Dear Mr. Trump,
I am in receipt of your handwritten note criticizing my assessment of your public image which I write about in my book The Broken American Male and How To Fix Him. I was impressed that you wrote kindly and extended to me best wishes. Given my criticism, you could have easily reacted differently, and that shows character.
In my book I write that we men who are immersed in American culture have been damaged by a society that has dehumanized us by turning us into money-making machines. We are valued by the quantity of our bank accounts rather than the quality of our relationships. When women date us the first question they usually ask is "What do you do?" Every man has a price-tag, and those who reach lists like the Forbes 400 being the most valuable of all. But in the process, we are slowly losing our souls and forgetting how to feel. We don't know how to share our emotions with our wives or how to prioritize our kids. We don't feel heroic when we do our children's homework and when we don't feel successful when we fight to remain faithful in our marriages. All of these private accomplishments are diminished in favor of making money and climbing the corporate ladder. American men are transforming from human beings into human doings, valued for the things they produce and not the people they are.
I cite you, me, and others as examples of men damaged by this hyper-competitiveness and I argue that we need to redefine success for the American male as comprising achievement in five categories: as a husband, father, communal contributor, gaining wisdom, and finally, professional achievement. Making money should not be more than one fifth of the ingredients that maketh the man.
But while this message would resonate, I believe, with most men, you seem to seriously disagree. You promote yourself as the high priest of American capitalism. Your message is that success means becoming rich and making money is the main goal to which we ought to devote our lives. I have a right to respectfully disagree with you and to dismiss that message as shallow and deeply injurious to time-honored ideals of masculine virtue. Is a man who has chosen to work responsible hours and put his family first really a failure because he didn't become a millionaire? Is a husband who doesn't have a second home in the Hamptons a loser even when his small home is filled with confident children and the light of a happy wife?
I believe that the message that money maketh the man is transforming men into machines who know how to produce but not connect, to master but not share, to exploit but not appreciate. And it terms of money leading to happiness, it simply hasn't worked. The Washington Post reported a few weeks ago that America consumes three quarters of all the Earth's anti-depressants, a strange statistic when you consider we have the world's highest standard of living. Perhaps happiness comes more from the love of people than the ownership of objects. Maybe happiness comes from an appreciation of the small things rather than accumulation of the big ones. This does not mean I am anti-money. I am not. It rather means that the message that money is everything was repudiated by fact long ago. You can hardly complain, therefore, when a Rabbi who tries to inject different values into a culture that is rendering American men robotic becomes critical of your grandstanding.
My problem with your carefully-cultivated public image is that it undermines the traditional virtues that have always defined a gentleman, namely, one who believes in humility rather than boastfulness, one who pursues wisdom over power, and one who honors and respects all women rather than believing that only young and beautiful women matter. To the extent that I may have wrongly judged you is the extent to which I would truly welcome a response that addresses those core concerns.
Money, Mr. Trump, as you no doubt know, becomes corrosive when it is treated as an end rather than a means. Virtue dictates that money be used for the superior goal of helping others and advancing the communal good, which in no way diminishes your considerable charitable projects, but rather focuses on how they seem subordinate to simple accumulation.
My values come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. I know that humility is special because Moses, the great prophet, is praised for being the most humble man on earth. I know that mindless materialism is unsatisfying because of the Bible's declaration that it is "not by bread alone that man lives but by the word of the living G-d." Man must nurture his soul just as much as he nurtures his body. The Bible also says that we should be careful not to make the mistake of believing that "My own strength and the work of my hands created all this valor." Surely we all stand on the shoulders of giants, Mr. Trump, and we must give thanks to G-d as well as credit those who facilitated our successes rather than engaging in endless self-aggrandizement.
Finally, the Bible says that "he who has found a wife has found goodness." Marriage is tough these days. My own parents divorced, as you have, and I too struggle to be a loving husband every day. But we still need to hold out marriage as the ideal to which we should aspire rather than giving the impression that as our wives age the marriage become less exciting and younger women might be the answer.
I'd like to propose that we continue this dialogue face to face and in a public setting where we can both offer our visions of what should constitute success for American men. You do much good in your life and you are a devoted and loving father. But you have inadvertently done harm to many men by making them feel like failures since the standard you have given them by which to judge their lives is how many buildings they own and how many models they date. I mean no disrespect to you, and no doubt there is a deep and spiritual Donald Trump that belies the image you project. But it would be wise to manifest those deeper qualities so that we might all be inspired by a message that says that a man's value is determined by something other than the cash in his wallet.
I thank you for your kind wishes which I warmly reciprocate and ask that G-d bless you always.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of daily national radio show on Oprah and Friends, and is the author most recently of The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him. (St. Martin's Press)