Street art in NYC by Gongkan

Trump and the Conmen Who Loved US

Some of you know what it’s like to be conned. Some are learning right now. Others are still under the conman’s spell.

My mother’s 2nd husband was a conman.

He stole from her. He stole from my grandparents. As an investment banker, he stole from lots of other people too.

When I was a girl, my stepdad encouraged me to play softball, taking the time to teach an artsy kid how to catch and throw. He’d played in the minor leagues, or so he said. Baseball was something he could use to relate to people and it made him feel important. I was never any good at softball, but he continued to practice with me. We’d play catch in the backyard, breaking in the mitt he gave me. He was a catcher, it’s why his knees were so bad. When I joined a league, he never missed a game. As a father figure, he fit into that quintessential role perfectly: provider, teacher, protector. It was hard for me to learn his true nature, and even harder to reconcile what that meant. You love the people you use?

At first, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why my mom was so upset, so I got upset at her. I didn’t understand why the FBI raided our house, or why we sold that house along with everything we owned. Well, technically I didn’t own shit. I was 14.

I still remember having a garage sale shortly before my life changed overnight. Garage sales were meant for your old junk, but my mom had practically emptied our entire house. I kept sneaking things back inside, thinking she was nuts. Wandering around the nick-knacks that made up our current life, I felt lost. Didn’t we still need this stuff? Then the cars started disappearing. One after the next. I’d come home from school one day and, boom, a Jeep Grand Cherokee would be missing from the garage. It needed to be detailed I was told. Then a random car would pop up in its place. An Explorer. A little red Mercedes convertible. Those too would go “for detailing” and never come back. As if a giant car eating monster lurked at the corner car wash gobbling up my stepfather’s vehicles.

Eventually my stepfather was asked to leave too. This part was not so unexplainable. I had come home one day to find the front door wouldn’t shut. The lock was broken and there was damage to the frame. I know little about FBI raids, but apparently he’d been in the shower when they decided to let themselves in.

I still hadn’t figured out he was the problem at this point. I cried when my mother forced him from our home. I didn’t understand why they were fighting, I’d never seen that level of emotion spewing from the person I loved more than anyone else in this world. He gaslighted her in front of me, calmly pretending to be the good guy.

After he moved out, I didn’t understand why he would sneak around the house, tripping the alarm while I was home alone. It made even less sense when he’d lie to my face about breaking in. I’d catch him running away, and then he’d call 30 minutes later to say: it wasn’t me. We’d change the password. He’d convince our security company to give it to him. We’d change it again. Eventually, he’d just resort to leaving voice messages on our home phone threatening to kill my mom.

This is why I know you can do an awful lot to someone without consequence. There’s nothing the police can do for you, even when someone says on a recording they are going to kill you. What you’ll get is a restraining order, and a pat on the back — good luck! Threats payoff because they aren’t all that punishable.

I later learned the people he conned were coming for their money. He’d been lying about his investment banking job, having lost it, he made fake business cards to carry on as if still fully employed. Every time the doorbell rang, someone was serving my mom with a lawsuit about things she didn’t understand. Things her husband had done.

He told my grandparents my life was in danger. That some of the people he owed money to knew his wife’s family had the money to pay his debt. They’d use me to get it if they didn’t help him willingly — kidnap me, hold me for ransom. I carried mace everywhere I went in 8th grade. This was around 1997, and it was the year I got my first cell phone — for emergencies. I still walked home alone from the bus stop. My phone was always off. I just didn’t understand who I was supposed to call when everyone I knew only had home phones.

Even after all of this, I didn’t understand why people followed my mother and filmed her at dinner as she tried to move on with her life. She started dating again, which angered me to no end. How dare she introduce another potential asshole into my life? As an adult, I learned she was scared and dated out of fear. She wanted a man around for protection.

It was around this time I came home from school to see my old’ stepdad had spray painted the words SLUT on the garage door of the new apartment he forced us to move into. I was in high school and 15 at this point. We’d lost the house and were driving a car my grandparents kept at their winter home (the one he’d already broken into for their unattended art, jewelry, and checks). We weren’t hiding exactly, but we were trying to be less accessible. Upon seeing the word SLUT, painted in black across the sandy taupe of Phoenix’s favorite residential paint scheme, it was clear he knew exactly where we were living. The developing insecure teenager inside of me was less afraid of him then of being labeled some kind of whore. I wanted to yell to my neighbors: “The slut’s my mom, that’s not for me!”

When the slut shaming and the intimidation didn’t work, he faxed my mother’s employer, threatening them too. My mom had the good fortune of being at the fax machine the moment it came through. She walked it over to her boss, explained the situation, and told him she was quitting immediately. She apologized for the drama of her own abuse. To his credit, after reading the fax, he told my mother he wasn’t going to let her husband intimidate her out of a job. He wasn’t afraid of his threats and refused to accept her resignation. My stepdad promptly spray painted her work parking space with his favorite word: SLUT.

He stole everything from her, threatened her life, threatened my life, tracked her, harassed her, and he didn’t do it alone. He found new victims to join him by using the new women he dated in his attack against my mother. These women followed her, filmed her, slashed her tires, and yelled at her in public spaces. He convinced the very women he was abusing to become tools for more abuse.

What happened to him when his lie crumbled and he could no longer hide behind the fake persona he built for himself? When the FBI investigation wrapped up?

Six months in jail.

64 counts of fraud and he was convicted of one.

He sent me a generic prison card with a note on my 16th birthday, it said he was proud of the woman I had become.

That was the last I heard of him.

My mom still has the file she kept on my stepfather. Every once in a while we talk about it and I still learn a new detail I hadn’t been aware of while living through it. Like how he told all our neighbors my mother was an alcoholic to explain any drama that might spill over into their lives. Unfortunately for him, everyone likes my mom, so they told her what he was saying.

Why share all of this? Because anyone who has been conned learns from it. I was young enough to really let it sink in. I see the real you when you lie to me. The mask of a con is so incredibly obvious to those who have seen it before. Even when there is nothing I can do and no point to exposing it, I know. I know your half truths. I know your full lies. I know you’re off.

Trump still hides behind his mask. His moves are becoming more desperate as that mask slips. Much like my stepfather when his lies caught up to him. I will say to all the people still under Trump’s spell what I said to my stepfather when he lied to my face: you may be able to fool her, but you can’t fool me.

When I was a girl, “her” referred to my mother. As a woman, “her” is 50% of the American people.

Trump is a conman. He uses his victims to make more victims. That’s the true hallmark of a con, they never give up. If you figure it out, he recruits someone new to manipulate and then turns them into tools to suppress those he’s already drained.

Trump could honestly care for the people he cons. You can feel loved and still be used. I certainly did.

Like the police told my mom after she received death threats for the first time: good luck.

You are either wise to the con, part of the con, or a victim of the con … and you can definitely be two out of three.

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