Follow @neilsteinbergEvery day beautiful women reach out to me. On Facebook, wanting to be friends. I ignore them because I know they are really just overseas scam artists using swiped photos as bait, trolling for lonely men so out of touch that they don’t pause to ask themselves why a 24-year-old fashion model noticed them from the wide sweep of the internet.
But countless men aren’t savvy enough to ask that question, and so spend untold millions supporting fiancees who don’t exist, or paying blackmail after sexting their supposed online gal pals. The internet is a masked ball for fraudsters.
Not that we needed the internet. Those with long memories might recall “The Land of Chonda-Za,” where semi-nude “angels” frolicked and men would “have all their wishes and dreams fulfilled.” Provided they paid a membership fee and worked their way up the ranks of worth by paying even more. A mid-1980s scam concocted by one Donald S. Lowry of Bettendorf, Iowa. The garden of delights was located north of the Quad Cities, of all places. There being no internet yet, Lowry sent out mass mailings.
Who would fall for such a thing? Some 31,000 men across North America, according to federal prosecutors, bilked of $4.5 million. But that isn’t the astounding part. The astounding part is, even after the scam was revealed, men clung to it. A dozen came from as far away as California to testify in Lowry’s defense at his trial in Peoria in 1988. They carried photos of their angels in their wallets, where their money once had been.
You become invested in the scam, in the dream dangled in front of you. The truth no longer matters.
You see where I’m going with this. Donald Trump was elected president by promising Americans that he would make all their dreams come true. Literally. On Sept. 27, 2016, at a rally in Melbourne, Florida, he vowed that his election would “make possible every dream you’ve ever dreamed for your country.” He was going to “fulfill every single wish.” It was right out of the Land of Chonda-Za.
Follow @neilsteinbergIf you work for a moribund industry, he would bring that industry back to life. He would keep away a menacing, changing world, and yank back the rights from those whose existence vexes you, whether immigrants, Muslims, gays or women.
And people bought it. The chaos of Trump’s first two weeks in office did not register. I have bad news for you. It will never register. Whatever spurious claims he makes of jobs saved will become holy writ, and the setbacks will be blamed on the media, the Jews, whoever is convenient.
For those who don’t buy into the scam, that leaves us very little hope. We can state the truth: the wall is an expensive boondoggle that will do nothing, the Muslim ban a grotesquely cruel bit of security theater that makes us less safe, his coming undermining of LGBTQ rights a sham cloaked in faux religion. With more to come, fast and furious. The insults hurled at the media will become more substantial attacks. Trump’s act is very much like another classic fraud — a Ponzi scheme. But instead of taking money bilked by the first wave of victims to lure in the second, he moves from one set of unfulfilled promises to the next. How’s that wall coming? Who cares? He’s promising to curb violence in Chicago through some farcical gang summit. New promises crowd out the old.
What I don’t do is argue with Trump supporters. There is no point. “You’re dupes supporting a fraud.” How would you expect that conversation to end? They’ve put their chips — and our nation’s — on the fantasy. They’ve sent their check to their beloved, and now it’s done.
“It was pure, wholesome and decent fantasy,” Lowry said, after he was arrested. “It was based on the principle that the illusion of romance is better than no romance at all. Some people will believe what they want to believe no matter what you tell them.”
Indeed. That principle is in full blossom in the United States of America in 2017.