A few months ago, New York Times bestselling author of “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time”, Maria Konnikova, appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher.” An expert in study of con artistry, when asked whether Trump was a con artist, she was careful to be guarded and avoided giving a direct answer.
However, in a podcast conversation today with Matt Lewis, she confidently admitted that the past few months provided evidence which convinced her that, “not only is [Trump] using the techniques of con artists, but he probably is a con artist.”
“I am seeing a lot of the traits that are almost pathological that you see in people who…are con artists who we know have defrauded,” said Konnikova, who is a regular columnist for The New Yorker where she focuses on the intersections of psychology and culture. She was also the former author of the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and is a Harvard graduate who studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.
Psychopathy is just one of the three factors that contribute to the ‘dark triad’ of deception in a con artists arsenal. According to Konnikova, psychopaths do not process emotion in the same way that the majority of the public does and this enables them to avoid sympathizing with their victims.
(Stream the full podcast with Maria Konnikova here to learn more about the art of the con, buy the book here and download the latest from Matt Lewis and the News on iTunes.)
The second leg of the triad is narcissism, which creates a sense of entitlement in those hoping to deceive someone for their own benefit. Konnikova used the example of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, known as ‘the great imposter’ who impersonated 50 people over 40 years. A high school drop-out, Demara once impersonated a surgeon and actually operated on people.
“Someone like Demara, you steal M.D. credentials because you say ‘I’m a better doctor, I deserve it more than those people who went to med school, why am I going to go to med school? I should just take the degree.”
The final leg of the triad is Machiavellianism, which is a “con artist’s bread and butter, it’s the art of persuasion without people realizing that you are persuading them or manipulating them,” she said.
The combination of these three factors contributes to con artists success because they gain their victims’ trust and can manipulate them without any sense of guilt. And victims often fall for it because of this trust.
“We are hardwired to trust [rather] than be skeptical because most people are not out to get you,” concluded Konnikova.
“What long cons rely on is that we’re emotional about the people we like, about the people we trust…we feel some sort of emotional connection and we dismiss red flags…because the moment where we’re emotionally invested, we are no longer logical, we are no longer looking objectively, we are subjective…and so you dismiss the evidence.”
Konnikova believes that this is exactly what is happening to those traveling with tickets on the Trump Train. Victims of con artists tend to be emotionally vulnerable because they are experiencing moments of change and transition—much like the shifting landscape of America that is happening now.
“If you look at the types of people to whom Trump appeals, they are typical victims…He found his marks and he is actually reeling them in the way a very good con artist would,” Konnikova declared.
“Once you’re hooked, once the con artist has you…basically nothing anyone else can say can convince you are being conned because you become a true believer,” she said. “In order to acknowledge that you are being conned, you have to acknowledge that you are the type of person who could be conned, that you didn’t see it and that you have been taken along for a ride by a con artist.”
“Most people will say ‘of course I’m smart, of course I’m a good judge of character…I’m not someone who is easily taken in’…and to say ‘I’ve been taken in by a con artist’…that really hurts at that core self….So no matter what evidence you put before them, their ego, they clamp down and protect themselves.”
The two also discussed that there is a very fine line of intention that divides true con artists from those who may manipulate for the greater good. They also chatted about other famous con artists, including Frank Abagnale, the similarities between con artists and pick-up artists and what drives the desire to deceive.