It’s a classic story, really. A a man, for it is often a man, makes it to one of the highest, most revered, most powerful positions possible in his society. He has all these resources and opportunities at his fingertips, and yet, something is still wrong. He realizes that it’s not enough.
Thus he continues, always still looking for more, for the next great thing. But his efforts are futile. This is it. This is the end of the road. In the mortal world of man, he cannot climb any higher. He will still never win his father’s approval. Power and popularity slaps him in the face and reminds him that it’s not love. He stands at the top and finds he is still as utterly alone as he was at the bottom and feels the hollowness.
He’s come so far, stepped on so many people to get here, he should be satisfied. Others got here. They did great things. People loved them for it. But him? His discontent churns within himself. So the answer is obvious — he must stay on top. The only way to go is down, and that is not an option. They will never be able to relegate him to the margins of history. He will be great because he willed it so. If he cannot have approval, if he cannot have love, he will settle for fear and power.
But is he happy?
This story generally ends one of three ways:
1. Badly. For him; for those he abused in his path; and for those he continues to trample on in his desperate hold to cling to his place. It’s a negative feedback loop and a downward spiral. The peasants starved while he was locked safe in his castle. The surviving ones broke in and ate him. All empires crumble.
2. Someone looks him in the eyes and says, finally, that they love him, not for what he can do for them, not for his connections or power, but for who he is. This can shift his very sense of identity; this would rearrange how he sees himself. Unlike the position he has obtained, this is something he has never had a chance to taste. Being genuinely loved is something that calls to all of us, and other achievements pale in comparison. But the trick in this ending is that it is perhaps the hardest truth for the protagonist to swallow: the idea that someone loves you for you. It’s not a question of whether or not someone genuinely loves him, it’s a question of whether or not he would choose to believe it.
3. He awakens one day and truly sees the web of connections and his place in it, and how twisted it’s become. He feels remorse. He feels regret. He sees the potential worth of his own life and how it has been squandered thus far. He mourns for the future that did not come to pass and grieves for the lack of substantial value in his present. Will he be dragged down under the waves at the overwhelming weight of it? Or, and this is what we all hope for if we find ourselves on the wrong side of history, will he undertake an expedition to salvage his soul once and for all? There will still have to be a reckoning. The scales are still unbalanced and debts come due. No one is saying the path is easy. But it is a path, and maybe, just maybe, redemption awaits at the end.
We have seen stories similar to this throughout all of human existence. The hero undertakes a journey to achieve something, to prove their worth, only to discover it’s not what they thought it would be. Having the achievement didn’t make them happier. It didn’t make the world better. It didn’t right the injustices in their past.
There is no substitution for love and peace. Not power, nor influence, nor popularity can help you come to terms with your own character. These things do not bring happiness, though many of us have been seduced by their illusion. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” The trope is timeless, and for good reason: to gain perspective and insight, you must undergo the journey to finally realize that where you started was a good place, too. Happiness and peace doesn’t come from proving yourself to the world. Happiness comes when you prove who you are to yourself.
Godspeed, Donald J. Trump.
Cathleen Anthony writes from New Windsor.