By Colleen O'Connor
Can you tell the difference between a forgery and a masterpiece?
Between counterfeit and real? Between a fraud and a friend?
Or between legitimacy and illegitimacy?
Soon, every American will inherit the grave responsibility of becoming an expert in just such matters.
This is no small task, as most “experts” will confirm.
Take the case of John Myatt—a guy who Britain’s Independent newspaper reported “crafted counterfeit works that were passed off as authentic masters and sold to auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Before he was imprisoned in 1995, he sold 200 works in the style of Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall as originals.” And got rich.
Fakes—all—just copied by a talented, master mimic.
Myatt was so accomplished that wealthy individuals, who owned the genuine articles, commissioned him to produce fakes, gilt frames and all—not to sell off to the gullible, but for fun.
As he explained, “I have one customer in America who has an original Van Gogh hung behind bulletproof glass and he asked me to produce another for him, to hang next to it. None of his visitors has been able to tell the difference.”
This is precisely the predicament that American voters face in the coming year: How to tell the difference between real and replica?
The 2018 Edleman Trust Barometer, based on its annual global survey results, calls this “the existential challenge of our times.”
Which side of the partisan news and the political “elites” are to be believed, especially with “63 percent of these poll respondents saying they can’t tell the difference between good journalism and rumor and falsehoods.”
Assuming both are at fault–and none are without merits–how can a voter decide what to do?
In other words, assume everybody is right and it is all true. Now what?
For example, is the White House really a “day care center” where aides are always trying to control the “Baby-in-Chief,” as Trump has been called?
Or, is there a “deep state conspiracy,” led by the intelligence agencies and the Democratic Party, threatening our democracy?
Is the Trump presidency legitimate or illegitimate?
Is the White House a veritable wrecking ball or an incubator for change?
And then there are the multiple investigations about collusion, conspiracy to obstruct justice and Russian meddling.
Which of the “propaganda” echo chambers is to be believed?
As the 2018 midterm elections approach, this “battle for the truth” now requires Americans to become their own “experts.”
No small task. History needs a verdict.
The President himself seems conflicted. As he rages about “fake news,” “crooked Hillary,” and the “witch hunt,” he simultaneously undermines his stature with obvious falsehoods–the inaugural crowd size, millions of illegal aliens voting, winning the popular vote, and over 2,000 other lies or gross exaggerations– while taking whirling dervish policy positions, and often exhibiting unnecessarily cruel behavior.
These are all unforced errors.
Hence, the voters will have to look beyond the President’s behavior, the media’s bias, the meddling Russians bots, the propaganda machines, and the dueling political parties’ soap operas, to judge for themselves.
Whom to trust? And how to know?
Can you determine an original from a fake? Are you an expert?
Back to Myatt. How did he fool so many auction houses?
The secret he said, was simple. “You ‘hypnotise’ the original painting,” he said. “Scrutinize the original time and again.” You copy the best by copying the best.
Think about it. There are about 80 of Myatt’s fakes still in circulation, with many owners unaware that they have been the victim of a fraud estimated to be worth many millions of dollars
His fraud was so masterful that his art was featured at a Harrod’s exhibition titled “Genuine Fake Masterpieces.”
Which leaves one question to be answered.
Is Donald Trump really the masterpiece he believes he is?
Or the genuine fake he fears he is?
It will be up to the American people to decide.
History demands an answer. And the unintended consequences of that answer may be a more vibrant form of direct democracy.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.
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