He may not know much about foreign policy. He may not know how to be president. He may even have to ask his son Barron how to turn on a simple laptop. But he does know the art of the con.
Trump seems to have mastered how to manipulate headlines. On December 28, Trump touted that Sprint was bringing 5,000 jobs to the U.S. and took credit for this deal. Much of the media rushed to print headlines that echoed Trump’s self-aggrandizing comments, without checking their veracity. Soon, other sources did check and clarified that these jobs appeared to be part of a previously-announced plan by SoftBank, which has a big stake in Sprint, and which probably has nothing to do with Trump. Still, the positive headers had been generated and Trump scored again, aided and abetted by a press rushing to create clickable banners.
I noticed another specific failure by the media during the presidential campaign. Whenever an issue arose with Hillary Clinton, the press connected it to a narrative of “not trustworthy” and “not transparent.” When it came to meeting with Clinton Foundation’s donors or even getting sick with pneumonia and not telling the press immediately, questions followed which expressed this narrative: “Does this speak to non-transparency and untrustworthiness?”
The media failed to do the same with Trump. Each controversy existed in a silo and was not connected to any other in an easy-to-understand narrative. Yet connecting the dots should have been easy; the common thread was there all along. It is this: Trump is a con man.
With each new scandal, people like Wolf Blitzer should have been asking Trump surrogates: “Does this further elucidate that Mr. Trump is a lying con artist?” That is the essence of the man. Just look at the facts:
Trump used his supposed “charitable” foundation to settle lawsuits, make campaign contributions, and even buy a painting of himself. And the foundation is currently under investigation. He is a con man.
During the campaign, he said he would “drain the swamp” of insiders and stop “business as usual” in his administration. He has now filled his cabinet with people from Goldman Sachs, the oil industry, as well as major donors. He is a con man.
He said his worldwide business would not present a conflict of interest. Now it feels like his business is practically merged with the government. He’s even getting money from foreign dignitaries who feel pressured to stay at Trump properties. He is a con man.
Trump hammered the same talking points that were used for the pro-Brexit vote in England. He pushed anti-immigration, xenophobia, and supposedly fighting the crooked system in order to play into voters’ anger and fears. He is a con man.
Con men are master manipulators. They know how to push people’s buttons, and this makes them very successful. And they are amazing liars. They can say one thing and in the next sentence deny they said it, without even a blink. Con men will swindle anyone for power and a buck, perhaps even 63 million voters.
Most of the press should have figured out this narrative on Trump many months ago, before it was too late. Will more of them articulate it now? Or will they remain conned by Don?
Hilary Schwartz is a comedian and writer based in NYC with love (and hate) for politics. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm.