Reflecting on Repentance with Donald Trump

By Jon Ziegler

Note: this article was originally written for the C4SO Blog. You can read the article in it’s entirety here.

Don’t Blame Yourself

About fifteen years back, I was home from college for the weekend and I decided to get a haircut. And while I was waiting—I did what most people did back then (before we had smart phones): I picked up a magazine.  It was In Touch Weekly, your source for “Celebrity Gossip and Entertainment News.” As a young college student, who probably took himself too serious, I can remember thinking how ridiculous and trivial the magazine was.

But then, I came across a quote—a quote so profound—that I asked the hairdresser if I could cut the page out of the magazine.

The quote was from none other than Donald Trump. This wasn’t the presidential candidate Donald Trump we know today. It was the billionaire real estate mogul turned television star of The Apprentice Donald Trump. And this what he said:

“You never blame yourself; you have to blame something else. If you do something bad, never, ever blame yourself.”

When many of us read that quote today, we are likely to quickly file it under just another extreme, audacious (and no longer surprising) remark from Trump. But if we reflect on it for a moment, we might note that this quote says something profound about our culture. Here trump is actually speaking on behalf of the majority culture.

When Trump says to his apprentices, “Never blame yourself,” he is speaking the prevailing wisdom of Americans on both the political right as well the political left. Think about it. When was the last time you heard a politician (or a CEO or a neighbor or anyone really) just flat out admit they were wrong?

In his 1936 classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie describes how notorious criminals like Al Capone often fail to recognize any fault in themselves for their socially deviant behavior. “If…[the] men and women behind prison walls don’t blame themselves for anything—what about the people with whom you and I come in contact?”[1] Thus Carnegie argues that criticism is futile because people invariably never blame themselves and will always seek to defend their actions.

Carnegie’s book demonstrates how Trump’s logic of “blame shifting” was already embedded in American culture going back at least 80 years. So, it turns out that Trump’s quote really is not audacious at all, but rather the long prevailing logic of our culture.

Beginning Lent

On the First Sunday in Lent 2016, I had the ‘logic of our culture’ in mind as I got up to lead our congregation through a penitential rite. We were preparing to pray through the Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments.” We were about to recall the instructions the God of Israel gave to his people and to consider the ways in which our lives fall short of his good plan. This would be followed by a confession of sin, when we would admit in front of God and in front of all those gathered that we have “done something bad” (to use the words of Trump) and we are to blame….

Read the rest of this article on the C4SO Blog at ).


[1] Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, rev. ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, ©1981), 33.


Jon Ziegler