Donald Trump and the Collective Unconscious
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by Curtis Laforge
"If I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I'm the supergenius of all time" - Donald Trump
You might not believe this, but Donald Trump has quite an interest in psychology, and not just the junk that you might find at your local university. He is one of the great sales psychologists of all time, and has integrated a blend of schmooze, shrewdness, and persistence that has propelled him all the way to the Presidency of the United States.
Trump is a devoted student of Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist and thorn in the side of Sigmund Freud. Ironically, Jung also spent part of his career in construction. Trump, in his book, How to Get Rich, describes his interpretation of Jung: “Each of us has a persona. We need it for survival. It's the face we put on for public use, and it can be intentional or subconscious....It's a survival device.”
Of course, Trump added “subconscious” to Jung's more narrow definition of the persona, which is a “conscious” creation, and thus seems to be confusing “persona” with “psyche”. But then again, this is Trump. Psychologists are generally a bunch of blabbering fakes anyway. Besides, Trump is a social Darwinist and an evolutionary psychologist, and Carl Jung was an early proponent of this theory. (Note that Darwin originally proposed evolutionary psychology in Origin of Species).
Trump goes on with his Jungian interpretation: “The only danger is when people become their personae. That means something has been shut off somewhere along the line, and these people will end up hiding behind the false personality that works professionally....Fortunately I am aware of my public side as well as my private side, and, while I'm not one for hiding much, I know there are several dimensions in which I operate.”
Indeed. How much of Trump's ghost-written book, How to Get Rich, accurately reflects his real thoughts about Jung is hard to tell, as this could simply be intriguing filler introduced by his ghost writer. But Jung has had considerable influence in business psychology, and Trump's fascination could be real. But for the most part, he is suspicious of academics, and considers self-interest to be the prime motivator in all people, regardless of educational credentials. Note his thoughts on medical doctors:
“I have come to hate doctors. I think that, generally, they are a bunch of money-grubbing dogs. I can tell you about countless instances when doctors have ruined people's lives. As an example, a person that I am very fond of had a foot injury that I believe should have healed naturally, but instead, the doctor operated on it...Now, after over a year of convalescence, this person is having a hard time walking. This is one of many bad doctors I know of—there are too many others to name. I just can't stand the bastards.”
Trump has a darker view of human behavior than most, cultivated early in his life, in the backbiting world of real estate development in New York City. He has a particularly bad view of building contractors, and comically writes “I believe about twenty percent of what contractors say, and that's on a good day.” Trump describes an encounter with some of his mafia-connected contractors: “I make a call to some wise guy contractors who've been trying to cheat me. This can be a crummy business because of the scum of the earth that it attracts, but you have to do what you have to do.”
And anyone with experience with contractors would find it hard to argue. It's hard to tell which Trump dislikes more, politicians, the media, lawyers or contractors, but this attitude applies generally to all people. Writing about a fellow real estate associate, Trump says “he doesn't much trust people in business, which is the way I tend to be”. Trump continues: “Be paranoid. I know this observation doesn't make any of us sound very good, but let's face the fact that it's possible that even your best friend wants to steal your spouse and your money....We're worse than lions—at least they do it for food”.
Trump, often bragging about his own phantom education at the Wharton business school, is simultaneously suspicious of these same graduates, and goes off on the most famous of the business consulting firms, McKinsey: “I like consultants even less than I like committees”. Of course, Trump is currently practicing what he preaches, and his disdain for professional economists is reflected in his team of economic advisers. This cynicism extends across the entire occupational spectrum, from scientists all the way to artists, as Trump espouses the theory that famous artists are famous because of their ability for marketing and social connectivity with the right people.
So anyone of any significance is playing a game, and it's a game that relies as much on showmanship, timing, and personal marketing as it does competence. And while Trump is a crafty and creative businessman, he understands that his personal marketing has more to do with his success than anything else. Trump is an extrovert, and while this has gotten him into countless problems in public, it has been central to his success in business.
Trump, early on, wanted to be an actor, and was deciding between an education in economics or film school. It was indeed a battle between his ambitions for both wealth and fame. But he finally chose real estate, since there was higher reward and less risk, and his father's disdain for an acting career weighed heavily on Donald's choice. Besides, a little acting could still go a long way in real estate.
Witnessing his father's struggles in real estate had disillusioned Trump. Fred Trump specialized in middle-to-lower income construction, along with being a landlord, which was a difficult and sometimes dangerous business in the rent-controlled and highly political New York City. There was always trouble with tenants, banks, city and federal governments, mafia-infested unions, and wise-guy building contractors. Building was a marathon of seemingly endless obstacles and tense confrontations with everyone, with everyone's hand out waiting to be greased. While Fred Trump was very successful at it, he was an out-of-towner, and Donald longed for the greener pastures and bright lights of Manhattan.
But there was one big problem: real estate ate cash, especially Manhattan real estate. And there are none so cash-poor as the land-rich. Navigating Manhattan would force Trump to invent new angles that were both obstacle-ridden and mind-numbingly complex. All Trump's deals were cash-poor and much like a game of Mouse Trap, with every crazy piece magically working together at just the right time for any of it to work.
It also required the indefatigable Trump to establish business connections on a scale that very few people can imagine. Trump, being a natural extrovert, could effectively communicate with all walks of life, from wise-guy contractors to egotistical architects to crooked politicians to introverted engineers to people walking by on the street. Combined with his maniacal persistence and ability to rapidly throw together multiple solutions on a dime, he was a very difficult person to stop. And from working with his father, he was already acclimated to the dirty realities of New York City real estate development.
But to make large-scale Manhattan real estate projects come together while contributing almost no cash required a level of personal marketing as big as all Manhattan. And at this, Trump was the master of masters. Trump has never liked to take on the obvious opportunities in real estate, there was too much well-funded competition for these. He was after the unseen investments, something that nobody else had enough imagination for, which allowed him to cultivate his deals with less cash and little or no competition. He would need to rezone this, get the money for that, get the option for this, get the variance for that, get tax relief for this, and get these people to call those other people. And voila, after dealing directly with hundreds of people for months and sometimes years, he had the deal done.
All the while, Trump's ego was catching up with the Wall Street elite that can make or break any project, especially for the cash-starved Trump. Trump's pathological self-marketing dates back to his early Manhattan projects, where the risk and financial scale demanded an equal expansion of credibility. As Trump understood, most of these huge real estate deals are made without so much as filling out your name on a loan application. It was all about who you knew and your credibility to execute.
And this is where Trump's particular genius for managing the media started. And it felt good. Other than developing real estate and bedding females, Trump's favorite activity was to read about himself in the newspaper. But this did not just serve his narcissistic nature, it also helped him cultivate the image of a young and dynamic developer that got things done quickly and to the highest standards of the Manhattan elite.
Of course, Trump himself is no epicurean, and his personal tastes are much more proletarian: he hates opera, loves sports and junk food, and swears at wise-guy contractors. He is not-so-secretly very cheap, and projects his Trump brand while simultaneously cutting corners whenever he thinks it can't be detected. In fact, Trump won the Spy magazine “cheapest rich person contest”, after cashing a 13 cent check sent to him as a prank. (Actually, Trump tied with his friend and Saudi arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi for this honor).
But after the completion of Trump Tower, he believed that he had finally developed a “Trump brand”, which was all about Manhattan upscale living, and he played this up to whomever in the media he could get to talk to him. And plenty did. He was young, handsome, interesting, and controversial. And whatever was written about him, he read. If it was good, he thought is was great. If it was bad, then it wasn't as bad as no press at all. He constantly consumed newspaper media, for several hours every day, usually early in the morning. This is Trump's quiet time, where he maintains that he does his best thinking. These days, it's mainly spent with TV news and the internet.
Trump, in true salesman tradition, can be very flattering. He does this frequently, even as President. Flattery is a very practical and low cost investment, and one that he believes helps him prosper with his huge network of business and political contacts. You can see this today in his unrequited flattery of Paul Ryan, someone Trump is extremely suspicious of, but badly needs his cooperation. Trump initiates this flattery in public, which will build some sort of transactional relationship he will cash in on in the future.
Trump's guiding principle of social conduct is attitudinal reciprocity. He displays this with pretty much everyone, as he does in his controversial bromance with Vladimir Putin: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country”. As Trump explains best, “I'm very good to people who are good to me. But when people treat me badly or unfairly, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”
Trump is very aware of his own polarizing personality: “people either liked me a lot, or they didn't like me at all”. Such is the life of alphas. Alphas exist to establish a dominance hierarchy with themselves at the top. The price of this behavior is polarization. But no worries, it's survival of the fittest. Trump goes full-blown Darwinist in his book, Think Big.
"We may live in houses in the suburbs but our minds and emotions are still only a short step out of the jungle. In primitive times women clung to the strongest males for protection. They did not take any chances with a nobody, low-status male who did not have the means to house them, protect them, and feed them and their offspring. High-status males displayed their prowess through their kick-ass attitudes. They were not afraid to think for themselves and make their own decisions. They did not give a crap about what other people in the tribe thought. That kind of attitude was and still is associated with the kind of men women find attractive. It may not be politically correct to say but who cares. It is common sense and it's true and always will be."
This is the real Trump. And this dark attitude seems to have gotten worse. Surviving in the world of New York and Atlantic City real estate development is certainly a soulless experience: mafia controlled unions and contractors, critical newspapers, dirty politicians, backstabbing bankers, and rent-controlled tenants. Trump sometimes feels defeated by it all, but one particular incident seems to have scarred Trump beyond all others. And that was in the early 1990s, when his Atlantic City casino empire was on the brink of collapse. Trump writes about the humiliation he experienced:
“The media had me for lunch....I'll never forget the worst moment. It was 3 A.M. Citibank phoned me at my home in Trump Tower. They wanted me to come over to their office immediately to negotiate new terms with some foreign banks—three of the ninety-nine banks to whom I owed billions....There were no cabs, so I walked fifteen blocks to Citibank. By the time I got there, I was drenched. That was the low point.”
This nuclear meltdown would deeply poison Trump's view of the media and his own business network, whom he felt betrayed him at his greatest time of need. It would also dramatically impact his subsequent investment strategy and he would pursue the less cash-dependent licensing of the “Trump brand” all over the world. Despite having a wary yet symbiotic relationship with the media in his early career, Trump's subsequent media confrontations became harsher and more litigious.
Around this time, Trump had become acquainted with someone that would have as much an impact on his public persona as Carl Jung. And that was Stern. Howard Stern. Trump was a big Don Imus fan, and found “shock” radio not only entertaining, but also an outlet for his extroverted self-promotion. When Stern, an arch-enemy of Imus, came to the forefront of the New York radio market, Trump marveled at how closely Stern mirrored his own private thoughts, and how successful Stern was at doing it. As controversial and politically-incorrect as Stern was, he should have been ran out of town. But he wasn't. Instead, he was successful. Very successful.
Stern, on a daily basis, exposed his true unedited inner thoughts, wrapped in a thick veneer of irreverent humor. And these weren't thoughts acceptable in polite society. They could be sexual, angry, narcissistic, self-doubting, insightful, maliciously joyful, bigoted, atheistic, empathetic, cruel, and often about as politically incorrect as one can get. But Stern's continual interleaving of humor disarmed the political incorrectness to the point where you couldn't tell if Stern agreed with what he was saying. It was brilliant. And Trump saw it all happen.
Trump was a devoted follower of Stern, often crashing his radio show and seeking his friendship. Trump saw the marketing value of Stern's public controversy, political incorrectness, and ongoing personal conflicts, and many of Trump's shocking campaign statements can be attributed directly to Stern's humorous political diatribes. For example, the capturing of the Iraqi oil fields for American exploitation was originally a Stern rant meant more as entertaining controversy than Stern's real political philosophy. Another Stern rant was the hostage taking of the families of terrorists, which was again entertaining controversy, and something that Trump would use during his campaign.
Trump's contention that he never supported the Iraqi war is essentially true. Trump, like many liberal politicians at that time, was publicly, but half-heartedly, in agreement. There is certainly no reason for an international hotelier to promote warfare anywhere, as it was bad for business, and Trump had a keen interest in extending his empire into the Middle East.
Stern's vicious public conflicts were the inspiration for Trump's, who selected some of the same adversaries as Stern, such as Rosie O'Donnell. At this time, Trump adopted Stern's aggressive style of personal ridicule, normally reserved for one's most private thoughts. For Stern, any personal physical defect would be insulted. Trump followed this faithfully, and the press followed these public battles as if they were major stories.
Trump also adopted Stern's unpredictable “stream of consciousness” speaking style, although not nearly as effective as Stern was at it. Trump, formerly a more contemplative and monotonic speaker, admired Stern's ability to hold the interest of his audience, something that Trump felt was beneficial for his own business. This involved a variety of techniques, including the constant teasing of his on-air associates, the hyperbolic rants on any and all subjects, the unpredictability of what he would say next, and the subtext of humor that seemed to pervade even the most serious subjects. Stern, above all, was an excellent observer of human behavior, and Trump had a similar gift.
Trump also credits his good friend, Regis Philbin, with his effectiveness as a public speaker. Trump hates giving canned speeches, because “it's usually boring”. Trump's theories on public speaking have been very successful: “look for something in common [with your audience] and lead with it....When you are on the podium, you are an entertainer....Study Regis Philbin. He is relaxed and funny, and he always relates to his audiences....Be a good storyteller....Think on your feet....Have a good time.”
Republican politicians are generally a wooden bunch, and exhibit low levels of affective language and emotional recognition. They are usually monotonic, rigid, and use few hand gestures while speaking, and even if one agrees with their politics, they would still be wondering what was on the other channel. But the animated Trump's unpredictability and his irreverent style of politically-incorrect rhetoric kept viewers riveted to their TV sets. He was a ratings machine.
The Trump rallies are almost like rock concerts, where certain phrases induce audience participation as if they were singing along to a favorite song. Indeed, Trump would ironically play one of his favorite songs, “You Can't Always Get What You Want” at the end of his rallies as if he was channeling Mick Jagger. Trump is closely watching his audience, and will get visibly unsettled if he feels they are not responding well. He will then launch into one of his “greatest hits”, like “Lock her up”, to get them yelling again.
Facts can be really boring, but hyperbole never. Hyperbole is a mainstay of the Trump rally, or almost anything Trump says in public. This is quite deliberate, and Trump even has his children speaking this way. Even though Trump can slip into unrecoverable incoherence at times, he's great theater, and one of the key reasons he is able to get so much free press. Like all great salesmen, Trump's style is more important than his substance.
Trump has been a globalist thinker since the very beginning, and it was only a matter of time since he left his home court of New York and took his brand to the rest of the world. Firmly acclimated to the unseemly world of real estate development, Trump wasn't going to shy away from the dark cesspools that waited for him across the globe. Indeed, there were tons of dark funny money cycling through a vast web of shell corporations just waiting for a nice real estate venture to hide in, and Trump's name was still hot in a lot of countries. Both New York and Atlantic City were saturated with the Trump brand anyway, and his enemies were powerful and watching his every move.
Two things bothered Trump from the very beginning: international trade and nuclear weapons. And to Trump, they were related. Long before complaining about China for unfair trading practices, Trump was bashing Japan. For someone so interested in real estate and gaming, his Japan bashing didn't seem to follow, but the Japanese were using their dollar surpluses to buy Manhattan real estate, and driving up the prices. And worse, according to Trump, they didn't have to spend money on an army or nuclear weapons, which gave Japan an unfair advantage in making regular products, like cars. Unfair trading policies and the lack of nuclear proliferation were not good for America, or even Trump's businesses for that matter.
But Trump hadn't yet fully developed his kamikaze style of generating public controversy. That is, until he heard his favorite New York radio host, Howard Stern. For a long time, there had been the strong scent of racial bias among some of the Trump family. In the early 1970s, Trump and his father Fred were successfully sued by the Federal government for racial discrimination in renting their apartments. Further, in 1927, Fred was arrested (not convicted) for attending a KKK rally. If indeed Donald Trump was bigoted, to publicly air his private biases was tantamount to suicide, and he was careful.
Howard Stern routinely dispensed ethnic humor on his radio show, and nothing happened to him. How Stern managed to avoid what would quickly dispatch lesser men was the ability to make fun of everybody, including his own Jewish heritage. Stern was an equal opportunity offender, and would just smile when called a “hooked-nose Jew bastard” as if it was his first name. After two decades of media political correctness, Stern's show confirmed that bigotry was still widespread. If anything, it had gotten worse. And particularly among the Stern fans, which were predominately male and very similar to the Trump demographic, ethnic bias was almost universal. Along with the propensity to follow strong leaders.
Stern had once coined the term “least racist person” to describe someone that had no apparent racial bias, whom Stern marveled at as if he just stumbled upon the first unicorn. This was something that Trump picked up on and used many years later to describe himself when questioned about his own racial biases.
But America was turning in Trump's favor after 9/11. For one, the Republican electorate had, overnight, converted their lingering contempt for Russia into contempt towards Muslims. The only problem was that the Republican political elite were not as enthusiastic, which constituted another wedge between the people and the politicians, just like with Medicare and Social Security. Second, the population of illegal immigrants, 3.5 million in 1990, shot up to 12.2 million in 2007.
Since the Republican political elite (and their donors) like cheap labor, they turned a blind eye to the empathetic Democrats and their Swiss cheese politics on illegal immigration. To make things even worse, NAFTA, signed into law in 1994, was a big contributor to the immigrant problem. NAFTA decimated the small Mexican farmers to the tune of two million displaced peasants, many of them heading north with no other place to go, only to be subjected to the low wage confines of rural mega-farms and inner-city American factories.
But the trifecta in all this was the outsourcing of American jobs, which began to erode the manufacturing infrastructure way back in the 1970s. One of Trump's long time business associates, Jack Welch, CEO of GE, was an early proponent of “shareholders-first” school of money, which prioritized the interests of the GE stockholders over the jobs of American workers. The outsourcing of manufacturing was on, and America would experience a steady decline in manufacturing jobs, with a brief increase from 1994-2000 (immediately after the signing of NAFTA). But after 2000, it was in full swing again, led by the global communications revolution that made the world seem 100 times smaller. Ironically, Trump appointed Jack Welch, one of America's first job killers, to his Strategic and Policy Forum to create American jobs.
The bottom line in all this mess was the destruction of the American middle class, which started losing ground concurrent with the outsourcing of manufacturing American jobs back in the 1970s. The trend was remarkable, and reached a crescendo during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, which swept Barack Obama into the White House and converted the GOP into political roadkill in 2008. But only for a few years.
Obama was putty in the hands of a global capitalism that could switch countries in a matter of months to take advantage of a small 5% cost differential. How does one reverse investment trends when the whole idea of capitalism was basically a floating crap game where human welfare was an afterthought to corporate survival? And while Obama survived in 2012, his party did not. Republicans were on the march again. But there was a difference this time—the electorate and the Republican political elites had never been more estranged. The Republican politicians loved this new global capitalism: more profits, less corporate taxes, and less regulations. What were these working-stiff conservatives complaining about, anyway? Don't they still love freedom and liberty? But unfortunately for this recently branded Republican “elite”, no more Bushes need apply here.
In the shadows of this middle class death spiral was an evolving Trump, converting himself into a full-blown global capitalist that was now more likely to license his “Trump brand” in foreign countries than to actually do the risky and troublesome development himself. If ever there was a global capitalist, it was Trump, and most of his side products employed cheap foreign labor. And foreign money was harder to trace than domestic.
Trump had always been musing the Presidency. But like most Trump decisions, which had multiple potential outcomes, there had to be some sort of demonstrable gain with each outcome. If he won, he won. If he lost, he still won. Maybe even more than if he won. And in 2000, the new Reform Party would allow him much easier access than either of the calcified Republican or Democratic political machines.
Running for the Reform Party nomination in 2000 gave Trump the insight into the marketing value of a racially charged campaign. Pat Buchanan, the front runner and eventual nominee of the Reform Party, ran a campaign platform similar to Trump's 2016 version. Trump claimed that Buchanan was a Hitler sympathizer that welcomed support of David Duke (who supported Trump in 2016), and socially regressive with his anti-abortion and anti-gay rhetoric.
And sure enough, Trump lost and won. The impact on his businesses was positive. Even still, Trump exited the campaign quickly, and said that if he won the nomination, he would ask for “an immediate recount”. Trump did not act like his brief stint as a politician was something that he enjoyed that much, and said that it "doesn't compare with completing one of the great skyscrapers of Manhattan”. Trump, even for the extra money, was not eager to jump back into politics, at least not for the sake of actually winning.
Trump waited until 2015 to formally take another shot, this time as a member of the Republican Party, which now had so many candidates that even a dark horse could make noise. And just like his 2000 run, there were rumors of another publicity stunt. Trump was unhappy with his “The Apprentice” deal and its decline in ratings, and was perhaps using his candidacy to increase his bargaining position with NBC. This is very possible, since Trump's skeleton campaign staff did not appear to be anything but a front for a fake candidacy. Trump, even after some initial campaign successes, only gave himself a 30% chance of winning, very reasonable considering Trump's usual standard of over-selling. He even seemed relieved that it was only a 30% chance.
But the fragmented right side of the electorate, after decades of middle class carnage, was ready for him. They wanted a charismatic messiah that would free them from bleeding-heart liberal political correctness and the Republican pandering to the globalist tax-obsessed elite. And the ticket to this show was the simmering right-wing racial strife that greatly escalated during the Obama Presidency. If there ever was a Jungian “collective subconscious”, racial prejudice was it. And it was only made worse when people were struggling financially. Trump understood this better than anyone, and he wasn't afraid of being called a racist or losing any election. It was go time. At the very worst he'd be elected President. That wouldn't be so bad, would it?
Trump's 2016 campaign adopted Pat Buchanan's controversial anti-immigration and racially-tinged America-first rhetoric, along with selected “shocking” political positions from Howard Stern (e.g. torture and oil expropriation), and then attacked the Republican establishment as if he were a fiery left-wing Democrat. Trump racially framed the NAFTA and TPP trade agreements and supported universal health care in the face of universal Republican opposition. Trump even took on Fox News, which was suicide to any Republican candidate.
And to the horror of the Republican establishment, Trump even courted Putin. Trump, in 2000, immediately after Putin assumed the Russian presidency, said that Russia is "totally mixed up" for placing "people nobody ever even heard of" in charge of missiles. Of course, this initial shot at Putin was completely reversed by 2016. The billions in untraceable international funny money and its need to be entangled in real estate ventures was way too big to be ignored.
After running a reasonable facsimile of a political campaign, Trump's charisma and message took over with the right side of the electorate. Even Fox News got on board. Tax repeals, here we come. Surprising even himself, he tried to recall his original thinking on what would happen if he actually won the Presidency. And it wasn't well thought out. What would it mean to his beloved business and family? What about all his old scandals? His new scandals? Too many to remember. And what would the press do to him now? And why am I thinking about all this stuff now? It's too fucking late.
And, in the perfect storm of American politics in November, 2016, he won. Trump had harnessed Jung's collective subconscious, and rode it all the way into the White House. Trump would recount his victory as if he were an athlete recounting the big game. It was his greatest personal moment. There he was, watching the election returns, and then one by one, the states that no Republican had ever won, Trump won. And he would recall it all many times in public, because to an extrovert, it was only real to him if he could tell people about it.
Trump is the Transactional President. Ideology is for the little people. Everything is a transaction. You give me this, I give you that. You screw me, I screw you. It's simple. Trump would love to deal with the Democrats. But they have nothing but complaints, and Trump has plenty of those. The Republicans are playing Trump much smarter. They are going along, turning their heads with every crazy tweet and legal issue that would launch a dozen investigations for a Democrat. Sure, they could impeach him, but why risk a 2018 demolition of their hard fought national dominance? Just hang it over his head and then play dumb to the media.
Deep inside Trump is a little voice. It's his conscience. It knows right from wrong. You saw it when Trump talked about the needless suffering in Iraq. You saw it when he talked about universal health care back in 2000. You saw it when Trump refused to embarrass a fumbling Ben Carson by politely waiting his turn to enter the debate stage. You saw it when Trump said “I don't like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see”.
Trump's conscience and competitiveness have fought a million battles, but the smart money has always been on his competitiveness. But then again, Trump is near the end of his life, and surely must be reflecting on the legacy he will be leaving to family and country. And surely Trump must have thought about how proud his father, Fred, would be of him.
Trump attributes his sense of showmanship to his mother, Mary Trump. One day, Trump's mother was watching Queen Elizabeth's coronation on TV, hopelessly lost in the spectacle and pageantry of this defining moment in British history. But not Fred. Donald's disgusted father could not take it anymore, and barked “For Christ's sake Mary. Enough is enough, turn it off. They're all a bunch of con artists”.