Strolling past the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago in Chile towards the Mercado Central sends you from the sacred to the secular. The street leading to the giant seafood market is lined with cut-price flea market booths hawking tourist tchotchkes, drinks and snack foods, and counterfeit Nikes and Adidas.
Between the booths are buskers and entertainers plying their trade for the grubby pesos passerby’s toss into their baskets. And every block or so there’s a small crowd of people gathered around a bunko dealer. These flimflammers play different versions of three-card monte; some with cups and balls, some with dice, and some with the classic set of playing cards.
But no matter what device the con artists use, they all employ the same techniques; they count on shills and distraction to fool their victims. They do this to first convince their audiences that the games are legit and then to fleece them. In response, their audiences pull folded-up pesos out of their pockets and purses in a single motion that’s both hopeful and desperate at the same time.
Distraction, sleight-of-hand, interference, disruption. All are techniques magicians use to make sure their audiences see what the performers want them to see and don’t see what the performers don’t want them to see. When done right, the audience doesn’t even know they’ve been distracted. They’re simply astonished when the ball isn’t under the cup, the card isn’t in the deck, or the beautiful girl in the cabinet is gone and the magician is there instead.
Most magicians (and con artists) make it look easy. It’s not by mistake that the traditional image of the magician has him dressed to the nines in a natty tuxedo. The distraction is pulled off with such aplomb that it not only appears effortless but it’s usually done long before the audience even knows they’re being fooled.
But some magicians actually work hard to make their distraction look clumsy and unplanned – thus making the ultimate switcheroo appear even more surprising when it unfolds on the hapless spectator.
So what if that’s what’s happening in Washington? What if President Trump’s apparent missteps are actually calculated techniques used to distract us from what’s really going on?
Don’t worry, this is not a political screed. Instead it is an exploration of the ways that the current administration might be using a time-honored technique to legislate without our knowledge.
Why else would the president insult the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier? Why else would he insult the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria? Why else would he go to war with the NFL over freedom of speech? It’s much too easy (and naïve) to write it off to him being a clumsy boor. What if there’s something else going on?
Consider this – as much as all of us want to look at the classified papers from JFK’s assassination, why release them now? What could be a bigger distraction than to get us all lathered-up over an assassination and conspiracy theory that occurred over 50 years ago?
Or consider this – while we’re paying attention to Trump’s reality-show antics, what’s happened to the Russian hacking investigation? While we’re busy being sidetracked by 45’s tweets, look at the bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives:
Whether you agree or disagree with all, some or any of these bills is not the point. What matters is that we are all being suckered by the same tactics that we’d smugly say we’d never fall for on a three-card monte table. On the other hand, there were plenty of people tossing their cash at the bunko dealers on the street, so maybe I’m wrong there too.