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The Distinctly American Ethos of the Grifter

09/23/19 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/12/t-magazine/the-distinctly-american-ethos-of-the-grifter.html

GRIFTING IS ARGUABLY a natural, even inevitable byproduct of American democracy. The French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville, casting a gimlet eye on the brash young nation in “Democracy in America” (1835-40), wrote, “When all the prerogatives of birth and fortune have been abolished, when all professions are open to all and a man’s own energies may bring him to the top of any of them, an ambitious man may think it easy to launch on a great career and feel that he has been called to no common destiny.” But this is a delusion; with the expansion of opportunity comes a corresponding flattening of hopes, as ever more people compete for the same limited number of spots. And because nothing appears to stand in the way of success in this brave new world (at least the utopian vision of it), no acknowledged social or systemic bias, we are expected — nay, mandated — to rise, our worth measured not only by the height but the speed of our ascent. Failure is wholly individual; we are allowed to blame no one but ourselves if we fumble. No wonder de Tocqueville sensed despair in even the wealthiest Americans he met: “It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue prosperity and how they are ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it.”
Failure is built into grift; after all, if you get away with it, you’re no longer on the outside — you’re part of the system. What is the ultimate grift but to make good on your unlawful rewards and prove that you deserved them all along? We call that an American success story. We call that leaning in.



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