The wealthy benevolence of Donald Trump

Back in the day when the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for president sounded like—in fact, was—a bad joke, there already were people who supported the New York businessman’s presidential bid. Interestingly enough, the first person who wholeheartedly supported the man I met in California, a state where Republicans in general are about as scarce as non-hybrid taxicabs, for the lack of a better comparison.

The Trump supporter—let’s call him Dave, which may or may not have been his real name (I really don’t remember)—was my next-door neighbor, a native Hawaiian who had lived in California for a considerable amount of time. And one time I found us chatting in the parking lot about the prospective GOP nominees when he expressed his support for The Donald.

What came next was probably the most surreal argument for supporting any candidate in a democratic republic: Dave liked Trump because Trump, apparently, was benevolent.

Dave’s argument was that since Donald Trump was filthy rich, and since he grew up being filthy rich, and since he inherited all that wealth (i.e. didn’t have to work for it), he, for some reason, was benevolent in the sense of a king or a czar or an emperor, and would thus rule with a “benevolent” iron fist—probably as opposed to a malevolent one.

This is not a direct quote, but it went something like this: “All the other candidates are not rich or did not grown up being rich, so where does their benevolence come from?” As faulty as this entire argument is—as I said, America is a republic, not a kingdom—the one question I didn’t get an answer to was (if we toss aside all the absurdities in that claim), why on earth would a president even need to be benevolent? The U.S. president, an elected head of government, needs to be smart, efficient, diplomatic, charismatic, etc., etc.—but he sure as hell doesn’t need to be benevolent, whatever that might in today’s context even mean.

For some reason I remembered this discussion today when I was reading an article in today’s New York Times that had a very deep and profound look into the campaign of Donald Trump.

Here’s an excerpt:

On the more conventional presidential campaigns I have covered — George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney — the candidate’s mobile inner sanctum was a hive of activity, the advisers hovering constantly over their boss, rattling off the latest polling data or words of unsolicited advice from a big donor. On Trump’s plane, the aides spoke when spoken to and otherwise kept to their labors on their laptops.

Yes. Aides speaking when spoken to is, indeed, very king-like. But is it benevolent? Only when we think of Donald Trump as a pharaoh, the all-knowing deity who you just don’t address unless he addresses you.

Donald Trump speaking at a rally. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at a rally. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Or, what about your campaign manager addressing you as “sir”? The campaign manager is, basically, the closest person to the candidate in any campaign—he’s pretty close to being your best friend. If in a private conversation you’re not Donald (or even Don), but sir, then there is either something substantially wrong with your relationship, or you seriously think of yourself as a pharaoh. No wonder Corey Lewandowski is so angry at his life that he needs to get into physical fights with random people on campaign trail—his life sucks big time; and he knows perfectly well that after being Donald Trump’s campaign manager, his future is either very rosy in the White House, or, a lot more probably, a grumpy old former political advisor nobody in the world would ever hire.

And here’s another thing—if Donald Trump is “benevolent” because he’s filthy rich, then what if he really isn’t? Rich, I mean. He says he is. He says he’s worth over ten billion dollars. But the New Yorker magazine, partly quoting the Wall Street Journal’s recent analysis, begs to differ:

Take the Journal’s estimate of Trump’s pre-tax income in 2016: $160 million. Applying a federal tax rate of twenty per cent to this figure—and that’s a pretty low rate—would bring it down to $128 million. Grant and Mullins didn’t put a figure on Trump’s over-all wealth, but one simple way to value any business is to capitalize the income that it generates using an earnings multiple. If you take a multiple of twenty (which is high) and apply it to $128 million, you get a figure of $2.56 billion. Obviously, that’s a long way from ten billion dollars.

Again, from the New Yorker:

Forbes concluded that Trump was worth about $4.5 billion, while Bloomberg estimated $2.9 billion. The Forbes figure was high enough to put Trump in a tie at No. 324 on the magazine’s global ranking of billionaires. But far from thanking the magazine for this designation, which placed him alongside people like George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” and Leon Black, the private-equity investor, Trump was furious that his own estimate had been contradicted. “I think you’re trying to make me as poor as possible,” he told Forbes in October.

Naturally, these are just the analysts’ guestimates. But Donald Trump’s constant refusal to publish his tax returns leave ample ground to do exactly that—guess. And besides, if he actually were as rich as he claims to be, and as effective business leader as he says he is, then there would be no reason to hide his returns. In fact, the only reason to hide his returns is because he knows he’s either a lot poorer than he claims to be, or he has other aspects of his finances to hide.

Admitted, even if he’s worth 2.9 billion dollars, he’s still filthy rich. But why, then, lie about it? Is “benevolence” also in making oneself seem bigger and better than one really is? Or is this yet again a pharaoh-like behavior that is all about the ego and has nothing to do with actual benevolence?

The bottom line, of course, is that Donald Trump’s wealth doesn’t really matter in what he’s trying to accomplish for himself—and only himself (he doesn’t give a rat’s ass for America, or for its people; becoming president is only about him proving himself). One can be a kind person when one’s rich or poor; and one can be a profound asshole when one’s wealthy or penniless. Since the United States of America isn’t electing a king, one’s wealth-related benevolence or malevolence doesn’t matter one tiny bit.

But what matters is people’s belief in values that should not have a place in a democratic country, in a republic where the persons in power are elected the people who hold the ultimate say, the ultimate power. Whether Donald Trump is benevolent because he’s wealthy, or malevolent because he’s not as wealthy as he says—or, as common sense dictates, neither—what matters is what he does. And so far, what he does has been as repulsive as a dog owner refusing to pick up their dog’s feces from the street because they think they’re too privileged to live by the norms we the people have adopted for everyone’s better accommodation.

That’s not benevolence, that’s just being an asshole.

(Cross-posted on

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