The Big Grift: A Christmas Story


Regardless of what one thinks about global warming and inflation and the Russians and crime in the streets, our situation stinks. It is bad here, in these United States of Amnesia, and even worse elsewhere. Everybody seems to be grifting, hustling, struggling to get by. The big shots steal big; the rest of us grab what we can.  

As we grift along, we try to help where we can, contributing our soft-earned doubloons to one appealing Patreon grift after another. These poor creative people deserve it, we think. It’s the least we can do.

The least we can do is all most of us ever do, myself included. We pick for scraps down in a giant shit pit real world, a shit pit of hot takes and viral trespasses across ill-tended timelines, and each of us wants to gather our scraps as quickly as possible so we can scurry back to the online void.

To dwell on the Internet is to participate in our modernity; to use Twitter is to hate your life, perhaps even life itself. What will some vile senator or powerful editor or beta-male leftist freelancer do next, we wonder. The song remains the same: unless you’re earning that do re mi for some rich company or backed by the truly powerful, you’re chum in the water. “That’s entertainment,” warbled Paul Weller in 1980, and he’s still right.

Matt Taibbi, who is chum in the water on account of his alleged past misdeeds, wrote Griftopia in 2010, christening our age. The grift was in: the bosses were hustling us, and we were hustling each other. Everyone is a free lance, peddling a bunch of banal, easily-thinkable thoughts instead of their polearms.

Not that this has made us savvier consumers. You’d think we could resist a presidential grift, but millions doubled down on that brand. Why not? We own closets full of LuLaRoe merchandise and other multi-level marketing scamwear. We are a hopeful bunch, convinced we know something, and we hurry to act on our hunches and intuition. Bitcoin in our coinpurse today…tomorrow, the world!

“You don’t know a fucking thing,” my father, a grifter who retired early, used to tell me. “And neither do I. People aren’t stupid, but they’re lazy. They lie because it’s easier than remembering, and they’ll believe your lies because not thinking at all sure as hell beats thinking twice.”

My father was a great scammer, so fooling him was easy peasy. The more accustomed we get to conning, which requires a vast amount of effort, the less energy we have to resist the cons of others.

The mere chance that he might receive money for nothing launched my father into a state of enthusiasm; he would give up everything for a shot at doing nothing. He pulled out all the stops on the off chance he might stop and steal a moment’s respite.

As my father aged his way first towards irrelevance and then towards death, he realized that the world, at least his world, was indeed going to end. He had come close to that grass crown a few times, bumming around the semi-pro football ranks and owning airplanes and businesses and such, but missing the big payoff by a few moments at some appointed destination — the way all heist movies conclude. He had seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing many times; he knew what lay in store for him.

He was skeptical about the possibility for reform. Each generation existed to fuck over the previous one — ”après nous, le déluge!” — and why the hell not? You get only one crack at the piñata.

“If it came down to you or me, I hope you’d want it to be you because I’d sure as hell want it to me,” he repeatedly told me. That admonition used to haunt me, but now I find his candor refreshing. Unlike the Baby Boomers who came after him, he owned up to the disaster he left in his wake.

Grifting ought to start at home. My father stole tens of thousands of dollars from me, turning me into a full-time beast of burden by age 17, but nobody needs to hear that sob story retold. He never denied his crimes, unlike every politician I’ve had the pleasure of observing. He didn’t tell me he was charging me for modeling photos he promised he would share with fashion executives or say that he was using his don’t-ever-pay-writers platform to give me exposure or any of that shit. No, he screwed me over and said, “Hey, it was you or me, buddy.”

All of us have an angle. The people who don’t seem to have an obvious product they’re peddling, the people who try to disguise their marketing methods,are the most loathsome. Anyone trading on virtue or incorruptibility is full of crap; it falls to outlets like Washington Babylon to trash them loudly and often.

If you see a lot of retweets or Facebook shares or whatever from a quasi-public figure, understand this: nine times out of ten, that person is running game, not speaking truth to power. Lana del Raytheon, that disgraced Twitter leftist, offered a prime example. There was no there there, just a nerdy person trading on exceedingly minor fame to prey upon naïve fans. How such a person can have fans is another story. 

A friend remarked recently that Twitter personalities “in the low five digits’ worth of followers seem to consist of people who have contributed something substantial to the world but are woefully overlooked online, and self-manufactured entities who are clearly overjoyed to have a voice and a platform in little tweety bird land.”  There are more of the latter than the former, and probably a lot of the former would like to be regarded among the latter, if only because that would mean a few more solicited pieces with the resulting paychecks.

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I'm a journalist, lawyer, historian, and competitive powerlifter. I was born in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up on a farm a few miles from the West Virginia border. Read more about me here: