A few years ago I was asked to speak at a conference in New York. ‘Where would be the best place to stay?’ I asked my assistant.
‘Well, you’re booked into The Trump SoHo’, she said, careful to pronounce the capital H.
‘Are you completely deranged? Do I look like a man with a craving for gold taps and Swarovski-encrusted towelling robes?’
‘The conference organiser has booked it. They’ve got a special rate.’
So a few weeks later a Lincoln Town Car (which after a long flight, for some unfathomable reason, is the best car in the world) dropped me in front of The Donald’s hotel.
I have to say, it was nothing like my stereotype: in fact, it was bloody marvellous; simply and elegantly decorated (perhaps by the fragrant Ivanka) and with wonderful staff. A year later I revisited by choice.
Since I follow a simple heuristic rule that no one who brings me eggs Benedict with a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce can be altogether bad, I always experience a small ‘yes, but’ in the back of my head whenever Europeans verbally frotteurise each other by hating on The Donald. I also have long supported his bid to build a hotel in Scotland. My view, if I may pause briefly to urinate over my own surname, is that there is nothing the American billionaire could build nastier than the Scots would choose if left to their own architectural devices.
No, I’m not sure about my prefrontal cortex, but if I were American, my amygdala would vote for Donald. Because, in primatological terms, Trump is a beta male’s idea of what an alpha male should be. Trump does what most normal people imagine they would do if they had a billion dollars: he enjoys it. He buys a plane with his name on it and flies around mouthing off. It reminds me of visiting Texas, where I realised that Texans were exactly what my Welsh farming relatives would have become if they’d had oil instead of sheep.
He’s also unapologetically American — one of your own. Somehow we like our leaders to magnify the flaws of the cultures they represent. It’s why Britain is led by a slightly vague but amiable posh bloke, France is run by a man who visits his mistress on a moped and Germany is run by Rosa Klebb. This ‘vote your national stereo-type’ thing is definitely a trend. And I haven’t even mentioned Russia because I often drink tea in hotels.
Trump could only be American. And much as elite opinion despises his banausic tribe, America really would not be America without them. The country owes its success to the fact that, for a few hundred years, it became the natural homeland for the world’s overconfident loudmouths, blowhards, wiseacres and minor assholes. It didn’t get rich through agonising about safe spaces and the gender assignment of bathrooms. It got rich because of people called Vinnie building things.
The problem with the rootless supranational political tribe who run the world now is that their interests and loyalties seem unaligned with the people who vote for them. They are driven by a (suspiciously self-serving) globalist doctrine which, at the risk of sounding Marxist, does not understand class, identity or any form of collective or national solidarity. Our monkey brain hence feels betrayed.
Theirs may be good economics, but it’s lousy anthropology. Thirty years ago, a fellow of a Cambridge college passed on an important lesson he had learned about social cohesion. ‘You can fall out with the master; that doesn’t matter at all. The three people in a college you must never fall out with are the head gardener, the head porter and the head chef.’
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.