Trump and the art of constant deception: Writer Jonathan Greenberg lays it out

Everyone who cares to know the truth knows by now of a considerable body of evidence suggesting that Donald Trump is a colossal liar and con artist.

For those of us who worship at the altar of things like basic factual accuracy, let alone a deeper commitment to the higher values of honesty and truth-seeking, there is a powerful desire to believe that, ultimately, a con man will be exposed, the scales will fall from the eyes of his followers, and we will move back in the direction of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” At least that’s how the Frank Capra movies always end.

Trump and the seemingly unshakeable loyalty of the 38 to 43 percent of Americans who give him a positive approval rating (according to the fivethirtyeight.com average of approval polls) have given that corny old belief — that, ultimately, cheaters (and liars) never prosper — a very impressive run for its money.

Personally, I never watched his TV shows or stayed in his hotels or resorts, or followed his many marriages and divorces (nor his, shall we say, other dalliances) in the tabloids before he launched his political career. Even during 2016, I was slow to open my mind to the possibility that such a transparent liar and predator might occupy the Oval Office. That’s on me. I’m still trying to understand it.

Greenberg himself was conned

Investigative financial and legal journalist and author Jonathan Greenberg has been following the art of the Trump con for more than 30 years, ever since Trump conned Greenberg into including him on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, when (according to Greenberg now) Trump’s net worth was far below what he claimed and far below the lowest figure that would qualify for the “400 richest” list.

Having been conned, Greenberg followed the after-story and has become a self-appointed expert into how Trump gets away with constant deception. Greenberg summarized his findings in the Washington Post over the weekend; he reduces the variations of Trumpian deception in an op-ed piece that is headlined: “The 6 essential cons that define Trump’s success.”

The subhead is: “A playbook of deceit starts with the ‘origin lie’ that made him richer than he was. And it’s still being written.”

The full piece is long, so in case you are disinclined to read the whole thing, here’s an overview:

The six essential cons of Donald Trump

The first three of the six essential cons, according to Greenberg, are fundamentally about financial lies that preceded Trump’s political career. Those three “essential cons, (and the first two are hilariously opposites) are united by greed:

  • “Con No. 1: To borrow billions, Trump lies to inflate his net worth.

  • Con No. 2: To avoid taxes, Trump lies to deflate his net worth.

  • Con No. 3: To be a winner, Trump makes losers of those he does business with.”

But numbers 4, 5 and 6 carry the analysis into Trump’s political career. Greenberg calls them:

  • Con No. 4: To win in politics, Trump makes voters believe that his presidency benefits them.

  • Con No. 5: To avoid accountability, Trump makes the media, and truth, the “enemy of the people.”

  • Con No. 6: To stoke fear, Trump recasts perpetrators as victims.

I think most of those “con” summaries border on self-explanatory to those who have been paying attention since Trump descended the golden escalator of Trump tower to declare his candidacy. Perhaps only the last, the “perpetrators as victims” con, requires a hint as to what Greenberg is arguing.

It suggests, for example, that the working-class white males who make up Trump’s core supporters view themselves as victims of undocumented border crossers. Perhaps on that one, the victim-perpetrator question is at least somewhat arguable. I’m bending over backward here, but illegal border crossers are violating U.S. laws and I don’t claim to know how much the availability of cheap labor has hurt members of the working class. (As you may know, Trump’s companies have exploited the undocumented, hiring them presumably because it’s cheaper than hiring U.S. citizens.)

Trump as victim

But the stronger example, to which Greenberg alludes directly, is Trump’s laughable suggestion during the campaign that he himself was the innocent victim of lying women who falsely accused him of various sexual liberties that some might consider improper for a married man. Writes Greenberg:

“At least 22 women have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Trump has denied every accusation, proclaiming that these ‘false allegations’ were made by ‘women who got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me.’ At a 2016 campaign rally, he told his supporters who the real victim was. ‘Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,’ Trump said. ‘Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.’”

Here’s one more crack at the full op-ed piece by this expert on the six essential Trump cons.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/25/2019 - 10:04 am.

    ”‘Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.’”

    Just out of curiosity, and to perhaps support the notion of habitual falsehood that characterizes the Trump presidency (and life), I can’t help wondering just how many of those “liars” have, in fact, been sued…

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/25/2019 - 11:33 am.

    Trump accused movie director Spike Lee of a ‘Racist hit on your President’ after a comment Lee made at the Oscar’s. How did Trump, the racist president, all of a sudden become the President for ALL the people?

    I’m stunned by how many people have no idea what Trump will do or say and if any of it has any meaning at all. Trump himself doesn’t know what he is going to say or do, and yet they are unwaveringly willing to back him. They have an incredibly low bar of acceptable integrity they are will to get behind. I understand part of Trump’s crowd who are the folks that are habitual instigators/anarchists and Trump fills the bill for them because he condones that behavior. Part of Trump’s crowd are Republicans that will vote Republican no matter what, some to their own detriment. I suspect some are fans of political theater and this is fun for them, so the heck with the country.

    Trump made the incredibly stupid campaign promise that the Mexican’s would pay for the wall. Minimal intelligence told us that would never happen, even the Mexican President said, He is not going to pay for our %*#@&*@ wall!”. Trump has driven the wall promise to the courts, it won’t survive the courts, exit Trump from the promise as he can then condemn the courts as why the Republican don’t get their wall. Republicans in congress don’t want the wall either, but lack a spine to tell truth to power.

    It the voters don’t get it right in 2020 this country will be in major jeopardy of becoming unrecognizable to us and those who have relied on us for decades to be their ally. Allies are already saying they don’t trust the United States – with good reason. They figured out Trump early on.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/25/2019 - 11:51 am.

    Seem to me this all common knowledge, I’m not sure Greenberg is telling us anything we didn’t already know.

    One thing Greenberg seems to be glossing over is the media, primarily the business media’s role in building the myth of Trump. Greenberg can complain about being conned, but he wasn’t that difficult to con. If I remember correctly Trump pulled this off by disguising his voice and claiming to be someone he wasn’t in a telephone call to Greenberg?

    I still think that one of the primary reasons so many people were willing to vote for Trump is the decades of media adulation he received. For decades the media celebrated Trump as a master businessman, billionaire, and celebrity. Then all of the sudden the very same media tried to castigate him as a liar and cheat when he ran for President. I just don’t think millions of Americans were able to follow that media shift, and the declining credibility of the media (who did after all put Trump on the Forbes list in the first place) gave Trump credibility by default.

    At any rate, I think we can boil Greeberg’s six observations down to one: Trump’s one and only true insight into the art of the con: Lie big or go home.

  4. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 02/25/2019 - 12:07 pm.

    My head hurts trying to logically explain his sway. I keep coming back to a large part of it is the very deep divide in this country. He does things that drives liberals and progressive nuts and that is enough for a considerable part of the population. In addition, there are those who know him for what he is, but they have sold their souls and the future for Supreme Court justices, tax cuts, and less regulation. It doesn’t matter if he is a colossal liar, crook, narcissist; and basically devoid of any empathy for anyone but possibly his family.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/25/2019 - 12:50 pm.

    Trump-wise, there is a lot of blame to go around. The media surely gets some of the blame but part of the problem is Trump’s exploitation of conventions of coverage that are widely accepted and are largely good things.

    The ambivalence Trump exploits is neatly captured by Fox News’ erstwhile motto, “Fair and Balanced”. Well what’s it going to be? Fair or balanced? Note how those are two entirely different qualities and how easily they can be played off against each other. When coverage of Trump is fair, the coverage is also unbalanced, because such coverage correctly portrays him as a bad guy. The media, fearful of being perceived in this way, tends to edge themselves toward the balanced thereby creating a distorted and unduly favorable impression of Trump. Trump then just runs with the balanced coverage while attacking the coverage that treats him unfairly. He finds contradiction and hypocrisy, because media itself is unable to handle the contradiction or at least the dissonance between fairness and balance.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/25/2019 - 01:39 pm.

    The great amazement is the 38-43 percents inability to connect the data points, or the desire to just let it pass.That is what bothers me the most, how can those folks not even notice, how are we to look/approach them? Purposely ignorant? Mentally challenged? Politically obtuse? What is the gain for continued support? They have bought in so deep that their ego won’t allow them to mentally move? The hatred for anything non-trump has become so ingrained it is now religious in nature? Sunni’s vs Shia’s in nature? With out the followers there is no leader.

    • Submitted by Steve Roth on 02/26/2019 - 12:36 pm.

      That’s what I wonder about as well. Historians and sociologists will have billions of words in studying it. It’s all very cult-like, though; Trump’s tactics/antics/b.s. are very similar to what cult leaders do. It’s all sadly fascinating.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/25/2019 - 03:26 pm.

    Our problem? That more than a third of voters do not think that Donald J. Trump ever lies.

    They believe him, no matter what he says. And they try very hard not to pay attention to any news outlet, or even a friend, that tries to show them that, indeed, he is a liar and a con man.

    Somehow, these folks need a cult figure to adore. As one rural guy said a week or so ago, they want a father figure who will take care of everything for them. They don’t care if that’s one of the foundational rationalizations for having a dictator. Which our boy is.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/27/2019 - 08:46 am.

      Actually no, a clear majority of voters do not believe most of what says, and that number will probably continue to inch downward. Trump does have a “base” that appears to be relatively stable for now, but it’s a pretty small base, around 25%. This according to the Washington Post:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/politics/political-knowledge-poll-trump-falsehoods/?utm_term=.a774d62ba86a

      Trump’s “base” may be stable, because essentially that base appears to be comprised of ignoramuses who actively seek misinformation and lack basic critical thinking skills. I’m not trying insult anyone I’m just making a factual observation, all you have to do talk to one of them or read their comments. From national security to basic economics they’re simply clueless.

      No one should expect Trump’s base will suddenly start being “smart”, that’s not a trend you would expect to emerge among ignoramuses. But the rest of the population will become more and more convinced of Trump’s dishonesty, duplicity, and incompetence. The numbers to watch aren’t the percentage of supporters, but rather the strength of the opposition.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/25/2019 - 03:43 pm.

    The most dangerous lies are the lies that affect our present and future in the international scene.

    The basic dishonesty in our feud with Europe. The lies that run counter to the assessment of the intelligence community in North Korea. The “I know better” approach to military matters. The roots of the now-close links between the Kushner/Trump family and Saudi Arabia. The real reasons for the dismantling of the Iran nuclear agreement. The never-revealed personal private intercourse between Trump and Putin. “Mexico will pay for the wall”. The demonization of our neighbors. The clear quid-pro-quo extortion with respect to Japan and China. The denigration of the “–hole” countries of the world.

    All of these are outrageous and derserving of close examination. But the long-term damage is done.

  9. Submitted by Rod Kuehn on 02/26/2019 - 09:05 am.

    Roughly a third of the electorate is white, conservative evangelical/fundamentalist. They support him because Trump has given them everything he possibly could: Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, anti-abortion support, 2A support, and opposition to “the other” people (sexual and racial minorities). They even have right-wing bible classes in his administration.

    The Religious Right believes he is anointed by God and have compared him to King David.

    Things like integrity and honesty are of little account because, after all, 1) Even King David (and King Cyrus) lacked perfection and God can use whomever he chooses to do his bidding.

    And 2) they have diligently practiced self-deception since Scopes. It’s not that their faith opposes evolution – it’s fake science! They have an industrial-scale facility for manufacturing whatever history, science, and current events they wish to believe.

    Their love of Trump is completely understandable.

    • Submitted by Steve Roth on 02/26/2019 - 12:41 pm.

      This: “They have an industrial-scale facility for manufacturing whatever history, science, and current events they wish to believe” nails it/sums it up perfectly, accurately, factually.

  10. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 02/26/2019 - 08:38 pm.

    I believe that, for many people, Trump’s appeal lies in his willingness to ATTACK – liberals, the media, minorities, women, or whatever – anything they may have been expected to – or forced to – tolerate, support, or even embrace before he came along. For example, a person may have no particular beef against minorities, but he may resent having to be told he must tolerate them…or he’s a racist. In that respect, it’s about a new freedom to say whatever one wishes to say, regardless of whether it’s politically correct, popular, kind, courteous, or whatever label society may place upon it. Trump’s most ardent supporters are those who feel they’ve been stepped on, pushed aside, and silenced for far too long, producing an outraged, fed-up, “my turn” mentality that Trump has melded into “America first” and “make America great again.” To me, the scariest thing is that, despite all the lying, ineptitude, and corruption in Trump’s administration, this mentality could possibly win him a second term. If he does, Trump might well turn his back on even those who supported him, and assume near-dictatorial powers, because he no longer needs them OR their support. They’ve served their purpose, and are as expendable as as any of his perceived enemies.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/27/2019 - 09:02 am.

    I wouldn’t blame the “media” for Trump’s success entirely, Trump’s success emerges from huge systemic flaws in our political and economic system.

    When looking at Trump’s election is really important to keep in mind that he was no master politician, and he did not run a brilliant and masterful campaign. The fact that he’s been able to con gullible or lazy business journalist for decades doesn’t make him genius.

    Trump has never and will never be a popular and widely supported president/candidate. We simply cannot forget the fact that by the year 2016 the Democratic Party had become so dysfunctional and so disconnected from the electorate they were pretending to represent; that they simply could not find a candidate capable of defeating the most ridiculous Republican candidate in US history. The fiasco of Trump would only be matched by the fiasco of the Democratic Party putting the most unpopular and distrusted candidate they’ve ever had on the same ballot as Trump. They turned our election into an unpopularity contest, and they lost. It’s too easy to give Trump too much credit.

    The problem lies with a media that celebrated a con man for decades, a political system wildly out of touch with the citizens it’s supposed to represent, and a sufficient number of voters who were ignorant, misinformed, and simply desperate enough to roll the dice in the ballot box. This is what happens when you have a duopoly comprised of political parties that ignore represent the affluent at the expense of everyone else for decades on end. This the system that oligarchy ALWAYS produces. The danger always emerges when these oligarchies collapse (which they ALWAYS do) will the collapse with enough force to tear society apart? Do you get the French Revolution, or do you get the New Deal? We’ll see.

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