One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
– Carl Sagan
Dr. Sagan’s observation is incisively perceptive. It resonates. Here, he was referring to belief in something “from authority,” or taking things on faith. He was explaining how difficult it is to reject “accepted wisdom” in the face of new facts. His statement is applicable to life in general, and not just to scientific theory.
What Sagan doesn’t comment on, however, is the “why” of that difficulty, that painfulness. Is it purely due to ego? Is it a matter of unwillingness to give up a much-wanted delusion? Sheer habit or mental laziness? The answer doubtless depends on the deceiver and the payoff from the deception. What’s involved: money, emotional attachment, status, security? The value of the promise makes a difference when it comes to giving it up. The unattached woman who’s bilked out of her savings by a handsome, seemingly stable conman may not want to face the loss of a relationship she believed was genuine, so she manufactures excuses to stave off accepting reality. An investor might resist admitting he’s been taken by a Ponzi scheme because he needs a big score, and it could still be just around the corner. Sooner or later, however, the façade falls. Up to the point when the truth is obvious to the world, the victim can blame the perpetrator. After that, the victim has no one to blame but himself or herself. Believing beyond all reason carries with it its own culpability: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Once one’s head is firmly planted in the sand, though, it’s impossible to see the true picture absent forceful removal. The situation morphs from one of outwardly fabricated deception to the delusion of oneself.
The current Bamboozler-in-Chief (and he has a long line of predecessors) is particularly adept at the long con. He’s had decades of practice in his businesses, his “university,” and his reality show on TV. There are probably still contractors writing his bad debts off their ledgers, people who never doubted he’d pay for work done on his properties. His habitual deceit and underhandedness were public record, but somehow, four years ago, millions of people wanted to believe in his campaign enough to overlook his history.
The Big Lie was concocted in 2016. He said he’d look after the little guys, he’d stand up against the elites, he’d end the wars, he’d get rid of the corruption in government. And little guys all over the country bought one of the most outrageous loads of cow pies ever dumped on the electorate. Maybe they’d been let down by the system, maybe they thought government was the enemy, maybe they were unemployed and under water, so they put their faith in his promises of jobs. Maybe they needed reassurance, maybe they wanted to see a “regular” guy in office; whatever the case, they trusted him to put things right.
Instead, he revealed himself for the grifter he is. His theft of America’s reputation in the world, his cheating of the 99% to benefit the 1%, his robbery of the country’s hope, all belie the grandiose pitch he made to get elected. And those things are merely the tip of his racketeering iceberg.
The rest of the world has called him on his deceptions and lies. And yet….those sporting MAGA hats are still behind him. They’re still clinging to the bamboozle. Why? Why, when fact checkers have documented over 20,000 falsehoods or misleading statements emanating from the Orange One as of July? Why would they effectively ignore their own material interests? Because if they take off their self-imposed blinders, they have nothing. Once the curtain is pulled back, there’s nothing left to believe in; it’s all over. So they cling stubbornly, militantly to the deception, screaming praise for the Bamboozler while keeping their ears covered, lest the truth come in.
These faithful are no longer victims (and certainly, a percentage of them never were). Instead, they have become complicit. They’re hanging onto the con, conniving with the Bamboozler, listening to his dog whistles, telling themselves they are the chosen ones, and their reward will come. And in a way, it has. They are free to vent their hatred and prejudices. Though he hasn’t kept his promises of seeing to their welfare and that of the country, they hang onto the idea that they’re in his club. They’re settling for that payout, in lieu of anything that will better their lives. The ridicule of those who didn’t buy into the hoax has reinforced the believers’ determination not to relinquish their faith; they are going to brazen it out, ever more desperate to avoid the truth. That’s how they become further enmeshed in the charlatan’s bogus morality play — they’re maintaining against all logic that the tale is real (in too many cases, it didn’t take much, if any, convincing). Research has shown that the conservative mentality is resistant to change and slow to accept new information; it’s not easily adaptable, especially when fear is a factor. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on with Orange fans, or at least, that’s not all. It’s more of a willing suspension of disbelief: they have become accomplices, in short. They will absorb any lawlessness, any offense, make any excuse, because now they’re on the right side of the shell game, and non-believers are just suckers, deserving of the rip-off. To us non-believers, however, they can no longer protest that they didn’t see the Bamboozler dealing from the bottom of the deck. Again.