Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Few people could accuse of Donald Trump of lacking bravado. Whether it’s insulting John McCain for being captured in Vietnam or claiming to have made sacrifices for his country on a par with the parents of soldiers who gave their lives in war, Donald Trump lives in world where his own biography elevates him on a pedestal above all others. Trump believes that he alone can fix what ails the country, seeing himself as more a character in an Ayn Rand novel than a credible political candidate, a modern-day Howard Roark with no talent and even less compassion but an even better developed braggadocio.

Ultimately, however, Donald Trump is a coward. Not just for serving himself at the expense of others even as millions of Americans devoted their lives to causes greater than themselves on the battlefield, in the classroom, at the laboratory table and in the civic engagement hall. He is a coward because he cannot face the reality of what he has done with his life before an audience not prepared to idolize him.

Most people have core driving principles that inspire them to do great things and struggle onward in the face of adversity. For Trump, those principle are narcissism and hedonism. His stingy and selfish money-grabbing, his womanizing, his media attention-seeking, and now his political party-wrecking are all about making himself feel good and getting the maximum amount of attention for it. If Trump were to ever confess his sins, one could imagine him doing so with jaunty pride like Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister wine-boarding a nun: “I did it because it felt good.”

Trump’s outrageous insult to Khizr Khan, the father of a deceased veteran, falls into the same category. A normal person would be sympathetic to the Khans’ loss and appreciative of their service to the country, even if they disagreed with them politically. A humbler politician would have thanked the Khans and their son for their service to the country, then explained why his own policies would in theory benefit the country their son died to protect. A less narcissistic person would have had the moral courage to admit that he had not made personal sacrifices on the level of the Khans, but that he had spent his life trying to make the world a better place and would continue to do so as President.

But not Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t have the courage to be humble, nor does he have the life resume to even make a humble response possible. Because whatever Donald Trump has done with his life, it isn’t to make the world a better place. Even Karl Rove and Frank Luntz could reasonably claim to have spent their lives in the service of philosophical ideals and a vision of the world they believe in. But not Donald Trump. He lives only for himself.

That ethic can pass muster and win the day among the small sliver of Republican voters steeped in a venomous stew of prosperity gospel theology, objectivist philosophy and eliminationist politics. But it cannot work in a general election where voters expect more than raw greed and bigoted anger. To expand beyond his comfort zone would take a courage and openness to personal growth that Donald Trump lacks.

That is why, for all his bravado, Trump is already complaining about his debate schedule with Hillary Clinton–a move that, as we saw in the Republican primary, is a Trump first step to potentially dodging debates altogether. Trump knows that he won’t be able to hold his own against Clinton in front of a national audience, and he’s already laying the groundwork to duck out of one or more of them.

Over the next 100 days before the general election the public will get a chance to see Trump’s real character on display. If they can see past the schoolyard bully bluster, they will see one of the most abhorrent moral cowards to ever grace the campaign trail.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.