No one is better at deprecating President Trump than President Trump — just ask him. And yet for all the boasting and braggadocio, the man who never saw a building he didn’t want to slap his name on has lately exposed a surprising humble streak. Earlier this month during the Kavanaugh confirmation circus, Trump answered a reporter’s question about alcohol by explaining, “I can honestly say I’ve never had a beer in my life. It’s one of my only good traits.” As the reporters laughed, he asked, “Can you imagine if I had, what a mess I’d be? I’d be the world’s worst.” The exchange revealed a frank self-assessment from the greatest self-promoter of his age.
Last week, in an Oval Office meeting following the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from a Turkish prison, Brunson told Trump, “We would like to pray for you. We pray for you often as a family. My wife and I pray for you.” Trump responded, “Well, I need it probably more than anybody in this room. So I would — that would be very nice. Thank you.” Trump’s fear and trembling before the Almighty stood in stark contrast to the self-adulation of Barack Obama, who once defined sin as “being out of alignment with my values.”
These candid remarks and others speak to the surprising humility of President Trump, who may brag about his achievements but at least has never claimed the power to calm the seas and heal the planet. While Barack Obama described his campaign in messianic terms —“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!”, “Yes we can!”— President Trump puts it plainly as a value proposition. “Let’s say we have a really bad time in three weeks from now [in the midterm elections]. Your 401Ks are going to go down tremendously. People are going to lose wealth. If they don’t go out and vote then they have themselves to blame.”
Trump will not calm the seas, he won’t save the planet, and he won’t absolve you of your sins. He’s Donald Trump, and he holds himself in too realistic a regard for that sort of messianic claptrap. In this respect, our Founding Fathers would approve, as Publius observed in Federalist 51:
There is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.
President Trump possesses a high degree of all these qualities, depraved and meritorious. Unlike his self-adoring predecessor, he admits as much. You can vote for his agenda, or you can reject it. Whatever the outcome, it takes a humble politician to admit that our system leaves governance ultimately to the citizens. Come what may, voters have no one to blame but themselves.