March 1, 2016

What is a "con man"?

I'm asking this question as a follow-on to the previous post, which deals in part with calling Donald Trump a "con man" and has me saying all politics is a con. So I wanted to get a little closer to the origin of the term. "Con" is short for "confidence":

The perpetrator of a confidence trick (or "con trick") is often referred to as a confidence (or "con") man, con-artist, or a "grifter". Samuel Thompson (1821-1856) was the original "confidence man." Thompson was a clumsy swindler who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watch rather than gaining their confidence in a more nuanced way. A few people trusted Thompson with their money and watches. Thompson was arrested in July 1849. Reporting about this arrest, Dr. James Houston, a reporter of the New York Herald, publicized Thompson by naming him the "Confidence Man." Although Thompson was an unsuccessful scammer, he gained reputation of a genius operator mostly because Houston's satirical writing wasn't understood. The National Police Gazette coined the term "confidence game" a few weeks after Houston first used the name, the "confidence man."
Oh! So "confidence man" — a word about the human failure to grasp what's in the mind of the person using language — was first read with a failure to grasp what was in the mind of the person using the language.

Back in 1857, Herman Melville published "The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade." Excerpt:
"If I am [warm against these bears], it is less from the remembrance of their stratagems as to our stock, than from the persuasion that these same destroyers of confidence, and gloomy philosophers of the stock-market, though false in themselves, are yet true types of most destroyers of confidence and gloomy philosophers, the world over. Fellows who, whether in stocks, politics, bread-stuffs, morals, metaphysics, religion—be it what it may—trump up their black panics in the naturally-quiet brightness, solely with a view to some sort of covert advantage. That corpse of calamity which the gloomy philosopher parades, is but his Good-Enough-Morgan."
Trump up their black panics in the naturally-quiet brightness...

Further reading: What's a "Good-Enough-Morgan"?

30 comments:

David said...

Melville as Jim Cramer. Who knew?

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Confidence is taking a risk on pretty pictures painted of the future, just around the corner.
"And over here is where the Club House and Olympic Pool will be built, " says the Developer pre-selling lots.

If your Trumpphobia is strong, than who are you going to trust...Rubio, Cruz,? Than go for Carson or Kasich, who are too tame to frighten a mouse. Or go for the Koch Brothers sure thing and vote for the loser Romney.



David Begley said...

Start with the movie "The Sting" and advance to "American Hustle."

Ponzi to Maddoff.

The marks place their trust, confidence, belief, money and votes into someone or something they believe who and which is false.

Trump defines con artist as a politician.

A guy who not too long ago was in favor of an assault weapons ban is now a big Second Amendment fan. He previously favored partial birth abortion but now has had a conversion. He wants to deport illegal aliens but hires foreigners. China is killing us on trade but his ties are made there. I could go on.

David Begley said...

Madoff.

One "d" and an effective life term. Wondering if he is studying the Torah and the Ten Commandments in the slammer.

traditionalguy said...

Get real Begley just for once. Assault Weapons are already banned. The AR15 is not an assault weapon and you know that. So Trump said no new bans at all, and you knew that before spinning the rubes.

Curtiss said...

"Trump up their black panics in the naturally-quiet brightness..."

If this is our naturally-quiet brightness, then bring on the corpse of calamity.

Curious George said...

"David Begley said...

China is killing us on trade but his ties are made there. I could go on."

Terrible example. Trump has proposed forcing Chinese markets to be more open to US goods. And eliminate other barriers to US manufacturing success. Those do not exist now.

To think the answer to the Chinese trade imbalance in simply to not to outsource manufacturing there is moronic.

carrie said...

Trump learned everything he knows from the democrats who have always conned conservatives with pre-election positions that somehow evolve right after the election.

Laslo Spatula said...

Trump has already conned the Gay Senator into making dick jokes.

Smooth.

I am Laslo.

David Begley said...

Curious George

We have just seen the tip of the ice berg on his hiring of illegals. He brought in foreigners to work at his hotel. We know that now.

Trump supporters will rationalize anything about his record. He could kill someone on the streets of New York and still get the nomination. People believe what they want to believe.

MisterBuddwing said...

I've always liked the British term, "confidence trickster." There was an episode of "Fawlty Towers" in which Polly tried to warn Basil about the "confidence trickster" staying in their hotel; she then called him a "con man," as if she were translating for the American TV audience.

AllenS said...

A con man would say something like:

"If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance."

"If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor."

... and then let you lose your insurance and doctor, without caring one bit about you.

Fernandinande said...

What is a "con man"?

Shouldn't that be a "con person"? Or, better yet, a "person of con".

AllenS said...

traditionalguy said...
Get real Begley just for once. Assault Weapons are already banned. The AR15 is not an assault weapon and you know that.

Don't count on it.

Limited blogger said...

Trump's coalition is so broad and cuts against any traditional idea of Republican demographics. Creative destruction is usually very upsetting to those holding the patents on the last great idea. Trumpism is a new paradigm.

Curious George said...

"David Begley said...
Curious George

We have just seen the tip of the ice berg on his hiring of illegals. He brought in foreigners to work at his hotel. We know that now.

Trump supporters will rationalize anything about his record. He could kill someone on the streets of New York and still get the nomination. People believe what they want to believe."

What does this have to do with your bullshit statement regarding China trade and Trumps ties?

Hagar said...

Trump makes no secret of being Donald Trump. It is hard to see it as a con.
A con man is someone who pretends to be something other than what he is.

David Begley said...

AllenS

I agree with you that Obamacare was a massive con job the way it was sold but it was a long term goal of the Dems.

AllenS said...

The con works best when others are in on it.

Henry said...

David Mamet's House of Games:

It's called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine.

Here's the takeaway for Trump-style politics:

You can't bluff a man who won't pay attention.

Bob said...

I tried to read "The Confidence Man" once. The first few scenes creeped me out so much I had to put it down. I don't think I had ever had that reaction to a book before. Melville was a strange genius indeed.

Charlie Currie said...

When a lying back stabber calls his opponent a con man, you just have to laugh.

Balfegor said...

"If I were asked to define Conservative policy, I should say that it was the upholding of confidence."

elkh1 said...

Hillary's hubby was and is a con man, a rapist too.
Dear Leader is a con man: his Hope-and-Change, his Obamacare, his "patriotism" are con.

Hillary is a con woman who will fight Wall Street (for not paying her more for her speeches), she will fight for the poor (and charged 250,000 bucks to make a canned speech to taxpayers funded colleges).

Democrat's Super Delegate system is a super con to guarantee Hillary's win with 1/3 of the votes.

Then they complain that Trump is a con man.
Everyone knows what Trump is. He is an "honest" con.

Unknown said...

A jailed confidence man is called a "con," which is short for convict.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Whenever one of those Indian con men calls me on the phone to say he's responding to the error report I sent to Microsoft, I sometimes ask whether he's had one of his eyes scooped out with a hot spoon.

Sometimes I feel like that kind of makes me an ass.

Otto said...

Rubio, on Fox: Trump is a con man. Bret Baier: What state are you winning? Rubio: I didn't say he wasn't a good con man.

JSD said...

There’s always something to be admired in a con-man. He is almost never the bad guy in literature, theater and movies. What else can you say about a guy who buys a mega yacht from the Sultan of Brunei that gets repossessed by the bank three years later? When asked about it, Donald say’s - I free use of the yacht, used it to close a bunch of great deals and made money on the repossession. All of which is quite conceivably true.

I can’t escape the feeling that there’s a bit of Professor Harold Hill in the Donald. It's obvious that the Donald “knows the territory”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ9U4Cbb4wg

Rusty said...

AllenS said...
The con works best when others are in on it.

Better.
The con works best when the mark thinks he's in on it.