Would You Kill Someone for $1 Million?
I want everyone to join me in a little thought experiment for a moment. Imagine that you’ve just walked through a door, into a room.
It’s a normal room. A few chairs, maybe a sofa. There’s a coffee table. Some bookshelves. Just, some generic room in some generic space. Nothing special or symbolic, but there is another door on the opposite end of the room.
Oh yeah, and there’s a person in the room.
This could be anyone. Old or young, tall or short, male or female, or anything in between. You do speak the same language, though, so that might narrow things down some.
The person gestures to a seat and invites you to join them. And the two of you have a conversation. Maybe it’s small talk. Maybe you share a common interest. Maybe that person tells you a little about their life, and maybe you tell them a little about yours. The subject matter isn’t important, just that you are spending time together, and that you get to see and hear how this person acts, who they are, what they’re like.
The conversation lasts maybe half an hour. You maybe don’t know everything about this person, but certainly, as is human nature, you’ve made some judgements. Maybe they’re intelligent. Or kind. Maybe they’re a little full of themself, or a little awkward. Maybe they remind you of the aunt who taught you how to play chess as a kid. Maybe they remind you of the bully who stole your chess set when you were a kid. You don’t actually know the person, but you know things about them.
And at the end of the conversation, this person tells you to walk through that second door, the one opposite the one you entered. So you do, waving a pleasant goodbye as you do so, and as you close the door behind you, it locks. A light turns on. There’s a button, with instructions.
The instructions say that if you press the button, the person in the previous room, the person you just spoke to for half an hour, will be killed. You will be killing them. However, pressing the button also automatically deposits $1 million into your bank account.
Two things that are necessary for this scenario: 1) the instructions are definitely not lying. Pressing that button will kill the person you were speaking to, and it will give you $1 million, no strings attached. Don’t ask how you know, but you know. 2) the person in the other room, for the purposes of this exercise, isn’t Charles Manson or Muammar al-Gaddafi. It’s possible they’ve made some bad choices in life, or that maybe they aren’t the best person ever, but for the purposes of this exercise, we know for a fact that they haven’t done anything that a reasonable person would consider worthy of capital punishment. They’re just a reasonably-normal person.
Nobody reading this presses that button, right? Like, maybe some of us think about what we’d do with $1 million for a hot minute, maybe our brains take some time to process the decision we’re about to make, but the moment it clicks that we’re exchanging a human life for money, extinguishing a person we just saw not a minute ago, for our own self-gain, we’ll all feel guilty that the thought even crossed our minds, and we’ll leave the room, button undisturbed.
I don’t think that’s true of Donald Trump. And I don’t say that just because I don’t like him. I don’t like Alaska governor Michael J. Dunleavy, but I don’t think he’d push the button. I don’t like former-comedian Louis C.K., and I don’t think he’d push the button.
In fact, I think most of Trump’s supporters would agree. Maybe Trump doesn’t push the button every time, but he doesn’t feel guilt over the contemplation, and there will be some calculation going on in his head: “Is that person worth more or less than $1 millions to me.” And there will be a lot of scenarios where he does push the button. That’s what his supporters like about him, right? He’s pragmatic. He makes decisions. He gets things done. If a person isn’t worth $1 million, then obviously you choose the money. That’s the Donald Trump way, isn’t it? Obviously you commit to murdering the innocent person when you can get something better out of the deal.
Somehow, Trump supporters think that empowering a person who is that morally-flawed, who is so far removed from their own sense of morality, is going to get them closer to their goals. I’m not even going to pass judgement on those goals here. Presume for a moment that they’re just generic “goals.” What does it mean when you’ve put your faith into someone like that? What does it say about the kind of person you are? What does it say about your goals that the only way you think they can be accomplished is by entrusting someone who would murder for profit?
Are his supporters so sure there won’t come a time when they’ll be the person in the room, and he’ll be the person with the button?
Recently, Donald Trump allowed an entire rally of his supporters to be stranded in the freezing Nebraska weather, when a logistics mishap meant that the buses which were supposed to shuttle people back to their cars, which were miles away, could not get to the people at the rally. Thirty people were hospitalized in the aftermath.
Donald Trump probably could have spent $1 million to ensure that his supporters weren’t stranded because of his mistake. But he made the pragmatic assessment that these people, his supporters, were not worth it.