Captain Khan, Sacrifice, and the Virtue of Selfishness

Lots of ridicule and outrage (both faux and genuine) over Donald Trump’s statement that he has “sacrificed” for his country (implicitly like Captain Khan did), because “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

What Trump said was absurd, but it is an absurdity that forms the essential groundwork for GOP public philosophy, dependent as it is on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. It is, of course, ridiculous to equate “sacrifice” with “financial success,” as Trump did. But in Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian world, this is about the only definition that one could use. Remember that Rand’s philosophical testament honors “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Self-interest is the only moral touchstone. The idea of sacrificing oneself to a greater good is literally unintelligible. The only type of “sacrifice” that makes sense is giving up something now to get something else later. So for Trump to say that he has “sacrificed” because he has “worked hard” or created “thousands of jobs” (which is doubtful) makes perfect sense from this perspective: he gave up something now (his time, workers’ salaries assuming they got paid) for greater rewards later. This is also why Mitt Romney could say four years ago that although none of his five sons were in the military, they “served” the country by campaigning for their Dad. People like Capt. Khan, who sacrificed himself for his country, aren’t heroes in this scheme: they are suckers.

I doubt whether Trump has read anything by Ayn Rand, because he basically doesn’t read anything. But he doesn’t need to read Rand: he LIVES it. The tougher call is for someone like Ryan, who believes in Ayn Rand, but can’t really say so, so as always he resorts to dissembling. But as always, Trump’s statement here is not surprising, and only represents carrying out Republican economic and political premises to their logical conclusion.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

19 thoughts on “Captain Khan, Sacrifice, and the Virtue of Selfishness”

  1. "So for Trump to say that he has “sacrificed” because he has “worked hard” or created “thousands of jobs” (which is doubtful)"

    Ok, I gather that you don't have any particular respect for businessmen, or deferred gratification. Fine. But you really think he built all those buildings without hiring anybody to do the work?

    You don't have to actually like him, in order to refrain from becoming deranged, you know.

    1. I'll bet even you can figure out the difference between "hiring a contractor" and "creating a job" if you think really, really hard on it for perhaps 30-45 seconds.

      1. In the normal language of these things, if you engage in some economic transaction which requires somebody to be hired, you've "Created a job". Yes, Trump has created jobs.

        Again, don't let your dislike for him become derangement. Outside of the finance industry, it's pretty hard to get that wealthy without employing a lot of people.

        1. In the normal language of these things, if you engage in some economic transaction which requires somebody to be hired, you've "Created a job".

          This is Humpty Dumpty nonsense. I hired a contractor last year to put an entirely new roof on my house. I did not create a single job.

          1. Of course you didn't. You just created the demand for the job. In Republican orthodoxy, that doesn't make you the job creator. The "job creator" is the middleman who connects the supply to the demand, extracts a hefty cut for himself, and then views the laborers he's using as moochers who owe him their gratitude.

            Also? The new Republican orthodoxy is that if you paid that contractor's bill in full, you're a sucker. Real job creators tie their creditors up in court until they settle for pennies on the dollar, frequently going out of business as a consequence.

        2. Actually it would have been quite easy for Trump to get even wealthier without ever hiring as much as a janitor. By reasonable accounts all he had to do was invest his inheritance in the S&P500 and he would be wealthier than he is, with much less trouble.

          The man has left a trail of bankrupt companies and unpaid bills behind him and has likely created a fair amount of unemployment in the process. He's no business wizard.

    2. Ethical business folk are great. It's just that they are not "sacrificing." They are advancing their own self interest, and sometimes… that of others too. Some of them even become respectable and admired members of a community. It's just not a "sacrifice." This is a dumb argument we are having. And again, I blame Trump, it is really getting Orwellian. Is black going to be white next?

      1. I can actually agree with some of that, and Rand would certainly have agreed that deferred gratification wasn't "sacrifice". It's rather disturbing that you don't get credit for doing something good unless doing it harms you.

        But it was the "creates jobs" part I was taking issue with, and it's just nuts to claim somebody running a multi-billion dollar business empire, and not one of those "shuffle the numbers" financial businesses, either, isn't creating jobs.

        Over and over I've been seeing it this election, to a greater extent than past: The determination to deny that somebody you don't want elected has any good points at all. It's apparently not enough to think that he has lousy policies. He has to be stupid and have bad breath, too.

        1. "It's rather disturbing that you don't get credit for doing something good unless doing it harms you."

          Of course you get credit for doing something good even if it doesn't harm you. You just don't get to call it sacrifice.

        2. Putting aside the usual lack of self-awareness here (anyone want to go through Bellmore's posts on the Clintons or Obama? No?) it's hilarious/sad to see you rushing to defend a man whose every public behavior paints him as almost completely execrable and insufferable because Somebody Was Mean To A Businessman.

        3. Creating jobs?

          Employment increases, or decreases, are mostly a function of macroeconomic forces and demand. Trump built a building, and that involved hiring a lot of construction workers? OK.

          But he wouldn't have built it had there not been a demand for the building, and if he hadn't someone else might have. In any case, I find it odd that someone – you- who thinks stimulus doesn't work to reduce unemployment thinks that Trump borrowing to build creates jobs, but the government doing the same thing doesn't.

          1. It's part and parcel of the whole right-wing/CEO worldview, in which they need to view themselves as the Masters of the Universe, the axles upon which the economic wheels turn, the Atlases who have not shrugged. Top-rate tax cuts pay for themselves, "job creation" is not a demand-driven phenomenon but an act of the economic movers, people without a net federal tax liability "pay no taxes," etc., etc., etc.

        4. What do you regard as Trump's good points?

          Business skill? Despite his claims he has had four corporate bankruptcies. You may think he has 'created jobs," but what did those bankruptcies destroy. He has a trail of unpaid vendors – your minimization of that notwithstanding. That can, and has, destroyed businesses, or forced them to lay off workers. What are the great accomplishments? And what would he have accomplished without the substantial boost he got from family wealth?

          Generosity? We don't know, do we, since we haven't seen his tax returns, though it does appear that some of his "philanthropy" consists of letting people play golf for free.

          Loyalty? Three wives.

          Courage? What courageous thing has he done?

          1. Yes, he's had four corporate bankruptcies, Chapter 11 bankruptcies. (Where you reorganize, but the business survives.) If you have four businesses, and four of them go bankrupt, you're probably a lousy businessman. If you have a hundred, and four go bankrupt? Not so much. Nobody is 100% successful in the real business world.

            Hm, how many successful businesses has Hillary been involved in? I believe Whitewater was something of a bust. Did she ever run any successful businesses?

            Yes, I think that, as a successful businessman, (Whether you think he has $3 billion or $10 billion, he certainly is a successful businessman.) Trump has demonstrated considerable competency.

            What would he have accomplished without a boost from his family? Hard to say, but it's worth noting that he actually ran his father's business for him for a number of years before inheriting, so he actually deserves some of the credit for his family's boost.

          2. Yes, Brett. I know what Chapter 11 is. You "reorganize" and lose all or a good part of your stake in the business. And your creditors take a hit. It's not a good outcome.

            Further, while it's true that not everybody is 100% successful, that doesn't mean everyone has had four, or even one, bankruptcy. I've been in business most of my career. I've had some flops, but they were closed down, or sold off cheaply, and the bills paid. How many bankruptcies has Warren Buffett had? Even serial failure Fiorina didn't manage to take HP into Chapter 11.

            Are you claiming Triump has had 100 successful businesses? Can you name 30? 10?

            Your capacity for making excuses for Trump seems infinite.

            Hillary does not claim to be a wonderful genius businesswoman, so your criticism makes no sense. It's just a random blind thrust. She is a lawyer by trade. Whitewater, I believe, was, for the Clintons, more an investment – a bad one, sort of like a loan to Trump – than a company they operated.

            If your criterion for a "successful businessman" is "he has a lot of money," then OK. If it's, he made a lot of money through his own efforts in business by being smart about what he was doing, then it's open to question. You dio have to have a standard, you know. Is Paris Hilton a business genius?

          3. No. The boost just came earlier.

            Look. If someone stakes me to $100 million and twenty-five years later I've turned it into $200 million I really haven't accomplished very much. No one would call me a great investor, or businessman, or whatever. In fact, it would be fair to say I was inept.

            Until we have actual data about Trump's starting point and current status we have no idea whether "he certainly is a successful businessman." Where to get the data we need? Well, there's one person who has it, and he's not telling. Wonder why?

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