The stories we tell ourselves, far more than the evidence of scientific analysis, determine how we interpret the world around us. Accordingly, the fate of capitalism rests in no small measure on the real and imagined characters whose ethics and efforts, at any given time, seem to embody the system. Whether the system is identified with Bill Gates or Bernie Madoff, Horatio Alger or Gordon Gekko, opinions about how exactly capitalism works, no less than its moral fitness, reflect the heroes and villains who drive these tales.
Whichever of these two designations best describes Donald J. Trump, he is clearly a chief protagonist, the world over, in the contemporary tale of capitalism. This has been clear enough since at least the spring of this year, when the man known to millions around the world for the lurid catchphrase “You’re fired!” became the first political novice from the business world to become a major party nominee for president since Wendell Willkie in 1940.
Given that presidential campaigns require a candidate to endlessly descant on economic matters, rather than read between the lines of his behavior, people can look to Trump himself as his own best interpreter. “I beat people,” the candidate explained to Fox News’s Sean Hannity shortly after he announced that he was running for president last year. “I win.” Hannity had inquired into Trump’s credentials to be commander in chief, but he might just as well have asked him about his strategic mindset for business negotiations. “We don’t have victories anymore,” Trump declared in his announcement speech the day before. “We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us.”