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Would you do a deal with Willard on a handshake? Not if you've got an ounce of sense. He can't be trusted. Wliiard's a classic con man. It's what makes him fascinating. Will he go down in history as such? Hard to tell.

Gary Lindberg wrote a scholarly book in 1982, "The Confidence Man in American Literature," in which he considered the fictional creations of Melville, Poe and even Ben Franklin himself. The issue is always how to tell the shell game, the con man who never meets a stranger, according to one David W. Maurer, from the man who inspires Americans to do great things.

Perhaps because Willard is aiming to supplant an inspiration, as Ronald Reagan, the faux royal, did James Earl Carter, a quote Lindberg cites from the latter is doubly appropriate.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and which has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else--public institutions and private enterprise, our own families and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations.

Perhaps it is just coincidence that Jimmy Carter's grandson was tuned in to the con game being perpetrated by Willard speaking to the fat cats about his disdain for the American people, whom he assigned to a percentage that just happened to pop into his mind as most numbers do, but I tend to think not. James Earl Carter IV grew up in the shadow of a con, the one that diddled his grandfather out of a job with a conspiracy to hold the hostages in Iran until the election of 1980 was done.

It was probably unwise of Jimmy Carter to use the word "malaise," given the suspicion with which some parts of North America look upon anything French as hoity toity and high falutin'. It was definitely unwise for him to give in to the bullies and discard his infectious grin because they'd made fun of it. Carter's sunny disposition is what appealed and he let it be stripped to be replaced by the saccharine "Morning in America," a land of faux sentimentality, which Willard, at least in his private ruminations, has now stripped, as well. There is no sentiment, no sensation at all, in Willard's world. And it's not because he's all business; it's because he's all con.

So, would you do a deal with Willard on a handshake? Not if you've got any sense. But, you may argue, given his accumulation of money, it seems obvious many others have. To which I would answer, "not so." If you consider that money is merely an aide memoire, a way for men of little minds and short memories to keep track of what they owe, then a hoard of money merely tells us the fellow is stingy and doesn't keep his promises, even when they are written down.

Should that be held against him? Lindberg cites a quote from George Santayana which seems particularly applicable to the present situation.

Living things in contact with the air must acquire a cuticle, and it is not urged against the cuticles that they are not hearts.

Shall we hold it against Willard that he is an empty shell, a figment of his own imagination, whom his hoard of money cannot make real? Perhaps all that's to be expected is that, like Aaron's golden calf, Willard's stash will serve an an aide memoire of the man who would be a 21st Century king.

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