The Wiki Man

The monkey-brained case for Donald Trump

I’m not sure about my prefrontal cortex, but if I were American, my amygdala would vote for Donald

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

4 June 2016

9:00 AM

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.’

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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  • DellerboyNZ

    ‘I realised that Texans were exactly what my Welsh farming relatives would have become if they’d had oil instead of sheep.’
    I’m gonna use that line with a suitable substitution here in NZ.
    Marvellous!

  • Ed  

    I’m Canadian, and I see this in Quebec, too, for all its flaws. The Quebecois are not embarrassed to be Quebecois, and I’ve slowly come to appreciate that.

    • fojap

      You’ve just put me in mind of “Le Bon Gars” by Richard Desjardins.

    • jeffersonian

      But why do the Quebecois think it’s more important to be Quebecois than Canadians?

      • Ed  

        In 2016, having defeated two referenda and outgrown the PQ, they’ve figured out how to be both. It’s working out pretty well, actually. Kinda federalist-like.

        • jeffersonian

          Glad to hear it.

        • jeffersonian

          hmmm

    • Sid Falco

      Thanks to PET, years of the drek of popular American culture and having childish crap foisted upon them (multiculti, beavers and moose spring to mind) English Canada has lost its soul. The quebecois have held on their culture (apart from breeding like rabbits) – even though it’s virtually worthless and even then they’re slowly surrendering it to muslims and haitians for the sole reason that they’re only the people they could find who speak french.

      • Ed  

        Not quite. They’re challenging new immigrants to embrace Quebecois culture – which includes much better treatment of women. Harper changed immigration law to include adherence to Canadian values, including proper treatment of women and children, and he got a lot of support in Quebec for that.

        • Sid Falco

          Well that was in the paper today but it’s wishful thinking at its best.

  • fojap

    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.

    I’m not so sure that our monkey brain is wrong. Part of the problem is that the “supranational political tribe” has such a grip on the levers of power that only a peculiar millionaire can even have a hope of breaking through. It would be so much better if we could have a dignified class traitor like Roosevelt, but having something like that happen twice is probably too much luck for one country.

    Theirs may be good economics, but it’s lousy anthropology.

    I am no economist, but I strongly suspect that bad anthropology will inherently result in bad economics.

  • JOhn Mackie

    For “supranational political tribe” read…….. the ones about whom one must not speak, nor assign any particular influence to in the world of finance, media, politics and big business.

  • outlawState

    agonising about ….gender assignment of bathrooms.

    As Trump said, President Obama will go down as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history — perhaps the worst.

    Perhaps the worst? I say, the worst by a long chalk. He would have to start WWIII to get any worse. As to that, he’s trying hard I see.

  • SalmondFishing

    Bad taste, in this instance for gold taps and large mirrors, is a reliable way of identifying diktators.
    Gaddafi, Saddam, Yanukovych, Marcos et al all loved them.

    • rorysutherland

      The Blairs had a touch of it too.

    • #toryscum

      In my family ‘gold taps’ is a euphemism for the gaudy/tasteless.
      ‘What did you think of that?’
      ‘oh, it was a bit gold taps.’

  • sfin

    ” 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.”

    Just one quote from this article which will be repeated like a Monty Python sketch!

    Sublime stuff.

  • polidorisghost

    “Our monkey brain hence feels betrayed.”

    Ah…So that’s what it is.

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