Gratitude as Privilege

Donald Trump was born to a wealthy family, inherited a fortune, and made even more money in his own business empire. Trump depicted himself at the top of the economic pyramid, a successful self-made businessman who dispensed favors to others instead of receiving them from others. He depicted himself as the ultimate benefactor. He told this story in The Art of the Deal, a peculiar cross between a memoir and a self-help book. Even a quick perusal of it reveals a man who sees the world as a stage for quid pro quo. Life is a deal in which a confident “winner” gets other people to do what he wants—and makes a lot of money while doing it.

The Art of the Deal is a riff on the ancient idea of noblesse oblige, the notion that the rich are obligated by their social standing to take care of those beneath them. Noblesse oblige has, in principle, fueled much charitable giving and social good, but it is based on privilege and that the greatest benefactors come from the upper classes. Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump made claims of giving magnificent gifts to nonprofits and charities. He also insisted that because he was among the world’s wealthiest businessmen, he was not beholden to favors. His wealth insulated him from paybacks to benefactors, because he did not need anything: “By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am only working for the people of the U.S.!”

From “Grateful” by Diana Butler Bass – HarperOne