He didn’t say please.
That’s the first thing that struck me about Donald Trump, as I sat down in a hotel conference suite with him and a dozen or so other reporters in St Andrews in 2006. I was 23 years old, still a fairly inexperienced journalist, and somewhat discombobulated to be at a press conference that was ostensibly about golf.
The waitressing jobs I’d held throughout my time at university were still fresh, so when he demanded a Coke from the waiting staff with zero pleasantries, I noticed. No please, no thank you, just a wave of his hand, exposing a comically garish yellow gold watch. It’s a small thing, but I’ve always believed you can tell a lot about people from how they treat those serving them, so I took an immediate dislike to him.
Over the next hour, in what remains the weirdest press conference I’ve ever attended, he proved my instincts right.
Back then, Trump was a vaguely recognisable American reality TV star who we’d heard of, but knew little about. He’d come to show off his plans for the new golf course he planned to create in Menie, Aberdeenshire, but was doing so in St Andrews because of its long, historic association with the game. The ‘home of golf’ had the best courses around – until now. For Trump was here to unveil what he claimed would be “the greatest golf course in the world”.
He kept us waiting. As officials herded us outside to watch his helicopter arrive, the word ‘Trump’ emblazoned across its side made us all chuckle – not yet shorthand for power in the wrong hands, the word still meant, to us, only ‘fart’.
Posing for pictures on St Andrews’ famous Swilken Bridge, Trump relished in delivering his “You’re fired!” catchphrase while pointing at the cameras. One reporter had his notebook signed when he got within arm’s length – I don’t recall him asking for an autograph, and his bemused expression suggested he had not.
When we returned to the warmth of the hotel, Trump and his entourage, including a similarly blinged-up Don Junior, talked amongst themselves for a while, awaiting the arrival of that Coke – and then, the arrival of a straw. The distinct impression was of a man used to getting his own way, and happy to keep us all waiting until he did – an intuition that would be confirmed in years of vicious planning wrangles, as he lambasted and shamed any Menie local who refused to simply up and leave their homes in order to allow him to bulldoze them.
The golf course, now open and running at a huge financial loss, remains one of Scotland’s greatest planning embarrassments, rows over the completion of housing and further development on the site still ongoing today following a public enquiry. In 2018, it emerged Trump attempted to buy Hamilton Hall, the iconic property overlooking the 18th hole of St Andrews’ Old Course, after his visit. He failed when the Bank of Scotland rejected his extraordinary demands for special financial dispensation – zero interest periods and a 100 per cent mortgage – as too risky. The documentation recently revealed by the Scotland on Sunday not only laid bare his bully-boy tactics, but made recent revelations about his financial disclosures and tax evasion appear characteristic.
Back in 2006 though, a bemused Scotland was welcoming Trump’s investment, and the officials on hand that day from Visit Scotland were clearly keen to keep him sweet. This was a hero’s welcome for a man who claimed he would bring huge financial benefits to the country’s tourism sector, and the humiliation and conflict he would go on to cause was still unthinkable.
I don’t remember an awful lot of what followed in detail – some cringeworthy chat about his Scots roots, his verdict on the Menie estate he’d visited that morning, soon to be home to his world-beating golf club. I do remember the sports hack behind me muttering some choice expletives under his breath as Trump regaled us with his vision of how much better his course would be than the world famous one we were currently overlooking.
There is one part of the day still etched indelibly on my brain, however, and it is the attitude he displayed towards women. Shortly after the press conference began, Trump wheeled out a young, blonde assistant – to this day, I’m unclear whether she was working for him or for Visit Scotland – in order to show her off to the mostly-male press corps.
“What do you think of her outfit guys?”, he drawled lasciviously, suggesting this twenty-something in a tiny mini-kilt give us a twirl. It was a brief moment, but one that made the fine hairs on my arms stand on end. The nameless junior was clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, but the fawning continued. There was some suggestion that the Menie estate would be full of “beautiful” women just like this. She was an ornament. I was deeply uncomfortable. I said nothing.
I’ve remembered that moment often over the last few years, as Trump’s behaviour in the White House, and on Twitter, became increasingly erratic. I thought of it as the story of him paying off an adult film star raged. I thought of it as I watched the infamous ‘pussy-grabbing’ tape. I thought of it again this week as I watched him tell the terrorists rampaging through the capitol that he loved them, egging on anyone willing to suspend disbelief in order to support his grand plans.
Since then, Scotland has become only too well accustomed to Trump’s sense of entitlement – the documentary about his tactics in Menie, You’ve Been Trumped, gives as good a sense of the man as any expose that has come since his presidency. That it would one day lead to an attempted coup in the USA, though, would have been laughable to any of us sat in that room in 2006.
The man in front of us was not presidential. He was boorish, rude, spoilt and self-serving, the opposite of what a public servant should be.
And yet, here we are. Trump’s team has said he will not be in attendance at Biden’s inauguration as he will be playing golf in Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged him not to come, confirming that the lockdown and border closure ruling out non-essential travel into the country apply to him as to everybody else. “Playing golf is not essential”, she confirmed earlier this week, before he set about burning down his house.
Today, he is even less welcome. As his staff desert him all too late, as his Republican colleagues finally begin to retreat, as Biden’s inauguration moves mercifully closer, calls for the 25th amendment to be invoked are gathering steam. Five people are dead. Trump is banned from social media to prevent him creating further unrest. Globally, there is a feeling of shock at how far he was willing to take his quest for power.
But shock is not appropriate here. Trump has made no secret of who he is – a pampered privileged bully who will stop at nothing to get his own way. The people of Menie knew it back in 2008. The people in that room alongside me knew it in 2006. And if we’re honest, his enablers knew it all along.
What comes next is unclear. But in Scotland, I won’t be the only one hoping his parasitic grab for our green spaces and tourist pounds is finally brought to a halt. Because the increasingly unquestionable truth of the matter is this: Trump doesn’t belong in Scotland any more than he belongs in the White House. He belongs in jail.