In his essay “Of Cripples” Montaigne wrote of gullibility, a curious word and I’ll return to it in a moment. Here is the master:
Truth and lies are faced alike; their port, taste, and proceedings are the same, and we look upon them with the same eye. I find that we are not only remiss in defending ourselves from deceit, but that we seek and offer ourselves to be gulled; we love to entangle ourselves in vanity, as a thing conformable to our being.
How I love the phrase “to be gulled”! Gull comes from Middle English “to swallow” or, and this is more interesting, to pretend to swallow—one imagines its first usage—“he gulled me with the proffered poisoned pill for I swear he’d swallowed it…” Gull is from “gole” which means throat. Some lies will stick in your gullet.
Truth and lies are faced alike so long as they appear or sound profitable. Gull capitalizes on wish. Desire is conformable with our being—is our being—and Montaigne, like Shakespeare, understood the dread implication of modernity: we’d rather be lied to than question our yearnings.
Montaigne never uses the word cripple in his essay. It appears only in his title—and so implicitly his readers are the cripples, all of them. All pretend to be someone or something they are not— soldiers, prelates, merchants, scholars…everyone is alike in his falseness so long as his vanity is conformable with being.
Cripples were everywhere in Montainge’s time. The blind were still thought to be uneducable and were turned out to beg. While the juridical blinding of criminals had largely ceased in Europe by the 17th century blindness in particular, but crippled-ness generally still carried the symbolism of thievery. Moreover, there were false cripples, a story as old as humanity itself.
“Crippled America” is the title of Donald Trump’s prevaricating book—his prose launcher, a festschrift to deceit. Trump uses the word crippled without irony. He means of course that America is helpless. He’s gulling on every page, challenging the credulous to swallow vanity as a port or taste in conformity with their unhappiness. Perhaps his motto should be “let them eat fake.”
You will find no real cripples in Trump’s book, save for those Montaigne saw, so very long ago.