‘Always try to be the little guy. That way, they don’t see you comin’ – FBI wiretap transcript of Carlo Gambino, head of the Gambino crime family, New York, speaking to a newly ‘made’ mafioso at his initiation ceremony.
It takes a lot to get a porcupine excited. Nearly always, you’ll find it hunched up, huddled in a corner, not moving and only if you go real close will you notice its torso expanding and contracting with every breath.
The porcupine is a low-key, unassuming animal, making hardly a sound but go to close, try to touch his bristles and you will live to regret it. The bristles are not smooth but have tiny razor sharp hooks that won’t let go until they leave you with an ugly gash. Just leave a porcupine alone and you’ll be fine.
The same holds for some men I have read about. Two men, in fact.
The first was a Roman, born in 10 BC in Gaul (in present day Lyon, France) and he went by the name of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, known among casual students of history like myself simply as Claudius.
Claudius had an illustrious pedigree. Nephew of Emperor Tiberius (the guy who was in power when Jesus was crucified) and he was also the youngest son of Antonia who was Marc Antony’s daughter. That is not all – the tyrannical emperor, Nero, was his adopted son.
Claudius was the ancient Roman version of a ‘Washington insider’, oh yeah. And being in the ‘swamp’ he navigated the treacherous world of Roman politics to become the Emperor of Rome which he ruled quite adroitly, until he was poisoned by his own wife, Agrippina, since she wanted her own son, Nero, to become emperor.
A lot was happening at that point in time as Rome established itself as the leader of the civilized world and Claudius was in the thick of it all.
To those who knew him, Claudius came across as a spineless wimp, short, effeminate, squeaky, unwilling to raise his voice when he spoke. And when he did talk, he had an unsure stutter and disgusting spittle flew from his mouth. Sickly, his nose was continuously running and he was coughing and sneezing all the time. Emperor material? Are you kidding me?
Under his nephew Caligula’s reign, Claudius was grudgingly made a consul which was a largely ceremonial post (something like the governor of an Indian province), but that didn’t stop others at the court from jeering at him all the time.
When Caligula was assassinated in AD 41, Claudius fled to one of the apartments inside the palace and hid behind a curtain, fearing for his life. He was discovered by members of the Praetorian Guard, a corps of elite soldiers who were charged with the emperor’s personal security, kind of like Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards or India’s ITBP. In the Roman scheme of things however, the prefects of the Praetorian Guards were powerful kingmakers.
Aiming to rule, with him as a puppet, the prefects proposed Claudius as the next emperor. Though they did not like it, the Roman senate went along as they did not want to antagonize the Praetorian Guards. Thus Claudius was the first Roman emperor who was not selected by the senate.
His wimpy nature and his physical infirmities are what saved his life from the post-Caligula purge of the upper echelons of Roman elite. He wasn’t recognized as a threat. Yet, this little wimp of a guy ruled Rome for 13 years, during which time Rome saw unprecedented stability, economic growth and territorial expansion. History sees Claudius as one of the most successful Roman emperors of all time.
19 centuries later, around the same region where Claudius held court, was born another ‘little guy’, in Palermo (Sicily). As a puny boy, he seemed a callow youth whom no one saw as being destined to make anything out of his life. When he was 17, with Sicily reeling from a decade of draught and economic decline, he stole away in a freighter to the US.
Like Claudius, this man too went on to become an emperor in his own right. Only, in his case it wasn’t a country, but a tightly-knit and murderous fraternity. The members of the fraternity didn’t just call him an emperor, but as a sign of respect and fear that he generated for a while in the 1940s and 50s, he was known as the Capo di tutti Capi, or ‘boss of all bosses’.
Carlo ‘Don Carlo’ Gambino was arguably one of the most powerful American mob bosses in history and also one of a handful of mafia bosses who managed to die naturally, of old age, in his own bed.
A diminutive man with beedy eyes, a large nose and a mild, pleasant and deferential demeanor, Gambino was anything but imposing in stature. Joe Bonnano, a compatriot of Gambino’s and one of the powerful heads of the five New York crime families of the 50s, once called Gambino a ‘squirrel of a man’. Maybe he had the looks of a squirrel but in Gambino’s case, looks were definitely misleading, for he in fact had the heart of a daring cheetah, the cunning of a fox and the venom of a viper.
To wade through the vicious world of the mafioso and be able to reach the very pinnacle, keeping at bay and earning the respect of the legends of the time such as, Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky, needed a special kind of nerve and only Don Carlo had that. Gambino had the rare ability to see two moves ahead and act without hesitation when he saw an advantage. His mantra was ‘when you want to get at the other guy, first make him believe you are giving in to what he wants’.
While the other mafia bosses lead ostentatious lives, owning palatial mansions, flashy limos and strings of high-priced mistresses, Gambino was a singularly unpretentious man who lived in a modest two-storey brick house in Brooklyn that he shared with his wife of 40 years, the only difference being that the house was inside a heavily guarded cul-de-sac, with the other buildings owned and occupied by trusted family men (an aspect that was recorded by Mario Puzo, in his mafia opus ‘The Godfather’).
At the height of his reign as Capo di Tutti Capi, Carlo Gambino is said to amassed a fortune that was worth upwards of a billion ill-gotten dollars. His underboss, Aniello Dellacroce once quoted Gambino exclaiming exultantly,” Well, what do you know, we are bigger than US Steel!” (The line was later used by the character, Hyman Roth, in the Francis Ford Coppola hit ‘ The Godfather- Part II).
Now let’s look at another ‘little man’……..
“I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High” – Lucifer, aka the Satan, in Isaiah 14:12-14.
Outwardly self-deprecating, subservient and loyal, here’s another man who is destined to follow in the footsteps of Emperor Claudius and Carlo Gambino.
His face, even when this man is smiling, creased with a carefully crafted frown of deep reassuring concern, he has the mild and courteous manners that both, Claudius and Gambino, were famous for. And just like them, he has maintained good relations with not only his political friends but even his enemies. To all of them, he is a guy ‘you can go and talk to’. His ever present disarming smile draws people to him and makes them want to believe in him.
But if my fears come true, in a very short time from now he will come up from behind to become one of the most powerful and the most deceitful and devilish Presidents that America has ever known. Though he will not admit it openly, the above Bible quote is the guiding mantra for this guy.
Meet Michael Richard Pence, current Vice President, evangelical Christian nutcase extraordinaire and habitual, pathological, straight-faced liar-in-chief of the United States of America.
Find what I’m suggesting hard to believe? Not if you recall that, for almost a decade while he went about drugging unwitting females and forcibly having sex with their unconscious bodies, America used to affectionately call serial sexual predator, Bill Cosby, ‘America’s Dad’.
Let’s step back a bit. I mean, virtually everyone lies when we interact or communicate with others. I’d read somewhere that people tell on average, one or two lies every day. Many of these lies are harmless, like giving a spouse or friend on Facebook a compliment we really don’t mean.
There is a category of lies however that, when mixed in with actual facts, can be used to deceive, while technically remaining believable. Politicians frequently employ such distortions to influence their constituencies. Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino has given this kind of deceit a name – paltering, in her article in the HBR “There’s a Word for Using Truthful Facts to Deceive: Paltering”.
In this sense, Pence is turning out to be one of the most insidious palterers of all time. Every word he utters to the press is a carefully crafted lie, couched in a cocoon of verifiable but out of context fact. Unlike his boss, Donald Trump, an incompetent evil who wears his scarred heart on his sleeve, Pence is a sharp Machiavellian consensus-forming evil, with the potential to do America real long-term harm. If Ted Cruz suddenly turned unassuming and pleasant, you’d have Mike Pence.
The primary indications of a deceitful personality are signs of over-the-top, cringe producing sanctimony. Here are some Pence quotes that will make you roll your eyes…..
“I never eat alone with a woman other than my wife, Karen and I won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by my side, either.” – US Vice President, Michael Richard Pence, in a 2002 interview to The Hill
“I try to spend a little bit of time on my knees every day”
– Mike Pence, on when he is alone with Donald Trump (no, I am kidding. He was referring to his faux evangelist outer shell)
Like outright bold-faced lies, paltering is an active form of deception, the only difference being the use of truthful statements. Take for instance Pence’s comments when asked what the real reason behind the FBI Director, James Comey’s firing was….
“It’s very simple. He came to work, sat down and wrote out a recommendation then he brought that recommendation to the president…”, Pence said, referring to Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein’s memo which triggered the firing. That is all true in fact. Rosenstein really did all those things.
If his orange-haired bozo boss hadn’t bragged to Lester Holt of NBC that he had wanted to fire Comey all along, with or without the Rosenstein memo, Pence might have gotten away with at least claiming that he hadn’t been in the loop.
Likewise, there have been other bald-faced lies (such as his ignorance of the actual depth of Mike Flynn’s contacts with the Russian Ambassador), but let’s not waste time going through each. There are just so many little pieces of deceit that trail Mike Pence like confetti.
Here’s the thing about why folks choose to palter – it allows them to maintain an image of themselves as honest and trustworthy individuals. In some sense, we all have that urge. We care about being seen by others as solid, honest folk. In fact, when it comes to honesty, we generally believe we are more honest than others. Mike Pence is no different, the only thing being that he is a breath away from the Presidency.
There are many, on both sides of the aisle – who look at Vice President Pence and see President Pence, possibly sooner than later. For wistful Democrats, it would be the end result of President Trump stepping aside or being impeached and for wistful Republicans, Pence would be seen as the messiah who will bring the Republican Party out of the rut.
Who knows, if Pence should ever get to be President, maybe America would eventually be governed by a Christian version of ‘Wahhabi Islam’, where folks other than Judeo-Christians would be considered apostates and denied certain rights, like the right to vote; where any relationships other than straight heterosexual ones would be deemed criminal and the nine justices of the US Supreme Court, would be selected based upon their evangelical credentials. Maybe only preachers shall be allowed to be Supreme Court justices.
One thing looks certain to me – Michael Richard Pence will slowly and lovingly shepherd America’s dumb masses into the Dark Ages, turning America into a sanctimonious inward-looking fundamentalist white evangelical Christian nation.
Isn’t that Lucifer’s ultimate goal?