SoulCycle is a dance rave, an athleisure fashion show, and a cult. It’s where Michelle Obama went to “become her” when she was in the White House. It costs $34 per half-hour session, and that’s just for the cycle. The soul part is extra.
Along with its parent company, Equinox, SoulCycle advertises itself as LGBTQ-friendly and attracts an urban, young, and celebrity crowd. When some devotees found out that Stephen Ross, who owns the firm that owns Equinox, was throwing a six-figure-ticket fundraiser for Donald Trump on Friday—a high price even for the Hamptons—word went out to quit in protest.
I’m in, although it’s an asymmetrical fight bound to hurt the thighs of those who follow celebrities out the door (#CancelSoulCycle is trending) more than it hurts Ross.
He’s the billionaire chairman of The Related Companies, which built Manhattan’s sprawling luxury development Hudson Yards with billions in government support and the Time Warner Center. He also owns the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, not to mention a suite of boutique restaurants. Any exodus of customers from the “it’s not fitness, it’s life” segment of his empire won’t move a decimal point on his balance sheet or jeopardize his standing in the Fortune 500.
Donors expect to enjoy the upside of hosting the president for canapés and conversation but not the downside when everyone, not just Trump’s 40 percent, learns about it. Ross was exposed at the same time Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), twin brother of Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, put out a list of Trump donors, which occasioned a blitz defense.
Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh wrote that publicizing donors was at the very least “inviting harassment” of private citizens, and added, in a statement to The Washington Post, that “no one should be targeted for exercising their First Amendment rights or for their political beliefs.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it “doxxing,” although no personal information was published.
Donald Trump Jr., who’s expected along with Ivanka and Jared at the event Friday, got on his high horse to lament the breach of decorum. On Fox & Friends on Wednesday, he compared revealing the list of donors to the alleged “hit list” the Dayton shooter reportedly kept in high school.
It’s understandable that the 1 percent wouldn’t want to be exposed for cozying up to a politician who’s an unapologetic racist railing against immigrant “invaders” just after a gunman using similar language murdered 22 in El Paso. Used to having it both, or three ways, it takes as little as a temperature-controlled limo showing up a few minutes late to upset them.
So no wonder exposure is so destabilizing, even though it’s to be expected. Rather than there being something wrong with Trump’s donors being made public, it’s required. As weak as campaign finance rules are, candidates still have to disclose their donors above $200 to the Federal Election Commission, so there’s always the possibility your friends (those not invited to your $250,000-a-seat roundtable with Trump) and employees of your businesses will find out who you’re putting your money behind.
Still, high-dollar donors expect the same kind of privacy in their politics as they buy for themselves, privacy provided by the high hedges of Southampton and the doormen guarding Ross’ apartment on Columbus Circle (it could be yours for $75 million; he’s moving to a new penthouse in Hudson Yards).
When Ross came to his own defense, it was to congratulate himself. Billionaires are so misunderstood, he explained, when all they’re doing is anteing up to appeal to Trump’s better instincts when others don’t. “While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about,” he said in a statement.
Lingering shades of Puritanism give the wealthy who can make large donations a bizarre presumption of goodness, like the Patriots owner and fellow Trump supporter Robert Kraft, caught in a massage parlor in Florida. It’s the opposite of the presumption the Trumpists make about the poor crossing the border or the immigrants swept up in a mass ICE raid authorized by the president at a Mississippi meatpacking plant. The presumption for them is otherwise. They will be returned to their lost, crying children only after they prove their innocence.
In his statement, Ross fought back against the new presumption created by his association with Trump. He wants us to know that he's “always been an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, and environmental sustainability.” That doesn’t correct our misunderstanding. He may aspire to be such a champion, but saying it doesn’t make it so, especially—as one of “his” football players pointed out—when he’s holding a fundraiser for a president who stands against all those things.
Ross and his brethren who supported Trump in 2016 had an excuse, however weak: Hillary was worse. That dodge won’t work this time. If Ross is really motivated by the concerns he says he has for “racial equality, inclusion, diversity, and environmental sustainability,” almost anyone among the crowded Democratic field would be better
Early in the week, the CEO of SoulCycle dropped Ross like a sweaty towel in the locker room hamper. On Thursday, the celebrity chef David Chang, whose restaurants Momofuku and The Milk Bar are partly owned by Ross, chimed in on his podcast, saying of Trump that “anyone that normalizes gun violence, white supremacy, putting kids into cages, his general lack of decency and respect for anyone else—he is destroying our democratic norms. I cannot stand behind him.” He doesn’t say whether he stands behind Ross.
Which gets us to why Ross and all similarly situated moguls are doing what they’re doing but hoping for, and expecting, anonymity. Even if SoulCycle employees strike Friday or the company bleeds clients, Ross won’t lose much, but he has a great deal at stake if he doesn’t have a president who’s cutting his taxes and relieving his businesses of expensive regulations. All the talk about what distinguishes his values from Trump’s is just talk.
Give that much money to Trump, and you’ve sold your soul. And despite its name, you can’t get it back at SoulCycle.