Donald Trump is getting a lot of flak for running a campaign that appeals to some of the most unsavory elements of the American electorate. Sure, there may be many fans of Trump’s China-bashing, free-trade-skeptical, deportation-happy, speak-English-only shtick who are otherwise normal. But his supporters also include everyone from onetime voters for Ross Perot, who feared a “sucking” of “American” jobs to Mexico, to Buchananites tinged with anti-Semitism, to Birthers and your garden-variety white supremacists who openly fret about the extinction of the white race.
But for as focused as Trump and his many fans appear to be on America, Americans, and all things associated with America and her greatness (or, alternately, weakness), Trump often sounds like something else: a certain kind of Scot, just one with a different quirky accent.
Trump, seen by many as the stereotypical rich, loud, ugly American imposing his will on everyone else and leveraging every tool available to him, is of course half-Scottish. His mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born in Stornaway. His first cousins apparently speak Gaelic, and his mother—like many Scots—reportedly grew up in a pebble-dash house.And Trump loves to brag about his heritage. He attributes his tenacity in pursuing property development in Scotland to his familial connection to the country. The Trump International Golf Links site lays out in some detail the specifics of Trump’s Scottish ancestry.
But Trump goes beyond the usual American-harkening-back-to-Scottish-heritage behavior. This guy isn’t someone who’s just talking up clan affiliations, getting teary over Rob Roy and Braveheart, or having sofa cushions made out of the family tartan. Indeed, his policy instincts show a certain Scottishness, even if few Scots would wish to publicly admit this given his overall profile
This is perhaps most obvious when looking at health care policy. In the first 2016 GOP presidential debate, Trump talked up the Scottish health care system, also known as the National Health Service. This is full-on socialized medicine. Few self-described Republicans or conservatives would praise such a system, but Scots love it (not that most have experienced anything different in order to properly compare, mind you).
According to 2015 YouGov polling, 75 percent of Scots surveyed said they were confident that the NHS in Scotland would provide them with a high standard of health care when they need it, while 84 percent were satisfied with the overall experiences they have had while being treated by the Scottish NHS. Similarly, 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey data shows that 61 percent of 1,500 Scots polled were either “very” or “quite” satisfied with the NHS. Trump’s attitudes regarding the NHS may be out of the mainstream for America and especially the Republican Party, but they’re entirely normal by Scottish standards.
In 1999, Trump famously advocated for a one-off wealth tax to, among other things, “keep Social Security afloat.” This came in the form of a 14.25 percent charge on individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more. In some respects, this might remind people of his fellow Scottish-American business icon, Andrew Carnegie, who famously supported wealth taxes.
Scots, like Trump, are also comfortable with tax increases to pay for social spending; while just 4 percent of Scots polled in a 2014 survey thought taxes should be decreased, 44 percent thought they (and spending) should go up. (It’s worth noting that if a “one-time levy on rich people to pay off all national debt” were the proposition, that 4 percent might also get on board; more conservative Scots revile debt in the same moralistic way American libertarians do).
Also, like too many Scots, Trump seems prone to seeing himself as a victim when subjected to fairly predictable or nominal challenges, despite the obvious ludicrousness of this. It is absurd for Scots to see themselves as a quasi-colonized people effectively taken over by England. After all, the reason the Scottish and English crowns are united is because an English queen failed to reproduce, leaving a Scottish relative (and his line) to succeed her and run England as well as his native land. Yet many display this victim attitude overtly or indirectly.
It is similarly absurd for Scots to indulge in the myth of being “subjected”. By many measures, Scots get a sweet economic deal out of union with England. People of Scottish descent the world over have had a ticket to great wealth, prosperity and exploits thanks to the presence of the United Kingdom—which includes both Scotland and England—on the world stage. Trump’s suggestions that he has been mistreated by Megyn Kelly and other members of the press—and the American political apparatus as a whole—are similarly ridiculous by any objective measure, and read more as indulgent wallowing than as a legitimate complaint.
And like many Scots, Trump, too, seems to have a special disdain for those entering his home turf from South of the border. Many Scots are strongly anti-cultural/ethnic dilution and against anything that could even theoretically disadvantage a single native while benefiting the newcomer. Of course, the Southerners Trump takes issue with are Mexicans and other Latinos, whereas for many Scots, the problem migrants are English.
Sadly, unlike that icon of Scottish free-market thinking, Adam Smith, Trump does not seem much to favor free trade. Nor is he a big fan of property rights, a key underpinning of capitalism, as some Scots who object to his golf course development have discovered.
But make no mistake, there is a Scottishness in and about Trump. And that’s not a good thing for us proud Scottish-American believers in the free market, who dislike your stereotypical self-indulgent woe-is-me thinking and dubious economic policies.