Under The Influence

Posted by

I’d like to share with you an excerpt of a piece I wrote for the online and print publication, The Culture Crush. I’m an occasional contributor to the magazine and the subject matter is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

A few weeks back, I wrote a piece called, Religion–A Personal Perspective. In it, I asked you to share some of your own personal experiences as it pertained to religion. I was struck by the wide variety of opinions and life-altering effects of early indoctrination. It was clear to me that religion is, and remains, an important, yet divisive subject in our society.

Around the time I was writing my post for this space, I was also working on a piece for The Culture Crush. But instead of religion in general, this particular piece deals with the history of snake oil salesmen and how we’re all susceptible to being conned. That would include, of course, the current president of the United States, as well as some of the more shameless televangelists we see begging their congregants for dollars to help them bask in a sea of luxury.

As luck would have it, the editor and founder of the magazine, Debra Scherer, informed me that she was going to publish my piece as a companion to another article written by a lifelong member of the evangelical community, Jerry Gramckow. Jerry’s piece digs deep into the world of religious fundamentalism–it’s history, as well as how the community has attached itself, mistakenly according to Gramckow, to the Republican Party.

At the end of my excerpt, I will include a link to continue reading at The Culture Crush, as well as the link to Jerry’s provocative post. I hope you will find them both interesting, and considering the current political climate, timely.

Under The Influence–The Origins Of The Snake Oil Salesman And The Conmen We Still Fall For Today

A long time ago, a man rolled into a small Texas town and told the townspeople that the world would end at midnight. The people, at first, were skeptical. One of the townspeople asked him, “What are you selling, some kind of snake oil?” To which the man replied, “The world will come to a flaming end at midnight tonight. Without my help and knowledge, every one of you will be dead.”

The fraudulent man’s name was Trump. No, not that Trump. In this case, it was the fictional Walter Trump, and the scene described above, is from the 1958 TV show Trackdown, starring Robert Culp as the Texas Ranger who eventually exposed Trump for the fraud he was. The delicious irony and prophecy of a TV show more than 60 years old eerily boggles the mind. A man named Trump rolls into town to tell folks only HE can build the wall. Only HE can save them from impending doom.

It is not that some are necessarily smarter or more intuitive than the people who fall prey to these schemes, cons, and games. We all have an anxiety, an unanswered question, a desire to be better, to feel safer, and above all, to find a quick fix. Candidate Donald Trump rode down the golden escalator in 2015, warning us of the drug dealers and rapists from Mexico. He was there to save us all.

Sixty-three million people bought his con, much like the people in the fictional town. After all, there is a con out there for everyone, some are just more successful than others.

Though we think we no longer live in the Wild West or under the influence of the carnival barker, we’ve continually seen guys like Bernie Madoff pull off their own versions of Ponzi’s same old scheme. And we have a president of the United States who has ruthlessly conned the public and enjoys the undying support of about 35% of Americans based on a lie perpetuated by yet another television show. Not surprising when you look back at the very American origins of all this proverbial snake oil.

And if exploitation is the foundation, then who are some of the most dangerous (and successful) snake oilers of today? The ones with the supernatural on their side, corrupting those searching for answers to make themselves rich. The televangelists of America, much like some of our best-known politicians, have no shame in what they do. When they tell their followers they need donations for private corporate jets, they say it’s either to spread the word of God or expand consciousness or some ethereal non-measurable purpose. They claim the mansions and luxury lifestyles in which they live are blessed by God, himself.

To read the full post, please click the following link to The Culture Crush.

To read the companion piece by Jerry Gramckow, called Against Interpretation, click here.



    1. Thanks so much for that Mary. Really appreciated. It’s a unique site isn’t it? The editor and founder, Debra Scherer, spent 30 years as photographer, editor, and features writer for Vogue Magazine. She’s one smart lady and really likes exploring unique and provocative subjects. So happy you subscribed to it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Jeff, I go back to Michael Cohen’s comments under oath about his boss. “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” He has pulled the wool over his followers eyes via deregulation to help employers pollute the environment, passing a top-loaded tax reduction (by the way, I am paying more), not shooting straight with coal miners where more plants have closed on his watch, and just recently making it harder for franchise workers to sue the ultimate brand name they sell.

    I could go on, but back to Cohen, Trump’s fixer – he would threaten to sue or sue anyone who stood against Trump or dared bill the Trump Organization what they are owed. This last one is noted by Thomas Wells, another attorney who worked for Trump for years. He noted Trump’s modus operandi was to claim bad service and refuse payment. It was a routine ploy rather than a one off. The contractor would sue and be sued back settling for something less or going out of business.

    On this last comment, a contractor who happened to be on a voter panel noted the following, “Word on the street is in dealing with the Trump Organization, get paid up front.” That was a stunning comment, given the above Wells’ stories. Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes Keith, Mr. Cohen knew him well, didn’t he?
      But of course, to hear his ‘defense’ lawyers put it, Trump is the ultimate anti-corruption crime fighter! What a bunch of B.S. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows this guy is unfit to serve. Yet, his followers blindly think the guy is a savior of their world.
      My ultimate fantasy Keith, is that somehow 67 Senators vote to convict this guy. I know it’s highly unlikely. Maybe Bolton testifies and it’s really damaging. Or, something else comes out. Whatever the case, I think the House Managers presented a compelling set of facts. If Republican Party refuses to hold him to account, they MUST pay a price in November.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jeff, it is another facet of a narcissist’s projection of his own traits onto others. Trump has been corrupt well before his election, so he calls others corrupt. He lies more than any president, but he always has per his five biographers, so he calls other folks liars. I see polls on who do you believe – Trump or Bolton? Well, John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff said earlier this week, he would believe Bolton. Taking Trump at his word is a fool’s errand. Keith

        Liked by 3 people

      2. It sure is Keith. I’m no fan of Kelly, but I will take his word over Trump any day of the week. Plus, he worked with the guy for over a year. He knows what a fool he is…and pathological liar of course. Same with Bolton. No fan. But, he IS an institutional guy, and he knows when something is illegal, or isn’t right. I’ll take both of them against Trump. Not even close….


      3. Jeff, I have shared these quotes many times, but they are worth repeating:
        “Donald Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence,” wrote Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for Trump for several years
        “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat,” said Michael Cohen, long time attorney and fixer for Trump, under oath in front of a House committee
        “Donald Trump is a prodigious liar,” said former Economic Advisor Gary Cohn in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear”
        “You are a f**king liar,” is what former White House Counsel John Dowd knew, but could not tell the president per Woodward in “Fear.”

        Each of these people worked with Trump, the last two in the White House. It amazed me that Republicans did not bat an eye when Cohen described his work with Trump. They touted he had lied under oath before. Yes, but he was lying for Trump. Now he was telling the truth against Trump. Let me just add, people don’t have a fixer unless they really need one to fix problems.


        Liked by 2 people

      4. Yep, what we’ve seen over the last two weeks Keith is complete and utter capitulation to Trump. Right now, it is the Trump Party. He and the Republican Party are now synonymous. They must pay the price this November Keith. I’m going to do what I can to make sure they are soundly and completely defeated at the ballot box. There can be no other solution. I think the Party, as a whole, is pretty much on it’s last legs. Will a humiliating defeat in November change their ways? To be determined…….

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Jeff, I keep reading the mantra from Republicans that he did nothing wrong, while a growing number saying he did wrong, but it is not impeachable. What I see is extorting a country for personal gain with a clandestine diplomatic effort, a blatant cover-up, blatant obstruction of justice and lying and altered lying throughout. I see worse than what Nixon did, we just don’t have tapes or a Senate with any moral leadership. These Senators have chosen not to pay attention or know more information. More will come out, but the question is will these Senators grow a spine? I do believe that their vote should be an anchor around their neck if they do not change their path. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I find it appalling Keith that on the one hand they want to let the American people decide his fate at the voting booth. On the other hand, how are we supposed to do that when you and I both know that he will cheat his way to victory if he can? It’s not a coherent argument. Unfortunately, they’ve set a dangerous precedent for future presidents. Of course, when a Dem acts in the same manner, they will jump to the front of the line to remove he or she from office in a heartbeat. This is such a travesty.


  2. Very impressive companion pieces, Jeff. I learned a lot— including about the earlier Trump (who would have thought?) and the history of snake oil.

    Your descriptions of the reasons people fall for charlatans brought me back to a situation I was in years ago that didn’t have religious trappings. The National Consumers League was trying to develop a network to prevent senior citizens from being defrauded over the telephone. I was involved with a collaborative organization. We convened attorneys general from nearly every state, and several of them observed that people who had been defrauded would fall for the same scheme repeatedly— because they were lonely, hopeful, or greedy. When I watch people at trump’s rallies, I think that in some ways he’s created an odd family of believers whose presence reinforces one another and meets some of those same needs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Annie. Yes, his rallies are full of ‘true believers.’ It’s horrifying, to tell you the truth.
      Speaking of for fraudsters, my mother was very quick to send a check to just about every charity that called her. Us kids always told her she should cut it out, but never listened. This was in her later years when she was living on nothing but Social Security and a very small pension. Eventually, my sister ended up taking over much of her bill paying and what not. It’s a sad thing, really. Definitely older people who live alone are susceptible. And some of these people clearly know how to manipulate them. Trump clearly falls into that category. He, and they, should be ashamed. But, we know he especially is incapable of shame!


  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    A few weeks ago, I shared a piece by Jeff about religion from a personal perspective. Today, I would like to share a piece he wrote around that time for an online publication that I think you will find quite interesting! Thank you, Jeff, for this post and your permission to share!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing!!.. 🙂 before my late wife’s passing, she were visited by a Chaplain.. he ask her if she had a religion, she said “No”, he then ask her if she believed in the “hereafter” and she said “Yes”.. he said “Good, it is what is in the heart that matters, not a name above a door”…. one does not need to follow a leader to believe in something… 🙂

    “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief” Gerry Spence

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the nod, Jeff. It seems providential–kismet-like–that our two essays arrived in Debra’s inbox almost simultaneously. As a disillusioned evangelical, what pains me most about my fellow evangelicals is their absolute intransigence regarding Trump. I have repeatedly presented them with indisputable facts about his corruption, but they refuse to listen. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
    On the up side, Trump’s election opened my eyes to the danger posed by the unholy marriage of evangelicals to the Republican Party. I officially left the corrupt Republican Party in early 2017, and I’m approaching the point of abandoning the increasingly corrupt evangelical movement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You Gerry! Great to hear from you. Yes, the timing was something huh? I think it worked well. Debra and I spoke for several minutes on the Sunday before she published our pieces. She was really struck by your take on things. I mean, Trump has what, 75% approval from evangelicals? It’s interesting to hear from the other 25%. Those who I would call the ‘reasonable’ evangelicals. I would not blame you if you decided to leave the movement.
      I was raised by an evangelical mother and a non-religious father. Me and my siblings all left the church as soon as we were old enough to think for ourselves. I haven’t been back since and have never regretted it. I wrote a piece on my blog a few weeks ago explaining my ‘indoctrination’ at an early age and my efforts to leave the church. Here is a link to that post, if you might be interested: https://onthefencevoters.com/2020/01/09/religion-a-personal-perspective/
      Thanks for responding Gerry. Your piece was excellent and you’re a wonderful writer. Take care!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I had not heard it. Thanks for the link. Beautiful and poignant song. Great words to live by. 81% is an astonishing figure when you think about it. Really, nothing Trump does will dampen that support, I feel. Really, it’s one of the most confounding things I can ever remember in politics. This guy has so many wrapped around his finger. Scary.


  6. I just finished reading your personal perspective. Well thought out and truthful without being condemning or snarky toward those still within evangelicalism. I, too had a religious mother and an atheist father. However, while I was in college, I did come to truly believe in all the basic tenets of evangelical Christianity. I still do believe in most of them. But I am utterly disillusioned with what evangelical Christianity has become because of the 81 percent. By the way, one of the key tenets of evangelicalism (and of “Christianity” in general) is, I am convinced, absolutely false. That tenet is that unbelievers will spend eternity roasting in hell. The Bible plainly teaches otherwise, but trying to get stubborn, ignorant people to re-examine their beliefs is mostly futile. Have a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jerry. Yes, You’re definitely a reasonable evangelical. I know there are a few of you out there! I wish and hope more will speak out as you have so eloquently done. I thought the piece a few months ago from Christianity Today was an important first step. I read the scathing opinion of Trump and thought to myself…Now that’s what we need to hear! And btw…thanks for following my blog! I noticed that you’re starting a new blog on wordpress perhaps? If so, I’ll definitely follow when you’re up and running.


    1. Thank you for the kind words. Hey, you know a lot! OMG…Paula White? The fact she has an official title..spiritual advisor to the president…just goes to show you how far into the abyss we’ve gone.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s