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Wizard of Lies & Wizard of Alternate Facts as Frankenstein Monsters
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-05-31 10:14:45
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There are two reality shows going on as we speak: one is a movie being shown on HBO titled “The Wizard of Lies” which focuses on the life, crimes and misdeeds of Bernie Madoff, the Wall Street financier who defrauded investors of some 50 billion dollars in a Ponzi scheme considered the largest financial fraud in U.S. history, and ending up in jail for the rest of his life; the other is on the current sitting president of the US, former star in the reality show “The Apprentice” who recently has been staging a spectacular at the Saudi royalty’s residence worthy of Cecile B. De Mille movie, while making armament deals at the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. That show could easily be titled “The Wizard of Alternate Facts.”

Those two reality shows have much in common worth pondering. They shed light on the post-truth era in which we live and have our being in Western civilization. A brief comparison may prove beneficial.

The star of the movie is none other than legendary actor Robert De Niro who does a superb job in convincingly channeling Madoff, not only exteriorly, but in its inner psychotic complexity, Bernie Madoff. The co-star as his wife Ruth is Michelle Pfeiffer. The director of the movie is Barry Levinson.

The parallels between the financial career of Madoff and that of Trump are uncanny. In the movie we see how Madoff was able to gain investors’ trust and keep the details of his crime from his family while holding on, till his arrest, to their constant respect and admiration, projecting the appearance of great financial success, a ruse to give his firm the credibility needed to pull it off for some 18 years.

What proves most interesting in the movie are the series of interviews a New York Times journalists has with Bernie in prison which delve into his psychological vulnerabilities, weaknesses and dependencies. One of them is the desire to be well liked, to be thought of as indispensable, especially by his two sons, whom he manipulates and control, at times pitting one against the other. The stratagem was to let people think that it was a distinct honor for Bernie to take their money. A classic con situation: “you’re going to be very happy with this.” Or, “you’re going to get tired of winning all the times.” A slogan this used repeatedly by Trump during his presidential campaign.

We see in the movie that the oldest son commits suicide by hanging two years after Bernie went to jail. The younger died a few years later after contracting an incurable disease. Even their death does not seem to elicit any regrets or contrition on Bernie’s part who continues to imply that the people he defrauded in some way deserved what they got for being to trustful; they ought to have been more skeptical. Not to speak of his wife who was wholly dependent on him and now lives in Boca Raton Florida and has long ago stopped visiting Bernie in jail.

Bernie feels that clients and family should have suspected and the fact that they didn’t is prove that they were in some way complicit. In any case, in some way they share in his guilt. How perverse can one get. We detect not an shred of empathy for the devastation that he has caused. One who thinks like that is either a juvenile, a criminal, a psychotic, or an outright mad person; or perhaps all the above.

Never is any kind of responsibility for what happened minimally acknowledged by Madoff. It never occurs to Bernie that the betrayal of those who have their trust in us, of those whom we are supposed to love and protect, is the worst kind of betrayal. As he tells the interviewing journalist, for him, keeping his fraud secret from his family was his way of protecting them.

The punch-line of the movie comes at the end when Bernie asks the journalist: “Do you think I am a sociopath?” Indeed, what else are we to think? Except perhaps, that such a label may be a bit too facile when one thinks of how many people trusted in this man and how easily he was able to fool them with his charm and magnetism. That is a monstrous phenomenon which goes beyond mere individual psychological diagnosis. Indeed, it represents the monstrosity of our sad times: the Frankenstein made by us who will eventually destroy us.

Which bring us to the comparison with the second monster and the uncanny parallels with the first that it suggests: Donald Trump. Those reader who may have been reading my daily column in Modern Diplomacy dubbed “The Caligula Presidency,” will need little persuasion. For the others, let me briefly enumerate those parallels. They will surely notice them when they see the movie. I predict that eventually there will be a Fellinesque movie made on the “Wizard of alternate facts,” when the circus currently going on comes to a close.

In both characters one notices a remarkable inability to grasp the enormity of one’s crimes and accept any responsibility for them. There is also an utter insensitivity toward the suffering and predicaments of others, especially the most vulnerable; what is present is the sheer preying upon those weaknesses. There is a need to be needed and be deemed indispensable; the need to be perceived as a brilliant genius able to solve the most intractable problems by fiat. There is the demeaning of women considered mere trophies. There is the conspicuous consumption, the showing off, the braggadocio mostly based on ignorance and arrogance. There is the inability to grasp the fact that they may be inveterate liars defrauding others and themselves too; that is to say, that they are both inveterate sociopaths.

One show is a pre-shadowing of the one to come when we may see a sitting president impeached or removed for fraudulent  schemes and laundering of money, and conflicts of interests, and leaking of state secrets to political enemies, and other misdemeanors now being investigated by several US agencies and institutions. He may well end up in jail. A sort of poetic justice for someone who went around not too long ago advocating and shouting “lock her up!”

It is predictable that from jail he will continue to deny and disown any responsibility for the so called Russian collusion in his campaign and his financial life. He will continue to disown the fact that he has ruined the future of his own children who will continue to exonerate him of any wrongdoing. That ultimately he has shown them the example not of a great winners but of a great loser in the field of ethical standards and moral principles.

Like Bernie Madoff, who made off with $50 billions and was also mad (both terms are in his name proving that there is destiny in a name), he will ultimately ask in utter disbelief:  “Am I a sociopath?”


Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!

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