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.’”