How do we measure charitable contributions against one another? I believe that there in an example somewhere in the bible where a poor person contributes something modest and a rich person contributing significantly more. In the example the poor person is hailed as the more charitable of the two, since his contribution made up more of his assets than the contribution of the rich person. Percentage of total wealth is thus an example of how one can measure a charitable contribution. This however only concerns money or financial assets, what about time? How do you put a price on volunteer work? Opportunity costs, personal, reputational, relational and so on costs? I want to explore this question through a case study, the subject of which is US President Donald Trump.
I’ve seen clips from the Howard Stern show where Stern goes into detail about conversations he had with Trump prior to his electoral triumph. Stern urged Trump not to run for president, citing Trump’s luxurious lifestyle that he would have to give up as a key reason. On the surface this makes sense. Trump owns a large quantity of luxurious buildings, golf courses, a ridiculously luxurious private jet, helicopters and so on. He is blessed with a loving family, accomplished children and a stunning wife. No one would blame him for enjoying the fruits of a long and illustrious career in business and reality television. I remember reading earlier this year that Trump enjoyed a high likeability rating especially amongst minority viewers of The Apprentice. As we have seen, Trump decided to give all this up in order to run.
I want to postulate that Trump at least partly was motivated by what can be described as charitable motivations for running for the highest office in the US. That he did run despite the tremendous personal costs involved and the limited chances of victory, he had to have had deeper reasons for running. As the recent Forbes rich persons list has revealed, Trump hasn’t gained financially from winning the presidency. His net worth has decreased. His name has been dragged through the mud by an almost unified world press. Demonstrations and ill-will flourish against him. Combine this with the self-denial of hedonistic pleasures in the form of living a jet setting lifestyle filled with luxury and a man emerges that must have been motivated by his desire to serve the American people by providing competent leadership.
This doesn’t mean that Trump only had charitable reasons for running for office, it isn’t mutually exclusive with other motivating factors. Certainly, winning does represent “the ultimate revenge” as Omarosa said to PBS during an interview for a Frontline documentary. Hitting multiple birds with the same stone is simply a mark of efficiency. Getting “revenge” on Obama and the media/punditry following the 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner is probably one of the strongest motivators that drove Trump into finally making a serious run for the White House following the lukewarm attempt in 2000 for the Reform Party nomination. The energy Trump absorbed and basked in during the innumerable high energy campaign rallies might be another reason he decided to run. Over the course of the campaign from June 2015 until November 2016 millions of Americans have attended one or more rallies cheering Trump on. Had he foregone a run, he wouldn’t have been able to replicate this simply on his Apprentice fame alone.
An important component in measuring the “grandness” of charity is the purity of heart of the person offering either a financial contribution or a contribution of time. We can all understand that a sleazy business or celebrity that makes strategic contributions in order to fix damage to their reputations isn’t doing so out of the deep-seated goodness in their hearts. Anonymous contributions have always been recognized as greater than named contributions, because the contributor is doing it simply to help, not to reap admiration and accolades. The evidence speaks for itself, Trump does certainly fit into the “anonymous” category. Most people even now won’t recognize his run as an enormous act of charitable service to the American people.
To such people the “inner” reward is enough. In Trump’s case the purity of heart necessary is even greater, due to the fact that his act of service isn’t only unrecognized, he has been continually and vehemently slandered and attacked for it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, the relentless attacks continue. Trump had many opportunities to bow down and quit the race during campaign season. Few would have blamed him for stepping down following the many controversies of the campaign, that he stuck it out and waded through the unpleasantness from the media and his opponents speaks volumes about his character. As a society, we would greatly benefit from encouraging more selflessness and willingness to suffer and sacrifice to the greater good as displayed by the actions of Trump.