The Huckster Age

Your first thought: This can’t be real, can it?

As someone closer to their golden years than middle age, I’ve only recently become acquainted with ‘deep fakes’. Manipulated videos that seem genuine but have been digitally altered. And what the hell are NFTs anyway? This can’t be real. No way. “Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear,” Lou Reed sang.

This can’t be real, can it?

It is Donald J. Trump we’re talking about, though. Anything’s possible. Anything goes. Anyone still alive who remembers ‘the short-fingered vulgarian’ as Spy magazine dubbed 1980s Donald Trump, they would’ve laughed at the idea the man would go on to become President of the U.S.A. Laughed right in the face of someone making that prediction back then. A Simpson’s joke.

We hadn’t connected the dots yet.

We failed to see the pattern developing when California governor Ronald Reagan was being touted as presidential material. Goldwater had been routed in ’64. You think there’ll be a B-movie actor in the White House? Ha! ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!’ former vice-president Richard Nixon told the press after his 1962 defeat for governor, two years after narrowly losing his presidential bid, and six years before he was elected president.

The unthinkable gets thought.

And, of course, the curious case of George W. Bush and his war crimes minded, Executive Privilege touting V-P, Dick Cheney. Not once, but twice. The nadir. It had to be. It couldn’t possibly get any worse.

HaHa. The joke’s on us.

We should be used to it, is what I’m working through here. What could possibly shock us anymore? Unpleasant surprises have become the norm. Imagine the worst and then keep digging, digging what seems to be a bottomless pit.

You don’t think?

According to the website, Collect Trump Cards dot com, they’ve sold out, just like DJT told us they would. People plopped down $99, hard and crypto currency, for a slice of the hustle and the opportunity to win a dinner with the man himself or play a round of golf with some friends on one of his beautiful courses, ‘they are beautiful’, if he doesn’t say so himself. Himself. Himself.

When Trump was simply a celebrity back in the day, his squalid bubble of debauched garishness existed outside of real life. No one forced you to watch The Apprentice. His existence a bauble of chintz and spray-on glitz that you could ignore. Our modern-day P.T. Barnum preying on the suckers born every minute.

But now, it’s political. Whether or not he re-ascends to the White House again (and I dare you to rule it out as impossible. Again), is immaterial to this particular line of discussion. That it’s possible is enough. The Huckster Age is ours. Donald Trump did not create it but he represents its logical outcome.

Willingly and willfully scammed, obstinately so in many cases, desperately clapping to keep the lies alive because we don’t want to accept the fact that we’ve been had. Or, because we see ourselves as in on the grift, too savvy to fall for such obvious nonsense. It’s the way of the world, isn’t it? No need to change it. Just seek out ways to benefit and perpetuate the swindle. Life has always been one long con where only the fittest survive. And by fittest, we mean richest.

Upon the richest, we bestow a wondrous awe and deference. They must’ve done something right to achieve suck dizzying heights. Their success couldn’t have been a fluke or aberration. That’s not how things work. What they did was master the system, game it if they had to, that’s alright, that’s how the system’s designed to work. Winning means never having to explain your means. Winning is the only end that matters.

Once that becomes your schtick, when working the ref is your thing, pressing boundaries and thumbing your nose at conventional wisdom, playing strictly by your own rules because nobody’s ever called you on it, never pretend you’re doing otherwise. Embrace the confidence game as if it we’re perfectly natural, above-board, the way it’s done. And like the Big Lie, hustle large. Never scam on a small scale.

Donald Trump is the quintessential late night informercial pitchmen 2.0, for the digital age. Ron Popeil on steroids. A spotlight seeking showman who’s never made any pretense to being anything else. Even when he did, a pretend statesman, his reality immediately shone through, the lie laughably transparent.

Like the world’s richest man (maybe, does anyone know that for sure?), Elon Musk, who invented a digital payment system, the electric car, subways, a pioneer in satellite technology and space travel to Mars without ever having done any of that, just used family money to invest and exploit all of it, almost exclusively for his own personal gain, rode a visionary wave to prominence, hailed as a singular brain genius. Now seen dismantling a well-established social media platform, Twitter, that he conned banks into loaning him the money to buy, evidently having had his bluff called on a lark of an initial bid, Saudi investors helping to shore up ongoing financial losses as advertisers flee the site with the re-appearance of previously banned white nationalist and generally all-round misanthropic voices and bots, as well as the new owner’s maniacally capricious online behaviour.

Still, just like the former president, legions defend Musk’s actions. Some are convinced, like they are with the former president, that it’s all some oracular strategy at work, grandmaster chess while everyone else plays checkers, a 3-steps ahead plan that mere mortals cannot even begin to fathom. It has to be, right? The alternative means gross incompetence and sheer malevolence that reveals an utter sociopathy sitting smack dab in the core of these men, these rich men, these leading hucksters in an age full of them.

Keep clapping. Keep clapping in the hopes that you didn’t seriously misjudge the character of your heroes.

More disturbing, perhaps, are those who see through it, the carnival barkery, and cheer it on for no other reason than witnessing the likes of Trump and Musk get away with it all. Sure! I’ll drop $99 just so I can tell my grandchildren I was in on the scam. Besides, cheap at double the price if you can stick it to liberal sanctimoniousness, pop that fucking pompous balloon in the process. The ridiculousness is the point. The brazenness is the point.

“Flood the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon exclaimed. Not with just misinformation. Gum up the entire works. Degrade norms. Be a debaser (Slicing up eyeballs/I want you know!) Elevate and ennoble our worst instincts.

The trick, and the difference between the hucksters and the hucked? The hucksters walk away when the razzle dazzle fizzles, unscathed, pockets bursting with cash. Everyone else is left behind in the ruins and wreckage, expected to clean up the mess.


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