President Trump would like you to know that he is, really, a very selfless man. He does not seek power for his own sake. He is but a humble public servant — dulce et decorum est, you know — working diligently on the nation's behalf, putting in far more hours than he anticipated.
"I don't want to Win for myself, I only want to Win for the people," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning as part of a diatribe against an insufficiently toadying Fox News. It is hardly his first announcement of his own self-sacrifice. "I've given up a tremendous amount to run for president," he said in the spring of 2016. "I gave up two more seasons of Celebrity Apprentice." He doubled down on this message of personal endurance in that year's feud with a Gold Star family: "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard."
"Takes guts to do this, believe me," Trump further mused of his own campaign. "I could be having a very nice life right now. I don't have to be with you people, ranting and raving. Could have a very nice life." The same claim resurfaced nearly verbatim two years later at another rally. "I didn't need [the presidency]. I didn't need it!" the president said. "I had a very nice life. I used to get actually good press."
Ah, the press. The meanness of the press is a core part of Trump's selflessness narrative. He has a strong sense of being owed positive media attention, to the point that he feels he has been robbed when it does not arrive on schedule. Being president thus means constant victimhood, perpetual loss. And he suffers it all, willingly, to win on our behalf.
Trump is not alone in telling this story of sacrifice. His whole family, his eldest son has explained, "put on all these impositions on ourselves and essentially got no credit for actually doing that ... for doing the right thing." Fox News host Brian Kilmeade agrees. A public insult suffered by the president's other adult son, Eric Trump, is just "part of the sacrifice of the Trump family," he said in June. Greater love hath no man than this, I guess, that he get spit on in a restaurant because his dad's saving America.
I jest, but the messianic undertones are no joke. They resonate with his base. Trump "is sacrificing his life to save America from a new world order," an Ohio Trump supporter named Tina Callahan told The Washington Post this month.
"I think Donald Trump is willing to give up his personal fortune and to give of himself to resolve the dilemma that this country is in right now," said then-prospective Trump voter Joseph A. Giorgi in 2016.
"We could never thank you or your family enough for your father giving up his life to save us," effused another supporter in reply to a tweet from Donald Trump Jr.
"He's tried as hard as he can," insisted Trump fan Patricia Morgan to The Guardian. "He never stops working. He cares about the country and the people."
This mythology of Trump's salvific selflessness is baffling in two regards. First, it is obviously false. His entire public brand is victory and selfishness, triumphantly getting his and screwing anyone who stands in his way. He has long and often declared how much he likes to win. He "admitted he'd rather be remembered as a successful, rich winner than as a good husband," Piers Morgan wrote of a conversation with the future president in 2015. He famously promised to win so much as president that we'd say, "Please Mr. President, I have a headache. Please, don't win so much. This is getting terrible."
But the Trumpian sacrifice myth is also odd for its seemingly happy public coexistence alongside the evidence of its falsehood. His supporters tout his selflessness right alongside his selfishness. Interviews with pro-Trump evangelicals for example, frequently hit on a theme of Trump as an enforcer or bully seizing for his supporters what they want. He is praised for giving up his "nice life" for America and for his cutthroat instincts. He can simultaneously claim he's made immense sacrifices and that he's "greedy, greedy, greedy."
He is simultaneously losing and winning, our very own Schrödinger's candidate.