One of last week's top quotes came from Donald Trump's interview on ABC's Good Morning America. Trump is thinking out loud about running for president, and that was the main topic under discussion when Ashley Banfield interviewed him aboard his private jet. When asked about finances, he assured her that he could put up the preliminary funds himself: ". . . [P]art of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich. So if I need $600 million, I can put up $600 million myself. That's a huge advantage." That rumbling sound across the media was the ironic chuckle with one eyebrow raised. That Donald! Always good for local color!
His speculation about Barack Obama's birthplace generated the most reaction, but "the beauty of me" fetched them as well. Who but the Donald would say such a thing? As self-absorbed a culture as we are, comments so boldly solipsistic are still considered bad form: Public figures are to at least take a stab at self-effacement, whether or not they mean it. But Trump says: Here I am, take it or leave it. Brash, artless, and uncomplicated. A Trump presidency would be agonizing-the office tends to gobble up personality, rather than vice-versa-but a Trump candidacy might be interesting.
Whatever happens, the statement bears a second look. Namely, look at what he considers beautiful. It might have been a throwaway comment, not to be taken apart and examined, but I suspect that on a fundamental level he does see his wealth as a source of beauty. And in popular sentiment, he's absolutely right. That beauty is marred by resentment, but who wouldn't be in Trump's thousand-dollar loafers as opposed to Joe Blow's? What's interesting is that he located the beauty outside himself. Personal assets like aggressiveness and vision were vital factors in acquiring all that wealth, but he's pointing to the effect rather than the cause.
In that sense, he's as American as apple pie. Our opportunity ethic and lack of hereditary caste has encouraged us to rank ourselves according to achievement. We locate our beauty in books sold or points scored or degrees earned or offices achieved-all owing a lot to talent or skill, but also (more than we'd like to admit) to luck and timing. Even Donald Trump, in a moment of candor, would attribute some of his "beauty" to being in the right place at the right time. He's a blow-dried blowhard in the opinion of some, but in one respect he's far too modest.
For his beauty, and ours, is lodged in our souls through no effort of our own: It's the stamp of God's image. Our ugliness consists in forgetting that-either by seeing no beauty or worth in an individual, or assessing their attractiveness (or our own) from the outside.