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writing for godot

Trump. The Art of the Con: Is There a Method to His Madness?

Written by Steven Jonas   
Monday, 08 October 2018 04:35

By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

Introductory note for the RSN version of this column.

I published the OpEdNews version of this column (see below) on Sept. 27, 2018.  On October 2, 2018 The New York Times published its highly detailed study of just how much of a con man Trump has been on the sources of supposed wealth and the very possibly illegal avenues were used to accumulate a significant chunk of it (  (Of course we won't really know just how much wealth Trump really has until his tax returns are opened up.)  And so, it it turns out that Trump is an even bigger Con Man than I postulate he is below.  And believe me (as the con himself would say), one doesn't get to manage the kind of decades-long financial con The Times has detailed in its report if one is "deranged," "unhinged," "chaotic," or "crazy."  Thus we are now seeing the details of Trump's second greatest con, second only to conning himself into the Presidency of the United States.

And now to the original column itself.


Introductory note, on 9/27/18. I posted this column two days ago. If you want to get a very good idea of what I am talking about in it just watch Trump's 9/26 "press conference" (  It is really a Trump speech interrupted by questions, some of which he answered, many of which he didn't, but simply used as jumping-off points for presenting major elements of his standard "always attack, never defend" persona). Although some will disagree, I think that his performance at that event to a great extent confirms my hypothesis presented below.


A variety of words have been used to describe Donald Trump and Trump's White House/Presidency. They are being used with increasing frequency as various "inside the White House" books, like those of Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff, and "pretty close to Trump" books, have come out. Among them are "deranged," "unhinged," "chaotic," "crazy," "bordering on senile," and "mad." Trump is often described as "uncontrolled and uncontrollable." Now it may be true that he is really off-the-wall doing a combination of meandering through and charging through his Presidency without much direction other than "responding to his base." Certainly, from time-to-time I have thought so. But the more I have watched what this man has actually accomplished, the less I think that he is just lurching through it all, and the more I think that he knows exactly what he is doing (at least most of the time). That is, my answer now to the question I raised in the title of this column is "yes." And here's why.

Trump has a particular way of acting, very well known to everyone, that all started in the way he was brought up, particularly by his father (and I am not about to say here anything that any objective observer doesn't already know). He is a bully. He is poorly educated and doesn't care that he is. He is highly opinionated, without too much dependence on fact for his opinions. He is a racist from his youth. He is a faker/liar from the beginning, e.g., indeed he went to the Wharton School (likely with a paid-for entry-form) but there is no evidence (to my knowledge) that he received its graduate degree. And so on and so forth.

Then, as an adult (again as is well-known) he came under the influence of the McCarthyite lawyer Roy Cohn, a Master Practitioner of "Always Attack; Never Defend" as THE way to get ahead in life. (The well-known Republican operative Lee Atwater later developed the tactic to its highest form, working for George H.W. Bush, but by then it was already well-ingrained in Trump.) Trump has used the technique from his earliest days in the real estate business, for example serially stiffing everyone from lawyers to contractors to workers, and then when they came to try to collect going on the offensive against them with counter-suits and the invocation of his oh-so-frequently-used non-disclosure agreements. Always attack. Never defend. The Presidential tweets, of course, some written by him, some obviously written by some hidden tweet-staff, are all part of this elaborately-planned strategy. (And it is, in my view, a strategy, not just a series of unconnected tactics.)

The most current of these is how he handling the revelations about Judge Kavanaugh's sex life and drinking habits. After briefly giving a modicum of respect to Dr. Ford, he has gone into full-throated, "always attack" roar against her character, her memory, and her motivation for coming forward, applying this tactic to any subsequent witnesses to Judge Kavanaugh's earlier behaviors. But then the list of those subject to the tactic is endless, from Democrats like Obama, Clinton, and Diane Feinstein, to his own appointees and colleagues like Sessions, Rosenstein, Mike Cohen, Papadopoulos, Manafort, to "The Democrats" and "The Media" (except, of course for Trump TV) who are always plotting against him. (For some reason, has hasn't attacked Mike Flynn yet. Maybe he knows too much.)


His other favorite tactic has been Distraction. He calls the FBI and the DOJ a "cancer" and then gets the discussion off, for example what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far and who is cooperating with it, onto whether or not that is a correct characterization (and of course his echo chamber at Trump TV says that it is). When in North Carolina to observe the tremendous damage done by Hurricane Florence and the subsequent flooding he seemingly randomly mentions his own golf course down there. Random? I don't think so. He got the conversation away from the spotty Federal response to the disaster onto whether or not he should have talking about his golf course. The Puerto Rican disaster and the true death toll? By challenging the accuracy of the Georgetown University study and broadsiding attacks on the Governor and the Mayor of San Juan he gets the discussion off the disastrous response of the Federal government and onto what indeed the true death toll was, as well as what the Mayor and the Governor did or did not do. And so on and so forth.

Part of this is the continuous attack on "fake news" (the equivalent of the Hitlerite "Luegenpresse," "lying press"), the use of terms like "alternate reality" (famously Kelly Anne Conway) and "truth isn't truth" (famously Rudy Giuliani) and of course his total ignoring of the ever-growing roster of lies that he has told, now approaching 5000 I think. We might say that Trump has uniquely developed an alternate to the Roy Cohn dictum. And that would be "Always Distract; Never Defend." Like, for a further example, scheduling what may be the showdown with Rod Rosenstein on the same day as the Senate "hearings" (ho, ho, ho) on Judge Kavanaugh and sex, and alcohol too.

Since this sort of thing happens over and over again with Trump, I don't think that it is accidental or the product of an out-of-control, deranged mind. I think that, for the most part, it is the product of a very well-planned mode of dealing with the press, the Congress, his base, and the rest of the general public/electorate. Just take a look at what Trump has actually accomplished during his Presidency:

* The huge tax cut for the rich and the large corporations;

* a gradual implementation of Steve Bannon's number one goal, the "Deconstruction of the [Federal] Administrative state;"

* the total abandonment of any Federal efforts to deal with number one problem facing the future of humanity and the adoption of various actions that will make climate change worse;

* the further ramping up of the military-industrial complex;

* the just-now adoption of a new National Enemy, China (there hasn't been one since "Radical Islam" just fractured and Iran is just too small to do the trick --- since the end World War II the U.S. ruling class has always tried to make sure that there was one and China may well fill the bill --- this will be the subject of a future column);

* And in the political sector, making racism and its active use politically acceptable again, to say nothing of the active use of misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia.

He may be a "moron" and an "idiot" in the conventional sense. He is certainly very poorly informed about history, U.S. and World, about the Constitution (one wonders if he has ever read it), about the vast responsibilities of the Federal government, and he notoriously doesn't read. He certainly thinks that as President he should be able to run the Executive Branch the way he ran his companies: by fiat. And whatever he can do on his own authority, he does, on everything from tariffs to de-regulating fossil fuel emissions.

BUT. He is narcissistic. By the way he talks about how great he and what he has done are, he apparently does not have low self-esteem, but NO self-esteem. Because his tax returns are a well-kept secret (except from Robert Mueller, one can be sure), we have no idea just how successful a businessman he has been. (He was very chary about putting his own money into his campaign --- perhaps because he just didn't have that much spare cash.) There were those six bankruptcies in Atlantic City. There is the fact the no U.S. bank has been willing to lend to him since the mid-90s. But has been able to get money from Deutsche Bank and, according to Donald Trump, Jr., "the Russians." BUT, further, he has been able to get his name on properties all over the world. And even though he has a string of failures in branded items ranging from an airline to wine (almost A-to-Z), people still have offered him money for a variety of investments (like "Trump University").

So, what does all of this mean? Well, to me it means what I said at the beginning of this column. For the most part Trump's behavior means the opposite of "uncontrolled." It means controlled, planned, from his perspective, in order to get what he wants to get done, done. It just appears to be the opposite, and I think that, for the most part, that's by design. As I said in a column just about a year ago, I don't think that he is crazy , but rather he is crazy like a fox. But finally, now having seen him in action for another year, I think that what Trump has mastered most of all over his whole life is The Art of the Con. I think that indeed he is the Greatest Con Man who ever strode across the Face of the Earth. After all, completely unqualified in any conventional sense for the job, he conned his way into the most powerful position on Earth. Didn't he?


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