Trump and the Unbearable Pain of Self-Abnegation

Self-abnegation is a fancy term that aptly sums up, like no other word, the concept of denying oneself. It is a difficult and unpleasant thing to do.

As a human being, I can decry all kinds of things I don’t like – cauliflower, humidity, reality TV, phony evangelists – with a great degree of comfort. In some ways, the sum total of our dislikes even forms a significant part of our “self.”

What’s much harder, though, is denying parts of my self, particularly when they form an integral part of my identity. It might be easy to take swipes at myself for being overweight, or a procrastinator, or a poor sleeper.

But what if I were asked to deny my maleness, my chosen profession, or the color of my skin? That, of course, would come much closer to self-abnegation and self-abnegation is hard.

And that, of course, leads us back to Trump.

Over the course of the last several days virtually everyone has asked the question “why won’t he denounce white supremacist neo-Nazis”? You and I could do it with ease and in no time flat.  How hard could it be to muster just a little bit of revulsion at seeing a bunch of white losers with torches and Nazi flags?  Even Jeff Sessions, a man whose sympathies pretty clearly lie with the worst-of-the-worst, can muster enough gumption to denounce the Charlottesville marchers.

Yet Trump hasn’t been able to do it. On Saturday, just after the murderous hit-and-run, Trump was prattling on about “violence that’s on many sides” and urging Americans to “cherish our history,” meaning Lee, Stonewall Jackson and all they stood for and continue to stand for.  And, in case you didn’t get the point, he insisted on repeating the words “on many sides.”

And when he finally does denounce them when the pressure gets too great, he will grudgingly read it from a teleprompter like he’s making a hostage tape. Why is this so hard for Trump?

Many more-or-less rational explanations have been offered: (1) he’s in thrall to his alt-right advisors, Bannon, Miller, et al.; (2) he doesn’t want to alienate a part of his ever-shrinking base; (3) he wants to make sure to take a swipe at the Left protestors too, etc.

But that’s not it.

Rather white supremacy is Trump’s heritage and his identity. It’s in his DNA.  This month is the 90th Anniversary of Trump’s father, Fred, getting arrested at a KKK Rally in Queens.  The Trumps made their money red-lining neighborhoods and refusing to sell or rent to African-Americans (and there’s a 1975 federal consent decree resulting from it).  Trump first public “cause” unrelated to his real estate business and fancy life-style, was his condemnation of the so-called Central Park 5, a group of African-American kids accused – wrongly it turned out – of raping a jogger.  Trump took out full-page ads in the New York papers demanding return of the death penalty.

And, of course, Trump was the noisiest of the Birthers, claiming that our first African-American president was illegitimate because he was born not in the United States but in Africa. The tawdry list could go on and on.

For Trump, decrying white supremacy would be the ultimate act of self-abnegation, a rejection of his patrimony, of the basis of his fortune, and of his foundational political existence. You might as well ask Derek Jeter to condemn the Yankees or Mick Jagger the Rolling Stones.

It is his identify and it will not be denied, at least by Trump himself.