Donald Trump devoted a chunk of his infrastructure speech in Ohio yesterday to celebrating his decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the project’s track record, that may not have been wise, but the president isn’t exactly detail-oriented.
There was one part of Trump’s remarks, however, that stood out for me. From the transcript:
“So [the pipeline project] was dead for a couple of years, had no chance. I get elected, I approve it almost, like, in the first day, right at the very beginning.
“And I just say to myself, can you imagine the boss of whatever the hell company it is – who never actually called me to say thank you, but that’s OK. We’ll remember. [emphasis added]”
For now, let’s put aside the debate over Keystone on the merits. I think approving the project was a mistake, but we can renew that discussion at another time. What amazed me about the president’s comments was the insight into what he considers important.
Exerting practically no effort, Trump approved Keystone on his fourth day in office, Jan. 24, 2017. More than 13 months later, he’s not only bragging about the misguided policy; he’s also whining about not having received a personal thank-you call from the relevant oil executives.
“We’ll remember,” Trump said.
The obvious follow-up question is, why will he remember? What difference does it make whether some oil executive thanked Trump for doing what he wanted to do anyway?
The answer, I suspect, is understanding Trump’s unusual vision about the nature of public service. You’ve heard the expression, “A good deed is its own reward”? Donald Trump has apparently not heard that expression and has no use for the sentiment.
For the president, the reward for good deeds is … a reward. From his perspective, public service is about receiving praise, gratitude, and appreciative gestures. Trump cares about receiving credit – for anything and everything – above practically any other consideration, even when describing accomplishments he had nothing to do with.
When the president claimed, for example, to have helped free some UCLA athletes from a Chinese jail, he publicly called on them to thank him. After the federal response to Puerto Rico’s hurricane came under fire, the president complained about the “ingrates” who failed to thank him.
After Trump was caught in a fundraising controversy surrounding veterans charities, he felt sorry for himself in a very specific way: “Instead of being like, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone’s saying: ‘Who got it? Who got it? Who got it?’ And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing such a good job.”
And now the president is vowing to “remember” the lack of a thank-you call 13 months ago – because he’s clearly keeping track – as if that’s the important part of the Keystone story.