In his 1965 novel “God Bless You, Mr Rosewater,” Kurt Vonnegut creates an intermezzo character, a young girl named Selena, a product of an orphanage who is obliged to work as a maid in the wealthy home of one of the orphanage’s patrons. Writing to the head of the orphanage, whom she affectionately calls “Daddy,” Selena sees her wealthy benefactors clearly, through the eyes of a wisdom that belies her years. “What gets me most about these people, Daddy,” Selena writes, “isn’t how ignorant they are, or how much they drink. It’s the way they have of thinking that everything nice in the world is a gift to the poor people from them or their ancestors.”
The matron of the house compels Selena to come to the rear porch and look at the sunset and, once witnessed, waits. At length, Selena thanks her. “I have since thanked her,” Selena continues, “for the ocean, the moon, the stars in the sky, and the United States Constitution.”
In a tedious digression Wednesday before workers at an Ohio tank factory, Donald Trump said of the late John McCain that he, Trump, “gave him the kind of funeral he wanted,” but, “didn’t get a thank you.” What conceivable flight of supercilious fantasy could possibly make a man, who was barred from even attending a funeral, conclude that the funeral itself owed its existence to him, never mind that he should be thanked for it?
As we see from Vonnegut, the conceit to take credit for everything and the presumption to be thanked for everything is nothing new. It’s really a feature of the powerful that is older than the Pharaohs. It is out of place in a Democracy, but never mind that. What is it doing in the addled brain of Donald Trump? Does Trump suffer from a God delusion?
We’ve seen nothing to suggest that he doesn’t. Trump has a near pathological aversion for admitting when he’s wrong, but even more than this, Trump has an overweening need to take credit. Credit for the economy, credit for the Kavanaugh appointment, credit for the tax bill (as long as it continues, largely, to be seen as good by its Trump-supporting victims living in poverty), credit for aviation safety (except when planes crash), hell, credit for coining the term “priming the pump.”
I wouldn’t mind any of this quite so much were it not for one thing, the thing that it all relentlessly tracks back to. Donald Trump is in charge of the most fearsome nuclear arsenal ever assembled by the human race. And he thinks he’s God. And so, too, do many of his followers.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.