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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Donald Trump's Get Out Of Jail Free Card - We Are All Con Artists, So Get Over It

Donald Trump in one of his court cases is accused of inflating the value of his real estate holdings.  Of course he inflated them, and of course potential buyers knew what he was doing.  The two haggled until a mutually acceptable price was reached.  No different from a Turkish rug merchant who when customers from the tour boat flock into the bazaar inflates the price of his carpets ten times their current market value - that is, the selling point where supply and demand meet. In the court case no buyer claims any harm was done, so the argument rests on some poorly articulated, unfounded, and naive principle of right behavior. 


Anyone who has come even close to the mean streets of real estate New York, perhaps the most cutthroat, savage marketplace in the world where billions are exchanged and where developers, agents, banks, and insurance companies play high-stakes poker daily understands this.   

It is all a con because there is no such thing as real, intrinsic value in anything. Value is only a function of supply and demand. Everyone is in on the game, risking millions for billions, cadging, hedging, bluffing until a price is set. 


Trump, his critics claim, is a crook far worse than Bernie Madoff or the Enron Five, bilking investors on the way to the bank.  A man of no principle, no moral compass, out for himself and no one else. Of course he has no moral compass.  There is no such thing in business where caveat emptor has always been the rule. There is no moral compass in capitalism - an economic system in place ever since jawbones and musk meat were exchanged or sold for cowrie beads. 

Despite governments’ attempts to rein in what they see as excessive profits, insider trading, and extra-judicial arrangements, business has always found ways around them.  For every restrictive order on Wall Street to limit 'creative financing', a new vehicle that skirts the law is found.  Capitalism does not demand or even imply right, moral action. It demands only competition, the rules of which have been in place since the law of fang and claw.  Government intervention is part of the competitive process, a give and take with the 'interests of the many' over the few. 

Now, this is all well and good, well-understood and well-defined.  There are those who a priori assume that the interest of the few will never benefit the many; and those who argue that only through self-interested enterprise will wealth be created and spread.  The political battle between the two is perennial. 

What is overlooked, however, is the nature of the con game - a game so universal, so common, so accepted that it is the normal.  What woman has not tarted herself up, lipstick, eye shadow, makeup, and silk stockings to get a man? What man has not used every trick in the book to show affection, concern, and to listen to the woman he wants to bed?  What politician has ever let the facts of his resume speak for themselves? 

What consultant has not polished his presentation, chosen just the right inflection, intonation, seriousness or humor just to get invited back.  His work may or may not be good, but it is exactly what the client ordered, and the more the consultant can make it look far better than it really is, the better. 

Everything is fair in love and war has been the meme since time immemorial. It is up to the man to see through the lip gloss, décolleté, and mascara; and up to the woman to parse sweet words carefully.  It is up to electors to divine the truth behind the politician's bombast and exaggeration, the faithful to know when they are being had by mega-preachers.  

The cons are endless.  Private schools exaggerate their worth through canny marketing, 'truth in advertising' is nothing but a fiction, car salesmen know every trick in the book to inflate value without falsifying.  Every line in the classifieds is a con - 'a real steal, runs good, a find, a gem'.  Teasers for the gullible. We all do it.  We inflate, exaggerate, obfuscate, deny whenever it suits us. 

We are not liars and cheats by any means.  All the above does not imply malicious deceit, only using the tricks of the trade. 

It helps that America is a land of image.  What is Hollywood but a con game where beautiful romance is engineered by the moguls who know what sells, who cultivate beauty, sex appeal, and allure as an investment.  Car ads have little nor nothing to do with the running of the machine, but all about what it says about the prospective buyer. If cars were only efficient transport, they would be all the same, all black, all sedans. 

It also helps that the 'truth' does not exist but is a consensus.  Artists like Browning, Durrell, and Kurosawa have written books, plays, and scripts about the subjectivity of perception - how different people observing the same event will see it differently.  Expert witnesses are routinely challenged for what they think they saw.  A famous case heard four different witnesses recount a crime - the perp was white or black, driving a blue or white car or SUV or van, speeding or not, halting to fire or not - and not one of them was right. 


So the Trump case seems frivolous at best, a political witch trial at worst.  It is also a good example of conflation.  The Left is so convinced that the man is a congenital liar, a duplicitous, dishonest, and disreputable by nature, that his conviction for fraud is a foregone conclusion.  The case is a shameless example of venal politics, arrogance, and downright, bald-faced ignorance. 

It isn't just capitalism or our individualistic society that has created con artists.  The Soviets were the absolute masters at selling a bill of goods to millions and knowing exactly how to enhance the con.  The Catholic Church has done a mighty fine job as well.  

So, let the Donald be - let him run his campaign and his likely successful bid for the White House.  Most Americans who vote for Trump know exactly what they are getting - someone like them. 

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