by Akim Reinhardt
You can fool all the people some of the time
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
For example, some people will always believe that Abraham Lincoln first uttered this famous aphorism, even though there is no record of him ever having written or said those words.
A French Protestant named Jacques Abbadie authored an early incarnation of the adage in 1684.
In 1754, the French editors Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert helped cement its popularity.
The phrase doesn't show up in American letters until some Prohibitionist politicians started using it in 1885. Twenty years after Lincoln died.
Until recently, I simply took at face value the common claim that these were Lincoln's words. It's not a very important issue, so what would push me to question it?
My decision to title this article.
A little healthy skepticism is all it took. After all, lots of famous quotes are misattributed to famous people, ergo the Yogi Berra line: “I really didn't say everything I said.” Which he really did say.
So before titling and publishing this essay, I looked up the maxim at a reputable site with citations, just to be sure. And presto: suddenly I am, at least in this regard, all of the people some of the time, and not some of the people all of the time.
You really don't want to be some of those people who get fooled all the time. Which brings us to Donald Trump.
He's very good at fooling people. At the moment, he's successfully fooling millions of Republican voters into thinking he'd be a good president generally, and more specifically, that if elected he could actually do many of the outlandish things he's claiming, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall.
Thus, the question lurks forebodingly: Are we living through “some of the time?”
Is this the moment when Donald Trump fools all of the people, or at least enough of the ones who call themselves Republicans, that he lands the GOP's presidential nomination?
I'm on record, here and elsewhere, saying Trump will not be the lead elephant in November, much less the next president. I even promised to buy people tickets out of the country if he wins. I'll follow up on that promise next month; who knows, maybe you'll be a lucky winner even as the nation loses a wrestling contest with sanity.
But however this shakes out in the long run, we owe it to ourselves to try and understand why so many people have done the unthinkable and fallen head over heals for a preposterous hair pie.
No doubt, many forces are at work to create the ludicrous horror unfolding before us. But I'd like to focus on just two of them.
The first part of the equation is a superlative con man. Donald Trump is very experienced at conning people. He's a craftsman of that art, if you will, a first rate mountebank, a scammer of the highest order who has spent decades using his bluster and braggadocio to bully critics and to woo sycophants and suckers.
But even the greatest con men are typically only good enough to fool some of the people all of the time. So we need another variable to help explain why this extraordinary moment might be the “some time” in which The Donald successfully fools “all” of the people (or at least millions of Republican voters). And that brings us to the second part of the equation: The Suckers.
If you want to understand why so many Republican voters are so gullible, why the elephant tent is teaming with easy marks, then look no further than the Republican party itself, and particularly its attendant media such as FOX News, AM radio's Conservative brigades.
GOP leaders and their mass media mouthpieces have spent more than a quarter-century softening up their constituents by continually fooling some of them into believing wild conspiracy theories, and even into disbelieving plain facts.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Yes, most politicians lie, or at the very least play fast and loose with the truth. That's a bit of a given. But it's not quite the same thing as unleashing wave after wave of pure partisan propaganda in the form of vast conspiracies and stubborn opposition to proven facts, which over time, dull many of your followers' critical faculties, leaving them intellectually afloat and unmoored from reality.
Let's quickly review some of the many lunacies that Conservative media and politicians have shamelessly peddled during the past quarter-century.
● Evolution isn’t real
● The government is coming to take your guns
● The Clintons murdered Vince Foster
● Barack Obama was born in Kenya
● Barack Obama’s Hawai’i birth certificate is fake
● Barack Obama is Muslim
● Climate Change isn’t real
● If Climate Change is real, humans have no role in it
● Government death panels will euthanize your grandmother
● Hillary Clinton knew about the Benghazi attack ahead of time
● Planned Parenthood is selling fetal body parts on the black market for profit
And on and on and on.
Honestly, when you look at that list, “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction” almost seems like an innocent mistake. Or at least like a typical politician's lie compared to the ponzi scheme-grade nonsense that Conservative media and politicians shamelessly hawk on a routine basis.
Rush Limbaugh and an army of lesser AM radio propagandists have spent nearly three decades advancing these and other ridiculous conspiracies. FOX News began bolstering the chorus twenty years ago, and now leads the way. And Conservative propaganda websites large and small have been metastasizing across the internet since the turn of the century.
Think about it. Today's Conservative voters in their early forties and younger have spent their entire adult lives enmeshed in this crap. No wonder so many of them can't spot the bullshit.
The last seven years in particular have seen an onslaught of Conservative media madness. It seems the apparition of a half-black president has clearly been too much for the far right psyche to handle. And in a post-civil rights America where the popular culture publicly eschews racism, amazing intellectual contortions have been required to paint a smart, thoughtful, articulate, but perhaps mediocre president as the Devil incarnate. It began with the rise of the Tea Party in Obama's wake, and it's been full steam ahead ever since.
And so Obama's two terms have coincided with a noticeable up tick in right wing media babble, each assertion seeming crazier than the next.
“Death panels!” Seriously.
Meanwhile, establishment GOP politicians have failed to publicly disown these conspiracies, and sometimes have even publicly validated them. Click here if you'd like to revisit Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) endorsing the myth of government death panels looking to “pull the plug on grandma.”
Of course there is tremendous pressure on politicians like Grassley. Republicans who fail to fall in line run the risk of being discredited as RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) by Limbaugh and other media arbiters of Conservative authenticity. After that, they're vulnerable to a primary election challenge from someone further to the right who will more openly embrace the madness.
But that's no excuse. Republican politicians who placed their careers and partisan victories ahead of the truth and the welfare of the republic must shoulder the blame for this mess. Because it's no longer just words in the wind. The effects of all this wild eyed propaganda are real and deliterious. Many Republican voters are now conditioned to believe all kinds of cockamamie nonsense.
And then in walks Donald Trump.
The great irony of Trump's current success, of course, is that he is not the direct product of Conservative propaganda; rather, he is the Frankenstein monster it has created but can no longer control. FOX News loathes Donald Trump. Most Conservative AM yakkers are yammering endlessly, imploring listeners not to vote for him.
But while media propagandists are long accustomed to setting the Conservative agenda, their fear mongering and ballyhoo has taken on a life of its own, channeled through the monster arising from the table, replete with gold plated neck bolts. And as the right wing pundits furiously swing the unresponsive laboratory levers up and down, the theremin scores their impotence, each of them a flustered Dr. Frankenstein afraid to admit they’re not quite so brilliant as they thought.
It must be quite the shock to them. After all, in the past Donald Trump was just a minor sideshow. For many years it has been de rigeur for him to half-heartedly run for president, a go nowhere proposition that served mostly to burnish his brand. He first publicly flirted with the idea as far back as 1988. He actually tried to gain a presidential nomination as far back as 2000 with Ross Perot's Reform Party. In 2008 and 2012 Trump announced bids for the GOP nod, but they very quickly fizzled.
Yet here we are in 2016, watching him lurch towards Cleveland.
So what's different this time? What has changed so much in just four years that he has gone from publicity stuntman to being on the cusp of a major party nomination?
We shouldn't be reductive. There are a lot of reasons beyond years of propaganda turning Republican voters into suckers for a slick con man. As suggested above, white conservative resentment over a black president is probably part of it. More broadly, America’s shifting demographics, specifically the dwindling share of white population, is likely part of the story. So too is the ongoing economic malaise that sees America's middle class shrinking while college tuition skyrockets and quality blue collar job opportunities shrivel. In other words, it's probably no coincidence that Trump's triumphant moment is coming at the exact same time an actual Socialist is threatening Hillary Clinton's Democratic coronation; nationwide, there is a general thirst for outsider candidates. And on a practical level, there was no obvious choice for the GOP nomination, but rather a large field of weak candidates, which created an opening for Trump to possibly power through by garnering little more than a rabid third of Republican voters.
But beyond these and other important factors is the simple truth that Donald Trump is a hustler pitching horse pucky to a Republican electorate that has been primed to believe it's sirloin.
We need not list the litany of Trumpian chicanery, everything from Trump University to dubious real estate deals. We need not cite the endless array of fly-by-night products he has hawked, from steaks to airplanes. It has all been very well documented elsewhere.
And we certainly need not speculate about the kind of narcissistic and sociopathic mental disorders that are a hallmark of many professional con men, the best and most relentless of whom believe their own grifts.
The pertinent points are:
1. Donald Trump is a professional charlatan with longstanding political ambitions.
2. Thanks to decades of relentless propaganda, the Republican electorate is currently very susceptible to charlatanism.
And now, as Conservative media pundits turn red yelling into the void, and Conservative politicians breathe into brown paper bags while contemplating their next move in a game that slowly angles towards checkmate, Donald Trump grins his shit eating grin and picks their pockets. The huckster is poaching the pigeons that they have spent years training to fly in circles.
Well, at least you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com