Monday, April 6, 2015

Con-Artist Conservatives and The Great Hoodwinking of America 2/3

by Nomad

In Part One we looked at how, despite the evidence, Americans by and large still believe in socio-economic mobility. At the same time, even while conservatives are reducing opportunities for the middle class, they are still promoting the American Dream.

In Part Two we turn to the parallels between the worlds of conservative politics and the world of professional fraud.

When you look over the profile of your average con artist, you'd be forgiven for thinking he could do well in the field of politics. In a perfect world, swindlers and politicians would be absolute opposites.

Politicians, Con Artists and Personality Disorders
Generally speaking, like politicians, swindlers are experts at gaining the trust of their victims and can also be extremely intelligent and highly creative. Their sense of understanding of human nature exceeds the rest of the population. They can even be considered charming. Whereas these would be admirable characteristics typically, such qualities are dangerous.

Of all of these traits, one stand out as being a political advantage. Con artists "thrive on the knowledge that people tend to believe only what they want to believe." 
Anybody who has spent any time attempting to disprove all of the nonsensical disinformation discriminated by Fox News or the other propaganda machines of the Far Right knows how futile it can be.

Are there other similarities between swindlers and conservative politicians? 
Psychologists tells us that many con-artists suffer from a condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Such people tend to be excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, with power, and the prestige that go with power. The behavior is ruled by an exaggerated feelings of self-importance.
Being  exploitative by nature, they tend to see the world in terms of their own egoes and are mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing.  

The condition is described this way:
Individuals with NPD are often ambitious and capable, though their inability to tolerate criticism, along with their lack of empathy, makes it almost impossible to work cooperatively with others and to accomplish success as a normal employee or honest businessman. Their tendency to exploit others, their sense of entitlement, disregard for others and constant need for attention adversely affect all their relationships.
Think of Donald Trump and read that description again.
Scam artists, like most people who suffer from NPD, seem incapable of taking responsibility for their actions, unable to understand how their actions might have negative effects on others. And when they are confronted, they retreat and immediately tend to blame their victims.  

I am a Victim Too!
If all else fails, when backed into a corner, a con-artist will play the victim. Take Bernie Madoff. 
When his billion dollar Ponzi scheme collapsed, leaving defrauded investors sweeping the floor looking for spare change, Madoff was still talking about his pain. 
"I will live with this pain, with this torment, for the rest of my life."
According to the victimhood scorecard, Madoff's pain is nearly unbearable.
"I live in a tormented state knowing the pain and suffering I have created."
He even used the deaths of his own sons to to inspire sympathy and draw attention away from his role in the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

Ir's not hard to see a parallel between many of the Republican party candidates in that description. The Washington Post noted that victimhood has become "an attribute of hard-core conservatives."
It’s not very... conservative to wallow in victimhood. Conservatives are supposed to believe in personal responsibility, understand the world as it is and disdain a sense of entitlement.
The article also points out that the victim card is to be used when all else fails. In politics, however, it is wears pretty thin with voters.
Right-wingers may think ideological purity is what counts at the polls, but in fact voters, including conservatives, respond to positive, confident leaders who overcome adversity and don’t bemoan their own plight. They want politicians to console and assist actual victims, not claim the mantle of victimhood for themselves.
Sarah Palin time after time vacillated from bully to victim, depending on whether she was attempting to push her agenda or responding to the public reaction against her remarks.   
During the 2008 campaign, when she sputtered and babbled nonsense to softball questions from the media- the kind of questions any member of the public could answer- she complained about the "lamestream media."
Everybody -except Fox- was against her she claimed. (Eventually Fox News too grew weary of her incoherence and self-promotion.)

The fact is that the media gave her pass from not knowing anything about anything. One observer pointed out that by attacking the media, she was able to "generate support among a base she hopes will support her,"

Palin's use of her family as a political tool was effective but, to outsiders at least, contradictory. On one hand Palin trotted out the children to showcase her family values, but then when questions were asked, she decried the attacks by the media.
How dare the press  mention the antics of her own rowdy clan!
Like Madoff, she hasn't hesitated to use her children as a shield against public scrutiny.

All and all, Palin's general behavior  provides us with a near perfect example of the traits of a hustler.

Anatomy of a Swindle: Vanity and Lust
Part of the success of any swindle is convincing the "mark" that no matter how dodgy the game looks, other people have beaten the odds and won. And you can too! If other people can succeed, then why can't you?   
So persuading voters that the American Dream is alive and well is a key part of the game. Everybody has an opportunity to win as long as they play by the rules.

However, like all rackets, the idea that anyone can beat the game of American life at all reveals a key misunderstanding. As we have seen in the first installment, it have more and more obvious that the game - as presented- isn't winnable at all. The only winners are the operators of the swindle and the many obliging shills that assist them.
Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity might be winning and getting their fame and fortune, but only because they are active participants in the scam.

Con artists strive to find creative ways to win over the victim in order to cheat or defraud  of their money or their property. Besides gaining their confidence, swindlers have to inspire their victims.
Because, as both scrupulous and unsucruplous politicians well know, a person that has been inspired to do something is rarely skeptical or doubtful. As one psychologist points out inspiration can also bring out two other important human traits for a con – lust and vanity.

Of course it doesn't go by those names.
Take lust.
When we think of lust we normally think of sex. But greed is also a form of lust. A lust for money and material things. 

We have seen that approach since the 1990s: this idea that greed- no matter at what human cost- is good. 

Conservative pundit and a speechwriter for American presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Ben Stein claimed:
Greed is a basic part of animal nature. Being against it is like being against breathing or eating. It means nothing.
Appealing to our animal natures- rather than the best of our human instincts- is nothing any compassionate person would applaud. There are many animal traits that humankind has- for the sake of social cohesion-had to subdue. Brutal violence and theft are top of the list. 
For Christians, the opposition against greed is unambiguously stated in Luke 12:15
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”
We have seen time and time again politicians that promise that you can have more and more, a better life without any sacrifice whatsoever. You want the best highway system in the world? You want the the best technology? the best of everything modern life has to offer? Well, step in line and sign up.
It's all yours right now... and without any increase in taxes.
(Candidate Ted Cruz even wants to abolish the IRS altogether.)

But what about vanity?
One of the greatest traits of swindlers and con artists is the plausible way they flatter their victims. Republican hucksters have appealed to the vanity of voters by making the claiming that some people are more deserving of advantages: You, but not them.

How many times have we seen a form of artificial righteous indignation being created against the poor? Pitting the white middle-class against poor minorities (while the wealthiest class bear less and less of a tax "burden") has become a very effective technique by the Far Right.

In case any doubt starts to seep in, the Far Right has a couple more aces up their sleeves. 

Use of Distractions and False Authority 
There are a few other interesting parallels found in the University of Cambridge report,
"Understanding Scam Victims: seven principles for systems security".

That report observes that swindlers and hustlers often rely on distractions to draw attention away from what's actually going on. They know that if minds are  preoccupied with emotive controversy, they are less likely to ask: What the hell is really going on? Why am I not getting anywhere?"

Remember this when you hear outrage about same-sex marriage and abortion and other hot button issues.  These issues serve to keep conservative Americans looking in the wrong directions.

Another tool is the use of an authority to legitimize the scam.
For some conservative voters, questioning authority comes hard. It often works well with older citizens who have been raised to believe that we must accept what experts tells us. Issues can, after all, be complicated.
The mainstay of Fox News programming relies on phony experts. That might be balanced by actual experts on other channels or other sources if not for the fact that many right wing voters tend to get all of their information from that one source.  
By offering this false legitimacy, this too reinforces the swindle.

But when it comes to authority, the Far Right Church has long held a monopoly on the indisputable authoritative opinion. 

The marriage of the Republican party and the Far Right Christians was definitely one of convenience. 
Each side believed that they had something to gain: The Republican conservatives found an unquestionable moral authority for support to its shady notions and the Christian Right found a means of pushing its agenda of making America into a theocratic nation. 

Indeed, televangelist Jerry Falwell claimed that without the influence of his Moral Majority in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan would never have become president. The Moral Majority, a collection of conservative Christian political action committees, relied on its authority on combining flag-waving patriotism and religious authority.
According to an article at
Twenty-five years ago, dominionists targeted the Republican Party as the vehicle through which they could advance their agenda. At the same time, a small group of Republican strategists targeted fundamentalist, Pentecostal and charismatic churches to expand the base of the Republican Party.
The target of the dominionists isn't the Democratic party. It is not  progressive ideology.
It is nothing less than American democracy.
Years of  brainwashing, coupled with a heady mix of nationalism and old time religion and just a pinch of racial prejudice and class-ism, that goal isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
Especially when you have the wealth of the 1% to push the message continuously.

Herding the Voters
The herd mentality also comes into play in the swindle. According to the Cambridge report of scam victims:
In the context of political elections, the practice of introducing fake identities to simulate grassroots support for a candidate, party or idea is known as astro-turfing.
A prime example of this was Koch brothers' 2002 introduction of their "Tea Party." Here's a detailed explanation of complex lineage.

In short,  Citizens for a Sound Economy was established in 1984 by David H. Koch and Charles Koch of Koch Industries. It was a powerful industry-funded think tank that promoted deregulation, low taxes, and policies favorable to its corporate donors. None other than Ron Paul was appointed as the first chairman of the organization.
Later, in about 2004, that organization would split into two parts, FreedomWorks, and Americans For Prosperity (AFP). both heavily financed conservative and libertarian lobbying groups.  AFP has been called a "dark money" group because it does not have to disclose its donors, despite spending millions to influence elections. 
The important point is that both parts ardently pushed the Tea Party "movement" which at that time was in its embroyic stage. All of this Byzantine political manipulation re-defines the meaning of the term "grassroots."

With all of this money being shoveled into the campaigns, politicians no longer have to rely on the will of the people to be elected or to stay in office. In turn, more and more unpopular positions can be promoted without risk to the campaigns.

On issues like immigration, marriage equality, health care, and a more balanced tax policy, the Republicans all seem to prefer to run against the tide of public opinion. They know they no longer represent the mainstream. Furthermore,  they don't care what the American voters think. To win elections, gerrymandering districts and appealing to the 1% is all it takes to win an election.
The rest of the population? Easy marks.

All of the elements of an old-fashioned fraud are there, right under our noses. The problem is that the victims, the middle class conservatives, are too proud to admit they have been taken for rubes and suckers.