A Data Point for the Con


Mr. Perfect!

A key part of a long con, which is what Trump is running, is convincing the marks that the good stuff is just around the corner, that the payment is coming. You get them in too deep to pull out. It works well in business a lot, if you can rely on bankruptcy laws and rules that favor the already rich. Trump is hoping it works in elections.

“I’m four down in one poll, three and a half in another that just came out, and I haven’t started yet,” Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a phone interview on Thursday night, a thought he volunteered as he dismissed concerns from Senate Republicans that he may be a drag on their candidacies in the fall.

“Haven’t started yet” is key to the con. So is fluffing numbers- he’s not down a lot (he’s down a historic amount), there are just a couple of itsy-bitsy polls that have him down a tiny amount, and anyway, we haven’t gotten going yet, ok? Things look bad now but only because I haven’t tried, and when I do, so much winning you’ll beg me to stop, you’ll scream and cry and gnash your teeth to make the hurricane-like winning cease, you’ll literally drown your best friend in tar and mud, watching them beg for breath as the person who they trusted the most in the world betrayed them, because you just can’t handle all the winning. That’s how much winning we’ll do. Just you wait.

You can see him doing the same thing in one of his bullshit businesses. Oh yeah, the casino is a little under now, but it’s got so much gold and glitz it will do great soon, and then I’ll pay you for your work. Trust me, once we get this going, it’s going to be amazing, and all bondholders will get twice- no, 864 times their investment. Trust me.

It’s questionable if this can work in an election. I mean, electorally it almost certainly won’t, but the question is if he can keep this up without it blowing up in his face, without everyone catching on that his campaign is being run the same way as a con. It’s a sham campaign, a flat shampaign, but it isn’t (just) about money. It’s about getting people to go along with what he wants without having to make any actual investment. It’s how he’s run every business in his entire life. And it’s gotten him close, though still very far, from the Presidency.

Trump Campaign Isn’t A Grift, It’s A Con


If we want to make America great again, we have to go back to a time when our conmen were handsome and charming!

There’s been a lot of talk since Trumps started his run if this was just a ploy to boost his business. This was most ably stated by President Obama in the White House Correspondents Dinner in May, scolding the press for overhyping him. “The guy wanted to give his hotel business a boost and now we are praying that Cleveland makes it through July.”  The thrust of this is that he just wanted publicity, started winning, and it overtook him.

The correlation to this theory is that he doesn’t actually want to be President, which is why he is sabotaging himself with bizarre rants and a refusal to actually do anything it takes to be President. He’s worried about his business interests and wants to get out. This is exemplified in the Politico report where he had 20 top donors to call, called three, got bored, and stopped. He’s unserious, the thinking goes, because he doesn’t want to be President. He’s sabotaging himself.

The idea that it is a grift was furthered this week by unsubstantiated reports that he was looking to set up a TV station. He had riled up the rubes, using his undeniable skills as a demagogue, and then is going to drop out and get more money doing things his way. The whole thing was a grift that got taken too seriously, and now we’re faced with an openly white nationalist campaign.

Overlooking how scary that aspect is- and even overlooking, for the moment, what it says about our country and the Republican Party that such an obvious grift (if that is what it was) could have won, I think he need to come up with a more unified theory of Trump. His campaign isn’t a grift. It’s a con, and always has been.

There’s a slight difference there. A grift is to engage in petty theft, to take money pretty much outright, with no other goal. Sarah Palin’s whole career in the national spotlight has been a grift. If Trump were just doing this for his business, or to get a TV show, it would have been the merest (and biggest) grift.

I don’t think that’s what it was. I think he thinks he can be President, and thinks it is the best outlet for his petty grievances, his desire to punish enemies, to control people, and to propitiate his massive ego. It’s also a way to pursue the racism and anti-foreigner bias he’s harbored his whole life. He’s not interested in acting as the President, just being him. And, it is good for business as well.

So that’s the con they’ve been running: pretending to want to be a good President just so he can be President, if that makes sense. The goal was the further the Trump brand and let the boss have all the power in the world. So they ran it like a con: promising to be so Presidential later on, promising to raise money, saying they had the money, claiming they gave money to troops, and treating his campaign like any of his other businesses: an opportunity to tell people lies that they’ll believe, not deliver, and then tell them more lies. They’ll be so deep in the hole in their (financial, emotional, partisan) investment that they can’t back out. The long con, getting power, is based on a series of small cons that ensnare the gullible. Trump’s excellent at it.

He’s also excellent at getting out and letting other suckers hold the bag, which is why I think the self-sabotage theories have some validity. I think most of the damage is the fact that his is a lily-fingered narcissist who can pull things over on a lot of people, but not everyone at once, and whose ugliness and ill-tempered paranoia is exposed in the summer sun. But I do think he kind of wants to get out. His whole scheme his whole life has been to build a house of cards and then get out before the collapse, leveraging himself deeply, using one project to finance another one, stiffing creditors, and making money.

So now that he has historically terrible numbers, he can see the writing on the wall, and I think he might be looking for a reason to be treated “very unfairly” so he can leave, and pretend he’s a winner, and make more money off of the rubes. The TV thing is plausible, because the mark of a good con is to have a lot of outs.

But I don’t think this will happen. This is the biggest con of his life, and it has been amazing, in a terrible and godless sort of way. The heat of a Presidential campaign can give the feeling of power and destiny to even a dedicated public servant like Bernie Sanders. Imagine what it has done to Trump. I bet he thinks he can still pull off this huge con, because for god’s sake, he’s Trump. It’s what he does.

The one nice thing about this is that, possibly, it will all come down, be exposed, and he’ll be humiliated and revealed to all but the diehards for what he is. A cheap swindler whose only core beliefs are enriching himself and hating non-whites. It’s usually when you reach too high that the con gets brought down. Just ask Doyle Lonnegan.

McCain: Obama “Directly Responsible” For Orlando: Dispatches From The Land of Cognitive Dissonance

As we briefly discussed in the Quick Hits, John McCain knew who was to blame for a violent, sexually-confused psychopath buying an assault weapon and pledging vague and meaningless allegiance to a terrorist group.

(via @benjysarlin)

Now, McCain went on to say that he hold’s the President’s policies responsible, not Obama himself. Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate says that “In summary, John McCain is not going to be the Republican Party’s voice of reason on this one,” but in a way he sort of is. After all, unlike a lot of his colleagues, he isn’t whispering that Obama wanted this to happen (or, like the presumptive nominee, he isn’t shouting it). Unlike Ted Cruz, he isn’t saying that the FBI would have kept up their investigations on Mateen due to a series of incomprehensible and contradictory boasts and the fact that he went to Mecca, indefinitely, if only Obama said “radical Islamic terrorism” every once in a while.

The Cruz line is interesting, because, as Simon Maloy points out, the FBI is doing exactly what Ted Cruz says they should do: investigate anyone who might have any connection whatsoever to terrorism, even if it is specious at best. (Even though he, in theory, is against “Big Government”, and the tyranny of insurance regulations, these sorts of prolonged and rights-denying investigations are ok.) But for Cruz, the FBI would have somehow found something, found a non-existent connection, and arrested and stopped Mateen for a crime he hadn’t committed, for allegiances, even tenuous ones, he had yet to pledge, if only the magic words were uttered. It’s less the obvious anti-democratic and terrifying nonsense here, although that’s important, as it is the level of mental contortions that make even John McCain’s fabulisms look logical.

Obviously, Obama demolished this line of thinking, as he has before, but that doesn’t matter. The words “Radical Islam” have achieved totemic power on the right. Their incantation of it isn’t so much to stop ISIS, but to create a witch’s brew of allegations against Obama. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make any sense. In a political climate where certain phrases, like Keystone XL and (of course) Benghzai, take on a meaning far beyond their actual physical weight or strategic merit, the President’s refusal to say a phrase becomes all-encompassing. It becomes an article of faith.

This sort of faith-based fippery of the professional amnesiac is what is driving nearly all of  Republican thinking, especially on foreign policy. They don’t even engage with Obama’s arguments for why he doesn’t say the phrase. There is even a case. Not on their terms, but it is possible to say “Oh, come on- explaining why you won’t say it is basically saying it. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. It’s not like ISIS is waiting for you to say ‘Radical Islam’ before they get really cocky.” But nope. There is no actual debate. They just get angrier and angrier at it, because it is a worldview, not a thought.

This brings us to McCain. He’s running for office, as we said, so he has no interest in being even a semi-decent person, but it’s more interesting that he blames Obama, directly, for ISIS. On one level, that’s politics, of course- he’s not going to blame himself! But it’s also a matter of deeply internalized cognitive dissonance. The right has wholly swallowed up the idea that we were about to win in Iraq, because it was relatively peaceful, until we pulled out, and then ISIS formed. On a very surface level, that makes some sense. It did happen like that, chronologically.

But think about it more. That basically means that our “victory” was such that as soon as we left it all fell apart. Our great triumph was a “peace” held together only by limitless troops staying there from now until infinity. But that doesn’t matter. The myth has, contra Lord of the Rings, faded into history, and become reality. The present started in January of 2009.

The whole right-wing foreign policy mentality consists of this kind of magical thinking. When McCain says that Obama is responsible for Orlando, or when moderate New Jersey governor Chris Christie says that we have to hit them where they live, when they live here, they aren’t fringing out. They are in the dead-center of their mainstream, and, given the reality they have constructed, are acting perfectly reasonable.


Bernie Staying In; Hillary’s Savvy, Billionaire Fight, and More Political Quick Hits



  • There is a trace amount of frustration, and even panic, in Bernie Sanders not taking the time yesterday to drop out and endorse Hillary. But that’s fine. He did the right thing. In not dropping out, he can continue to grow his left coalition, and keep pressure on for the Fight for $15, other labor issues, and everything else related to inequality. He pledged to make sure Trump doesn’t win, which precludes a lengthy run. And by telling his supporters that he knows “we must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become.” This is smart- building on the local and state levels, continuing with that energy, working to make a more progressive platform, and eventually reconciling differences with Clinton that turn into an endorsement. You can see the “We had serious differences, but over the last few months we have made our voice heard, and I can state that I unequivocally vote for Hillary Clinton, etc”.  This makes it seem- correctly!- like Bernie and his supporters will have a big influence. There will be a very small “sellout!” crowd, but those will mostly be people who were attracted to politics as a form of self-expression, a way to show that they were the real rebels, and whom identity as leftier-than-thou was more important than then actual election.
  • Speaking of that, unless something comes out that Bernie backstabbed Hillary, kudos to her for recognizing the passion of the Sanders campaign, and making sure that they can be eased off the hook. If Bernie’s speech was the result of an agreement at their meeting, she played this very well. It’s hard for a politician who has won to not spike the football a bit, but not only is she being gracious, she’s letting Bernie go out on roughly his own terms. This is really smart politics, and speaks very highly of her character.
  • Billionaire fight! Billionaire fight! Writing in The Financial Times, (behind paywall, Re/Code recap here) big-time VC Michael Moritz tears Trump apart for his phony business schemes, his fake narrative, and how he “seems little more than a hustler who takes from the rich (lenders he has short-changed, partners he has sued) and also takes from the poor (hapless students of Trump University, tenants whom he has allegedly bullied).” He praises the same immigrants who Trump has denigrated for being the real winners, people who came with nothing and made something of themselves, like Andy Grove or Jerry Yang. He also picks a side in the Trump/Bezos spat, in which Trump has revoked the WaPo’s access and threatened to use the power of the IRS and other government agencies to go after Bezos. It’s a tribute to Trump’s utter loathsomeness that you instinctively side with Bezos, instead of the normal reaction, which is “fuck Jeff Bezos”.
  • Speaking of jerks, hey guys, John McCain is running for office this year! It means that any reasonableness he might have is completely launched out the window and he once again reveals himself to be the grasping, desperate, unprincipled and self-righteous huckster he is. He can’t side tooooo close to Trump on most issues, because Hispanics do exist in Arizona, but he certainly doesn’t want to get tooooo far away either, because white racists make up his base, so what to do? Oh yeah- ISIS is Obama’s fault for not keeping and indefinite amount of American troops in Iraq indefinitely. This makes him directly responsible for Orlando, which was a devious ISIS plot. That’s the way to show steady leadership, John!  You can deconstruct a lot of right-wing lunacy, and the weird moonscape of their mentality, just from this. Maybe it deserves its own post.

Waukesha and Borges

I want to apologize to the literally somes of you who have been reading the Waukesha/Borges pieces. It’s been a far busier week at work than I thought, and I haven’t been able to devote the time I wanted to them over the last couple of days. The quicker political pieces are easier to do before work*. I hope to finish up the both of the series this weekend. In the meantime, if you are interested, please feel free to read the first entries in each.

The Borges Retrospective:

Waukesha Diversion Week!


*If there happens to be an idle billionaire who wants to subsidize this blog, and my lavish lifestyle, we can maybe work something out…