I don’t get it. What was in it for them?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

And: Why most of us do get it --- for the shared other-interest

Donald Trump greets families of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017. Image from Chip Somodevilla / Getty

A recent piece by Goldberg (2020) points to how the current POTUS does not seem to have any sense of why a person in the military, especially if it is someone who volunteered, would ever risk having to sacrifice own-self in battle? Losers and suckers lay in the military cemetery, it seems. And, President George H. E. W. Bush whose airplane was shot down, and barely escaped capture, and Senator John McCain who was a prisoner of war, are not his kind of hero: “I like people who weren’t captured.” Said platitudes are all coming from someone who did everything possible to stay out of the military, in fact, some claim a medical condition was purchased --- money can do anything --- from a doctor. So, while the POTUS claims to be a patriot, he seems to have little idea about what it might mean to be a true patriot. Yet, ostensibly the POTUS claims to support the military, pushing for substantive increases in budget allocations. How does one make any sense of it all? Is there any?

The story goes like this, told in Goldberg (2020) in a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, to honor the war dead, standing next to John Kelly, the POTUS :

… was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit … while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that … was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that … simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.

“He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself,” one of Kelly’s friends, a retired four-star general, told me. “He just thinks that anyone who does anything when there’s no direct personal gain to be had is a sucker. There’s no money in serving the nation.” Kelly’s friend went on to say, “…(he) can’t imagine anyone else’s pain. That’s why he would say this to the father of a fallen marine on Memorial Day in the cemetery where he’s buried.”

It has been documented that other disparaging comments have also been made about the military. In a recent trip to Europe, where the POTUS was to visit a cemetery associated with WWI, where US marines paid a heavy toll, he noted “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers… suckers for getting killed.” Another case, another observation about the POTUS, who:

…believes that nothing is worth doing without the promise of monetary payback, and that talented people who don’t pursue riches are “losers.” (According to eyewitnesses, after a White House briefing given by the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, Trump turned to aides and said, “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”)

Seems to not make any sense, right? Yet, Metaeconomics can make perfectly clear sense of it, through applying the selfish&selfless figure from another page herein. And, there is an economic lesson, here as well, in that the economic policy coming out of the Administration associated with this POTUS can also now be better understood. It is for the same reason that the POTUS cannot see what is going on in the mind of a military person who is willing to give it all for country that a number of similarly misplaced, Zombie Economic Ideas are also being touted. As we will see, the driving force is the same. So, here it goes.

In Metaeconomic terms, the POTUS apparently operates in a state of extreme egoism-hedonism-narcissism on path 0G of self(ish)-interest (perhaps even the vertical axis), “making money” as the only measure of “success.” The POTUS maximizes self-interest at point A, at best, and perhaps is even at point Ro on the vertical axis --- given the severity of the commentary documented in Goldberg (2020). And, it is more than words: The POTUS refused to go to the WWI cemetery, so actions reveal it. It seems the POTUS is simply incapable of any kind of self-sacrifice, always choosing some self-interest payoff, generally measured in money, such as at point A with payoff IG3, and very little to no payoff in that which is shared with true Patriots represented in IM1. And, the POTUS is a huge loser in that which is shared in the other (shared with patriots)-interest, with IM1 < IM3.

Cartoon illustrates someone operating at best on path 0G in the Figure (actually, even on the vertical axis), in effect being insensitive to all the shared other-interest considerations on path 0M. It is only a Me, and no We, in this case no joint, interdependent, nonseparable Me&We, Me&America, but a Me operating on the arrogance of self-love, which as Adam Smith made clear, creates a situation that others cannot go along with, and is destructive to everything around said Me

In contrast, a patriot with a military frame of mind operates close to and perhaps even on the path 0M of shared other-interest (Patriotism, commitment to country, is a shared interest), in a state of empathy-sympathy-compassion and passion for the cause of liberty and freedom. Said person enjoys a high payoff in being part of the larger cause to defend the country at point C, and a payoff of IM3 in other-interest. The military person is sacrificing a huge amount of self-interest payoff (money) with IG1 < IG3 . So, even while smart, said person is not in it for the money, which is much lower at point C. And, being at point C is not exactly being a loser, other than losing a lot of money. So, being a loser is someone who runs on an interest other than excessive greed?

Also, a military person chooses that path 0M while being fully aware of the potential to lose own-life on the horizontal axis of complete selflessness (death for country), where self-interest is zero --- goes to zero a the point of death --- but the other-interest is absolutely maximized. Said person dies a hero, with a huge payoff in shared other-interest.

So, who is the loser? It seems the real loser is on the vertical axis (and even on path 0G), operating with extreme selfishness. Scrooge was not a happy person. No Patriot can operate on said paths. And, extreme egoism just like extreme empathy, destroys the person, family, community, and, if the extreme egoist is in a power position, can destroy a country. Also, anyone who believes a person running on path 0G cares about them, in the sense of connecting with them in a shared other-interest --- whether it be the military, health care, jobs, or anything else --- needs to reconsider, see the reality. An extreme egoist --- an extreme version of Scrooge --- on path 0G is incapable of having a shared other-interest with anyone or anybody, at least not until after the Ghosts visit and reality sets in about the need to join in empathy with others. Be careful, in that such a person sees everyone else as a loser.

In fact, even if the POTUS claims to push for higher military budgets, we can only make sense of that push on path 0G, too: Said path for an egoist-hedonistic-narcissist is possible while still supporting expanded budgets for supporting the military as long as the POTUS does not pay any taxes. Makes sense: The tax returns are hidden. So, again, who is the loser? Just asking. Also, supporting higher military expenditures brings voters, which is also about maximizing self-interest, and has nothing to do with the shared other (in this case, share in the sense of what the military stands for, Patriotism, love of country): Buying votes with military budget is on the self(ish)-interest path 0G, and has nothing to do with Patriotism or respect for the military, which has now been made clear in both actions (refusing to go to the cemetery, among other things) and words.

And, we can also now make sense of the variety of Zombie Economic policies coming out of the extreme selfishness of a egoistic-hedonistic-narcissistic frame of mind. An especially obvious one: Eliminate the payroll tax, which is used to fund Social Security. A politician willing to sacrifice a bit of self-interest for the greater good --- that which everyone could go along with ---would operate closer to the shared other-interest path 0M, in this case shared with the retired population. Another obvious one: Eliminating medical insurance for millions of people during a pandemic. Seriously? Even Scrooge was willing to go a bit toward the shared other-interest, he was nudged a bit in that direction, albeit prior to the Ghosts paying him a visit, it was clear that path 0G was his favorite.

Another obvious Zombie Idea: Supply-side, trickle down economics. It has never worked, and never will work. And, it is simply another example of extreme self-interest on path 0G, from which a few crumbs might fall. It is only with policy taking the economy at least in the direction of path 0M where it will be more than a few crumbs. Current economic policy coming from the Administration under said POTUS at best will lead to ever more extreme concentration in income, wealth, and power on path 0G. Favoring policy that leads to even more extreme is not only foolish in the sense of having a destructive influence on the economy, but also reflects a kind of culture of cruelty, a dark empathy. It will also cause even more economic and political turmoil --- which even authoritarian based law and order will not be able to control --- as the resentment over the outcomes on path 0G continue to worsen.

We could write a book. In fact, I have so written one: see Lynne (in press). The current level of egoism-hedonism-narcissism being demonstrated on the Political Right Isle, all on path 0G, assures the voter of only one thing: Continued bad capitalism, and continued deterioration of the democracy we used to call America. By the same token, moving too far to toward the empathy-sympathy-compassion path of the Political Left Isle on some path 0M can also lead to bad capitalism and a lessor democracy and America. As Metaeconomics, teaches (and empirical research along with ethical reflection supports it), the best path is somewhere in between, a path 0Z of peace, happiness, and economic efficiency.


Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are 'Losers' and 'Suckers'." The Atlantic, Digital Septermber 3, 2020.

Lynne, G. D. Metaeconomics: Tempering Excessive Greed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, in press.

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