise to build a “beautiful” wall between the United States and Mexico. And yet, back in the nineteen-eighties, Trump was charged with employing illegal immigrants in the demolition of the Bonwit Teller building and the construction of Trump Tower. That disconnect seems more in keeping with an opportunistic mindset than one that is truly anti-immigrant.
There is more.

One of the things that is apparent about Trump's appeal to his followers is their devotion beyond reason.   They are willing to ignore his contradictions and inconsistencies while they cling to the illusory promises they want to believe in.


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