As the sun rises over Las Vegas each morning, its light illumines a building covered all in gold. Shining on the top floor, as if to rival the sun in its glory, is the name “Trump.” The hurried passers-by, small in comparison to the name written in giant letters, see their own image reflected in the fiery brilliance of the precious metal. The covetous among them may well think, “Here is a man who changes everything he touches into gold.”
Many worried Americans are looking not merely for a president but for a national savior. In the past, when America was still a republic of virtue, character mattered, as did competence and experience. Now one of the two leading candidates offers nothing more than personal attractiveness, a beautiful wife, immense celebrity and a vast fortune, in short, the sum total of the illusory goods which make up the American Dream.
But the American dream is built on the false principle that the well-being of the individual and the nation is improved through the pursuit of material goods. But as the pursuit of wealth increases, virtue necessarily decreases. Our founders warned us that the experiment that is America would fail when Americans came to make an idol out of money. They understood, as did the best political thinkers throughout the ages, that the unfettered pursuit of wealth produces a cold-heartedness, a love of deceit and a contempt for the rights of others.
These character flaws easily find an echo in harsh and uncharitable political opinions, though we must never expect any opinion expressed by an unbounded egotist to be honest and sincere. Such opinions are merely a lever with which the opportunist seeks to move a gullible public.
As De Tocqueville said, America must always be on guard against unworthy politicians who gain votes through flattery and by appealing to the base instincts of the American people. A leader, especially in times of crisis, is a reflection of the soul of the people. Good people will secure to themselves a good leader, and the contrary is true. In times of crisis, a people afflicted by the vices of greed, lust, pride and anger may very well elect a man who is the living embodiment of those vices.
If avarice or the love of money is truly the root of all evil, we may expect this root to branch out and blossom into various social ills, including the exploitation of workers, a striving toward ever-increasing efficiency for the sake of profit and the misdirection of human affection away from our fellow man and toward material goods. Nor should we exempt any of the other candidates from this criticism, because each of them, Democrat or Republican alike, shares the mistaken belief that increased prosperity or a more equitable distribution of wealth will solve all of America’s ills.
The sight of Trump’s hotel shining like the sun in the most corrupt city in America should tell us that gold has fire, but not the warmth of human charity. The fault of King Midas was not that he turned everything he touched into gold but instead that he destroyed first his own soul and then he destroyed the soul of others. Midas’s best-loved daughter felt this as she saw her own soft skin change into cold, hard metal.
There can be no greater folly than for a populist or a conservative to look to a billionaire to solve his country’s woes or for a patriot to vote for someone who views America as a business enterprise. A nation is not a corporation, nor are its citizens to be treated as little cogs and wheels in a vast money-making machine. The right candidate for president — and there may be none this election cycle, the best having already left the contest and the near-best soon to leave — will be someone who has a correct understanding of our society and the nature of man. That candidate will share the belief that the well-being of a nation proceeds from the life of the spirit and that a nation and its people are worth far more than soulless, lifeless clumps of gold.
Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.