Sunday, March 03, 2019

Donald Trump’s Amoral America

The con job of the gullible and stupid continues.

P. T. Barnum is widely credited with coining the adage "There's a sucker born every minute."  Whether he in fact coined the phrase or not, Barnum is remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Part of Barnum's success was that he recognized the reality that for a con to work, one need both (i) the entertainer/con-artist and (ii) an audience willing to be duped. All of which brings me to Donald Trump's base which falls in the latter category.  Running errands yesterday, I heard portions of Trump's address to CPAC - which in my view should stand for "crazy people acting crazy" - and was struck by both the insincerity of Trump's remarks and how stupid/intellectually dull the audience had to be to eat up the bullshit Trump was spewing. On the other hand, perhaps I should not have been surprised since evangelicals make up the core of Trumps base and studies have shown that of the various religious denominations, evangelicals as a whole have the lowest levels of educational attainment. A column in the New York Times looks at the willingness of some Americans to embrace a fraud and the amorality with which Trump has promoted himself and lied to his idiot supporters.  Here are excerpts:

Maybe the best book I read last year was “Bad Blood,” about the epic sham of the biotech start-up Theranos and its delusional creator, Elizabeth Holmes. I had trouble shaking it, and it roared back into my mind on Wednesday, when Michael Cohen testified publicly before the House Oversight Committee and retraced the mountain of lies buttressing Donald Trump’s business empire and the clouds of fiction preventing any clear view of it. This country of ours doesn’t lack for frauds . . . . We were probably bound to elevate one to the highest office in the land.
In November 2016 we did. As anyone paying close attention then knew and anyone who finally woke up over these last few ugly days must now admit, we gave the supreme prize and ultimate compliment — leadership of the most powerful nation on earth — to a man who wouldn’t know the truth if it raced toward him with sirens blaring, ran over him, then backed up and did it again; whose loyalties stand as firm as a strand of overcooked linguine; whose vanity makes Narcissus look like a mere pretender; and who will sacrifice whatever and whomever he must on the altar of his own spurious magnificence. What he lacks in moral fiber he makes up for in gilt. It sufficed to bring him his treasure and, for 72 years and counting, spare him his reckoning.
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. . . . . But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. . . . . And for a good long while it worked, which was more than could be said of the product that Theranos peddled, a magical black box that was supposed to be able, with just a few drops of blood from the prick of a finger, to screen for scores of ailments and diseases.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America. Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. . . . “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
Interesting word there: fake. A president who’s a textbook study in the psychological phenomenon of projection — by which you attribute to others the flaws that you possess — uses it all the time. What did he call Cohen’s interchanges with House lawmakers on Wednesday? “A fake hearing,” of course.
Dangle the prospects of celebrity and riches, and plenty of charlatans rush forward. So it stands to reason that a country of supersize celebrity and riches would have a surfeit of charlatans, including some who see even the White House as fair game. Cohen’s testimony confirmed yet again how much pure bluster fueled Trump’s quest, and how heavily Trump’s entire career leaned on shady arithmetic, personal myth making and intimidation: all arrows abundant in the quivers of Holmes and her Silicon Valley kin.
But that testimony was also a reminder of how gullible their audiences are, how readily we all believe when we perceive some benefit in the transaction. This isn’t just the land of the fraud but the home of the knave, and Cohen implored Republican lawmakers and Trump supporters nationwide to learn from his own credulity. It takes two to bamboozle: the illusionist and the enraptured.
[W]hen Trump came down that escalator at Trump Tower, he didn’t just begin a presidential campaign. He pinched the edge of a scab on our body politic and began to tug, revealing all the racism, resentments and partisan fury beneath it. He gave us a fresh, jolting glimpse of just how much depravity and even criminality exist among the powerful (and the power-mad). Look at his own collaborators: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, David Pecker and lesser reprobates who either still serve in his administration (Alex Acosta, Jared Kushner) or did until they went too far (Tom Price, Scott Pruitt).
They’re favor traders, corner cutters, rule breakers, perk hoarders. . . . . They also have a competitive advantage: They’re without shame. There’s a whole lot you can do once you’ve slipped that tether. To the unscrupulous go the spoils.
Trump’s amorality play contradicts our paeans to the Puritan work ethic. It’s not the script that we teach our children. But with Trump in the White House, validated by tens of millions of votes, it may well be what some of them are learning.
I shudder to think the lesson my grandchildren may be learning having someone so morally bankrupt in the White House.  Honor, duty, truthfulness, and basic decency have all been thrown on the trash heap by Trump, his supporters and, of course, his Republican enablers. 

1 comment:

RichardR said...

t.y. Michael, for my first big LOL today: CPAC "crazy people acting crazy"

Bruni is terrific.