If you watch the American right you will become aware that they have a preoccupation with “grifters”: “the grifter” is equivalent to the left’s use of the term “racist”—the term means “in-group defector”. Since the right is concerned with integrity, its vocabulary centres on the idea of a traitor—someone who welshes on a deal. The left is more concerned that its members demonstrate socially approved sympathy for marginal holy groups, such as blacks and women; hence they settle on “racist” to designate an out-group member—leftist politicians reveal their “implicit racism” and become out-group.
While it is true that the European right occasionally uses the term “grifter”, the term carries most weight with the Americans; and I think this is due to the nature of America and her history. America is a large country that was sparsely settled and lawless for long periods of time. The figure of the patent medicine man who turns up in a small town, sells quack medicine, and then rides across the state line before anyone realises that they have been fooled is quintessentially American—a figure from Twain.
In the sense of a Cormac McCarthy novel, the frontier was more “rightist” than the Enlightenment constitution that nominally governed the civilised East; for long periods of time, parts of America were ruled by the primal law—the lone man with a gun, the cowboy or private eye. These areas were more like a Conan the Barbarian novel than a model “Enlightened” society. Conan was a hero conceived in a small Texas town during an oil boom, a time when everyone carried guns and justice was rough and ready. The flip side to this clean barbarism is the grifter or flim-flam man who cons the rubes; these figures, skewered by H.L. Mencken, eventually drained to the continent’s plughole, Los Angeles, where they now sell lifestyles on TikTok or books called Orangutang Mindset to the globe’s yokels. The American ideal of “the hustle”—the “side hustle” Americans use to signal industry and trustworthiness to each other—is always a few shades away from outright fraud.
America is the land of reinvention; if you fail in the Old World, head to America—the suggested option in Crime and Punishment. At Ellis Island, you can give yourself a new name; in the terms of secular Protestant baptism, you are reborn in the New World—the City on the Hill. The cynical European says that blood does not change at Ellis Island and blood will out, but this is an unAmerican attitude. The rebirth is a lie: grifters gonna grift; in a land devoted to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not God or blood—the citizenry degenerates into the atomised rat-fight, “Screw you, buddy. I’ve got mine. This is fucking America! Trash of the world on top! Fucking A!”
The Founding Fathers were the original grifters, of course. I recently watched a Utah Republican praise the subsidiarity principle: government should take place at the lowest level possible. “This is why we took power back from the Crown, especially after the wars with the French and the Indians, the Crown increased taxation…” Well, the Crown increased taxation to pay for wars to protect the colonists; the colonists did not want to pay their end, so they welshed on the deal.
The Americans defected on the deal, and they have been in a state of defection ever since. This is why the gangster and the grifter are archetypal American figures, Europe never knew “gangsterism”. America was founded on betrayal—and, as regards the slaves, hypocrisy. The hypocrisy embedded in the American Revolution, its false Enlightenment egalitarianism, with regards to slavery will eventually destroy America; the motive force that destabilises America today remains the race issue. So it is unwise to trust an American; they are socialised into treachery—and this is why they are obsessed with the idea that they have been sold out by grifters for money, to betray is to be American.