“You have a beautiful accent honey, beautiful. It’s so nice to hear it. Anyway, I have 20 people waiting for me outside and I’m late. So let’s start this. Right now.”
When I interviewed Donald Trump in 2008 he was a little bit charming, a little more patronising and totally unpredictable.
Careering from compliment to command in five seconds flat, he was the epitome of volatile. Every attempt to get under his skin or push for more information was a balancing act, with no way of knowing whether he would respond with a pithy one liner or a short sharp goodbye. “The amount of time I talk to you will be a direct reflection of how good of a journalist I think you are,” he announced proudly before I asked my first question.
I got 20 minutes. To this day I have no idea where that put me on the spectrum. I couldn’t bring myself to ask what the average was – not least because I wasn’t sure what was worse, being considered a comparably bad journalist by Trump or a comparably good one. I fear perhaps the latter.
What really struck me about Trump – apart from the fact that if he did know or, indeed, remember my name he actively chose not to use it – was his ability to spout some of the cheesiest clichés I have ever heard without a flicker of irony or humour.
I don’t know if he fully understood what he meant when he said: “There will be ups and there will be downs but we will always have Manhattan.” I certainly didn’t. Especially not in response to: “How are you?”
But in the midst of “never give up on your dreams” and “keep on keeping on” there were flashes of what I suspect were the real Trump. And these moments are the ones that now make me feel the most uneasy.
Because, despite the hours of YouTube fodder that would suggest the polar opposite, they revealed a man with a brain. After all, you don’t build up a multi-million-pound business on a wing, a prayer and a combover.
At the time I was reassured that there was actually something to him. Now any evidence to suggest that Trump is someone equipped to think strategically, to influence and to command, makes the prospect of him becoming president of the United States even more unnerving. Knowledge is power.
But, I hate to say it, at no point in those 20 minutes did I feel I was talking to an unintelligent man. A man bluffing his way through an interview seemingly unprepared? Yes. A man who had no shame in spouting idioms to avoid answering tough questions? Yes. A man who did not feel the need to conform to the social values of modesty? Absolutely: “I buy all my properties in cash, honey. I am in a position to do so.”
In my mind, not one of those traits has yet been proven to stand in the way of someone wielding significant power as a politician.
In short, the US specifically and the world in general could have a much bigger problem on its hands than many people would like to believe. What started off as a joke has got very serious, very quickly.
Based on most of his views and opinions, I cannot bring myself to see the prospect of Trump becoming president as anything other than a monumentally bad thing. But there are plenty who disagree.
And the combination of genuine support with genuine, if unexpected, brain power should not be underestimated.