“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
When I heard Khizr Khan, father of an Army captain killed in combat in Iraq, address Donald Trump with those words, I was struck by how close they come to the heart of the problem Trump presents.
I’ve spent the last few months becoming continually more baffled by the words erupting from Trump’s mouth – and even more by the support they have stirred up among his followers.
My initial impressions of him were that he was a know-nothing narcissist driven entirely by his insatiable ego – and that his black hole of selfishness would be so obvious to Americans that it would cause his political demise.
Instead, he has become a true demagogue, with a terrifying horde of supporters ready not only to mimic and defend his rhetoric but to act on his dangerous demands.
Among the most ardent of his supporters, his selfishness is a badge of courage, a sign that he will be relentless in pursing his agenda. And they are right – he has been and will be single-mindedly devoted to getting what he wants.
But they also believe his agenda includes their well-being and the well-being of those they love.
And this is where they are deceived.
There’s no question that some degree of self-importance and personal ambition are motivating factors in the rise of any leader. An when it comes to the American presidency, it takes a pretty high opinion of yourself to believe you are capable of running the world’s most powerful country.
But what most of our leaders – Democrat and Republican – understand is that their success depends on their ability to sacrifice. They have to be able to give their time without immediate reward. They have to be able to suppress their ego when their character or intelligence or patriotism or citizenship are denigrated or denied. They have to be willing to serve, to actively promote what they perceive is a common good bigger than themselves.
Donald Trump has never sacrificed anything or anyone. He has no ability to sacrifice anything or anyone. He doesn’t hide this. He is proud of it.
His agenda is to serve Donald Trump. He will be relentless in pursuing it. As long as the needs of his supporters and those they love align with the promotion of his own interests, his agenda will include them. But it will go no further than that.
Donald Trump is dangerous in so many ways. He’s thin-skinned and reckless. He has no control over what he says or does. He may be the least diplomatic person ever to run for office in America. He’s cruel and petty. He’s racist and bigoted. He’s unquestionably dictatorial.
But I think his inability to sacrifice is among the most dangerous of his faults. In fact, I think it is the cause of many of them.
His selfishness is patent. He makes no effort to disguise it. It has brought him this far and could bring him even further. What I ardently hope is that the people who recognize the power of his selfishness come to understand that it will never serve them.