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Fear and the Art of the Con

Dave Randall

Posted on October 4, 2018 21:26

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We have every reason to be afraid because Barnum was right.

I moonlight a couple of weekends a month reviewing films. One movie I chose to stay away from, despite its good word of mouth, was The Greatest Showman. Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. 'Ol Phineas, the circus and sideshow impresario. One of the historical figures I admire least.

"There's a sucker born every minute" is the quote most attributed to Barnum. Those "suckers" paid their hard earned wages to see Barnum exploit Little People, the deformed, the challenged. "Freaks," he called them.

To see a movie glorifying his accumulation of wealth at the expense of the unfortunate goes against the grain. He was one of the 19th Century's most spectacularly successful villains. A bigger con than Carlo Ponzi would be, without breaking the law, per se. 

If that quote was, indeed, Barnum's, he was right about the gullibility of the human species. Barnum, tent-revival pulpit-pounders, et al, put their hands in the public pocket through the misdirection of sight and sound, through exhibitions and incendiary words. Still, the suckers are born every minute -- only that they're sucked in via the web, the 40-inch HDTV screen, or the good old-fashioned AM radio.

When the con is on, like a street corner game of three-card monte, you don't even know you're being fleeced. Over a third of the country hasn't any clue because political prestidigitation is at play. Outright lies, denials, and distractions foul the air as badly as carbon monoxide, and may prove just as lethal if we, as a people, don't wake up soon.

That's why the title of Bob Woodward's Fear is so chilling and so apt. I've read five of his other works of investigative journalism -- All the President's Men, The Final Days (with Carl Bernstein), Wired, Plan of Attack, and State of Denial. It was Wired, The Sort and Fast Times of John Belushi that drew intense fire, especially from Dan Akyroyd and Belushi's brother Jim. A friend and sibling was gone, and the image of a loved one had to be upheld, regardless of what was true.

In the run-up to Fear's release, the long knives came forth from POTUS himself, to discredit the long-time associate editor of the Washington Post. As of now, the book has weathered the storm, and Woodward's reputation for accuracy has withstood the efforts to distract from its revelations.

I got half-way through and had to pause. This is a sickening moment in American history, and, like Barnum's freak-show gawkers, otherwise decent people are having their intellectual pockets picked. This time they doubt the work of, probably, a moderate, Republican-leaning writer.

What does it say when Fear tops the best-seller lists, New York Times investigative reporters reveal years of POTUS' alleged tax fraud, and a corner of the population continues to buy the con?

It's October. Fright Fests and Haunted Houses are in full vigor, but you need not pay $20 to get the hell scared out of you. 

Dave Randall

Posted on October 4, 2018 21:26

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Source: The Hill
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