If you listen to the tapes of Donald Trump pretending to be John Barron pressuring Jonathan Greenberg, then a reporter at Forbes magazine, you can hear the sound of the world's greatest long con.
On the released recordings which Greenberg discusses in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, "Barron," -- just one of the aliases Trump used -- insisted that his boss Donald Trump was far richer than Forbes assumed.
"Consolidated" was the key word he repeated to explain that all the Trump family holdings should be credited to just one member of the clan. Instead of a mere $5 million net worth, "Barron" argued, Donald was worth hundreds of millions and thus belonged on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.
The Forbes list was still in its early years when, in 1984, Greenberg was assigned to develop the newest rankings. For some who had appeared previously, the list had become a status symbol. Trump was one of these ambitious competitors, determined to rise in the ranks.
Others bobbed to the top of the 400 through hard work and shrewd investments. Trump would do it by pushing his father Fred, the man who had actually built the outer borough empire of Trump apartment buildings, out of the picture.
"You have down Fred [as half owner]...but I think you can really use Donald Trump now," said "Barron." The message was clear; Fred was out. Donald owned it all.
In truth, the holdings developed by Fred Trump, whose photo now occupies a prominent spot in the Oval Office, was the controlling owner of the Trump Organization, and would be until he died in 1999. However, he let his son use his assets as collateral to pursue new projects. And he watched admiringly as his golden child outdid him as a manipulator.
Fred Trump had demonstrated the deceiver's art as he posed as a "Mr. Green" to get information out of unsuspecting owners of properties he sought. He also worked the politicians and bureaucrats who controlled agencies that regulated development. A campaign contribution here, nice dinner there and pretty soon you can start building more apartments.
Of course, it wasn't enough for Trump, having learned from his father's example, to con the world into thinking he was far richer than the facts would show. He also needed us to believe that he was so sexy that many of the most beautiful and/or famous women in the world were throwing themselves as him.
For casual consumers of gossip columns, the Trump deceptions provided a peek inside a glamorous world and a harmless diversion from everyday life. For Marla Maples, who was then Trump's girlfriend, it was a painful humiliation that was made public when a reporter let her listen to "John Miller" on tape and she had to admit that yes, that voice, actually belonged to Trump.
Seen through Maples's eyes, the Trump-is-so-sexy hype was not a victimless deception. It was a cruel game played by the man who was supposed to love her. Indeed, entertaining though it may be to the bystanders, Trump's many cons, which constitute a lifelong practice of lying and fabrication, have directly injured many people, including those who lost money due to his many bankruptcies or slippery operations like Trump University.
It took years for people to come forward with their Trump University complaints, likely because many felt ashamed of the fact that they had been taken in. This shame is what con men depend on as they run their games. No one wants to be known as the one who was duped. And, so, rather than let the world know they were suckers, they let the guy get away with it.
Trump came to believe the world was divided into suckers and winners, when he was 18 years old and he saw that the designer of the mighty Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, didn't get the credit he deserved. Others pushed themselves forward and stole his glory. Trump vowed he would never let that happen to him, "I realized then and there something I would never forget: I don't want to be made anybody's sucker."
Talented in the construction of the con man's tales, Donald Trump made suckers out of many millions as he promoted his brand and, eventually built his candidacy for president of the United States. In office, he has operated in a way that reveals his lack of knowledge, his inexperience, and his inconsistencies. And still his most ardent supporters hold firm.
Why do so many stand by Trump, even as his lies pile up and he lurches from crisis to crisis, all of them his own making? Some surely see what's happening and remain loyal to his policies. Others are hardcore partisans who stand by their man for the good of the GOP.
However, there are still others who stick because they have bought into the long con. They are the suckers now, the ones who have yet to awaken to their mistake. In time they may, and the game will end, but until then Trump has no choice but to continue the con -- and we must all pray that the pain he inflicts will be limited.