Trump has no sense of cost. He never acknowledges it. Not ever. Not once. For him, acknowledging cost is a sign of weakness. (“Mexico is going to pay for it!”) And you cannot be a leader, in any sense of the word, unless you have a sense of cost. Real cost.
Just stop and think about it for a minute. Trump is the big “money” guy, right? So, let’s start with monetary cost:
One of the things Trump supporters love and respect about him is his business acumen. He’s a billionaire. But if one stops, just for a moment, to review how he became a billionaire, the entire argument falls apart. Because Donald Trump didn’t make those billions of dollars: his Dad, Fred Trump, did. And his Dad subsidized every single enterprise that Trump launched and, when each and every one of them failed, his Dad bailed him out.
That’s how Trump started as a businessman: his father gave him $14 million. This was not money earned over time, through hard work, or through some act of staggering genius. Fred Trump was the “genius” in this story. And Fred gave Donald a whole bunch of money. Receiving a ton of money and spending it does not make someone a great businessman. How could it? There wasn’t any sweat equity. There wasn’t the necessary investment of time, ingenuity, and effort to have earned that money.
There wasn’t any cost.
The same was true for Trump’s education. His father made sure he was accepted to one of the world’s most prestigious business schools, the Wharton School of Finance. Trump’s grades were mediocre but he was accepted anyway based on his father’s recommendations. His father paid for his schooling in its entirety.
While in school, Trump was drafted to fight in Vietnam but his father’s doctor wrote out a diagnosis of “bone spurs,” allowing him to avoid going to war. When he graduated, his grades were in the lower percentile of his class, yet he was able to transition smoothly into his role as CEO of his own company – the $14 million loan waiting for him.
His lack of effort in education cost him nothing.
The Vietnam War cost thousands of Americans their lives and, like his education, it cost Trump nothing. Needless to say, this is the same man who said he “doesn’t like people who get captured” in reference to American Prisoners of War. He felt perfectly comfortable saying that because he’s never been to war.
Trump knows nothing of its costs.
Once established in his new role as CEO of his very own real estate company, his company in New York hemorrhaged money, nearly going bankrupt. Luckily, Trump’s daddy bailed him out. When his casino went bankrupt, Trump’s daddy bailed him out again. When he filed Chapter 11 on multiple businesses – businesses that his father gave him money to start – Trump’s Dad bailed him out yet again, and again, and again.
Trump was able to do anything he wanted, any time, anywhere, without suffering consequences for his failures. He didn’t have to pay for them monetarily or in terms of physical hardship. He did not have to suffer any cost.
Someone who has no sense of cost is willing to risk everything, at any moment, because in their mind they aren’t risking anything. If they lose something, they assume someone else will replace it. From their point of view, there is no down side. From their point of view, they can only win. It is the reason why Trump always says he is “winning”. Why? Because if he loses, he knows that someone else will pick up the tab.
Throughout Trump’s entire life, the person to always pick up the tab was his Dad. In the private sector, such an arrangement between two family members is all well and good. By all means: let Daddy bail you out. But in the public sector? In the public sector, there is no “Daddy” to bail Trump out for his risky, “cost-free” assessments of his actions.
No. In the public sector, the person responsible for picking up the tab for risky, cavalier, grandiose investments is us. We pay the price. We pay the price in taxes, in debt, and in life and limb. We pay the price on the battlefield. Trump can do and say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, just like he always has. Why? Because he knows someone will bail him out.
This stark reality is reflected in literally everything Donald Trump does and says. It can be seen reflected in even seemingly innocuous details, such as how he talks. He says anything he wants because that’s what people who have never suffered consequences do: they do and say whatever they want. They can be lazy with what they say because doing otherwise would require effort – and effort, in their minds, is a cost incurred by someone else.
It is a large part of the reason his vocabulary is so shockingly simplistic and narrow. (The other part, of course, is dumbing it down so that a simple audience can understand him and buy whatever he sells. “He talks to the common man!” and “He sounds just like how I talk!”) Literally everything he describes is either “The Best” or “The Worst”. It is either a “Disaster” or “Tremendous”. It is a universe bereft of nuance.
And when he uses these descriptions, he repeats them over and over again, looping the phrases, talking as if he is imparting new, important information when, in actuality, he is simply repeating whatever he just said – as if the mere act of talking is the same as communicating something.
And why wouldn’t he? This blathering waste of time, in his mind, isn’t a waste of time at all.
But it is a waste of time. It is a waste of our time. It is a waste of all of our time because he has conveyed something in dozens of sentences that could have been conveyed in only one. He treats language like he treats his money. He can spend and spend and spend as if the rest of us have a bottomless well of time and mental bandwidth. He feels perfectly comfortable taking up everyone’s time and space with nothing of value whatsoever.
It is the reason he can chastise other people for being overweight when he, himself, is overweight: because our loss of breathing room doesn’t cost him anything. But if someone else takes up even an inch of his space, either physically or mentally? Then they’re “too fat”.
His most ardent supporters are eager to remind people that Trump is a great leader because he “Speaks his mind.” But what good is it if someone speaks their mind when they have nothing valuable to say?
And that, of course, brings us to Trump’s other communicational deficit: Value. The content of his messages are just as profligate as the quantity of the words wasted. It stands to reason: if every single thing a person describes is “the worst” then nothing is the worst. If everything is “the best” then nothing is the best. “Best” and “Worst” no longer have any meaning. Such a bankrupt economy of language spawned from Trump’s content-inflation is reminiscent of actual, real-world monetary inflation. What is one hundred thousand dollars of content worth if literally every single thing, no matter how trivial, costs a hundred thousand dollars?
How much value does a soldier’s life have in the eyes of Donald Trump if he describes their death as a “disaster” then (in the exact same day) describes an ill-fitting dress on a celebrity as a “disaster”? Again, the words have no meaning.
The same is true for his gestures. He flaps his arms with as much vigor describing a murdered child as he does when describing one of his many real estate deals. They have no value. He wastes his words, and gestures, as if spending them on any random topic doesn’t depreciate them, as if there is no such thing as waste.
As if there is no such thing as cost.
But, as many of us know, there is a cost. We know we are the ones who will have to pick up the tab. There is no “Fred Trump” to bail him out. We are supposed to be the guardians, the wards, the “adults in the room” to this man who doesn’t think his actions have consequences.
Which brings us to the last, most injurious debt the rest of us have to pay: the Truth. Trump has literally said and done something, in plain view of everyone, then denied he ever did it. This, by far, is the most dangerous and lethal debt we are racking up. It is by far the most insidious. Trump, of course, either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that it costs us.
Devaluing Truth erodes Trust. It erodes trust between you and me, between you and your neighbors, between friends and family alike.
But, even more than that, it is an insult. If someone does something right in front of you, then looks you right in the eyes and says “I didn’t do that,” it implies something much more severe: it is a dare.
It is a form of saying “Yeah. I did that. But if I said I didn’t do it, then what are you going to do about it?” And anyone who looks at you – you personally – and says “What are you going to do about it?” is a person who doesn’t believe you can do anything. It is someone who believes that, no matter what they do, there will be no consequences.
Not from you. Not from me. Not from anyone.
Throughout his entire life, this man has resided in a world devoid of consequences. Whenever he’s done something, whatever it may be, it hasn’t cost him anything. Not a dime. Not even a moment’s convenience.
Which is precisely why he can gamble with your money. With your job. With the jobs of countless farmers and steel workers. With your family’s well-being. With your safety. With your life. With all of our lives.
And if you don’t like it? Well…then so what? What are you going to do about it?
Because if Trump’s investment of your time, money and resources fails, and even gets you killed, then rest assured: it isn’t going to affect him one bit. Such extreme risk-taking never has. And it won’t this time, either.
You’re on the hook for all of it.
Does that sound like a “great deal”? No? Fine.
Then what are you going to do about it?
What are you going to do about it?