Episode 28: An Expert on Con Artists Explains Why She Thinks Trump Will Get a Second Term

June 16th 2017

Sarah Gray

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | SoundCloud

Episode Five of "The Grift"—a podcast hosted by writer Maria Konnikova—opens on Angie, the pseudonym given to a successful young artist living in New York City. Angie, looking for love, a partner, and to eventually settle down and have kids, meets Greg (another pseudonym) online. Greg is a charming man, who claims to be in a very prestigious M.D./Ph.D. program. It would be a classic (even boring) tale of "boy" meets "girl," if "boy's" string of egregious lies weren't gradually exposed. This is after all a podcast about "con artists and the lives they ruin."

Konnikova is a contributing writer for the New Yorker and best-selling author who holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University. And in the episode focusing on Angie, titled "Loving a Lie," Konnikova navigates the listener through the three years that Angie was duped by a sweetheart scam. (Greg emotionally manipulated Angie and essentially lived off of her.)

The listener, primed to understand that Greg is not the man he claimed to be, is flabbergasted that Angie would fall for his lies. And then even more shocked to learn that she forgives him, and in some ways still believes in their love—despite the fact that they are no longer together and she is happily married to another man.

But in truth, Angie's response is perfectly human. Konnikova explained to me on the latest episode of "Got Your Attention" that not only are we susceptible to cons—we're bombarded by them daily, just look at the spam folder in your email—but people have a hard time admitting that they've been scammed, emotionally manipulated, or tricked to work against their own interests. In fact, Konnikova explains that those who have fallen victim to a con are "much more likely to fall for a con again."

Which brought us to the crux of what I hoped to learn from Konnikova: Does she feel that President Donald Trump behaves like a con artist? And if so, will Trump supporters eventually lose faith in him?


There is a good amount of data supporting the case that Trump matches the definition of a con artist, Konnikova explains. One example of his con artist-tendencies is his tailoring of speeches to cater to the world view of a particular audience. Another is his use of the Marc Antony gambit, which is when you start by saying you "came to bury Caesar"—as Antony does in the Shakespeare play to signal to that audience that he's one of them—and then going onto praise him.

As for the second question, will Trump supporters abandon their candidate as his hypocrisies are exposed? Konnikova is not optimistic, "because the supporters of Donald Trump are victims of a con artist."

"So instead of admitting they made a mistake," Konnikova continued, "they double down on the con." Because of this, Konnikova believes that Trump will get a second term.

On a small scale, not all hope is lost in terms of extricating yourself or a loved one from a con. (That remains to be seen for the nation.) Konnikova says that looking at the methods that cult infiltrators use to extract people from cults can provide tips on how to gently show people that they're being conned. In terms of protecting ourselves, taking a third person view of our own situation can provide some much needed perspective and avoid a shakedown.