Jane Goodall Isn't Wrong to Compare Trump to Mike the Chimp

What do chimps and humans have in common? Aggression, it turns out.


During Monday’s presidential debate, Americans will be judging not just their candidates’ positions but also how they handle themselves when the hard questions hit. But famed primatologist Jane Goodall will be watching for something else — whether or not Donald Trump is anything like her old acquaintance, Mike the chimp.

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Goodall told The Atlantic, mentioning it would be Mike (a particularly aggressive chimp) who would be on her mind during the debate. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays … The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

Goodall’s assessment shouldn’t be played for a laugh: Comparing a man to a chimp isn’t a subtle hint that the man is in any way less evolved. But really, it’s a continuation of what primatologists have done for decades: Compare chimps to humans in order to have a greater understanding of humans.

Chimps have been found to be similar to the modern man in a multitude of ways, including having bromances and valuing the practice of rituals. Aggression, like the behavior that Goodall discusses, also links the two groups of primates. While a Harvard study found that chimps are demonstrably violent, other researchers assert that our own violent tendencies stem from the same reasons chimps engage in warfare: power.

Specifically, primate aggression is a result of an imbalance of power. Wild chimps divided into subgroups will attack other subgroups to weaken them and expand their own territory, anthropologist Richard Wrangham explained to Slate. Our own hominid ancestors did the same and their scope of warfare only increased as their brains and culture advanced.

The human-chimp split means that our genes, while 98.8 percent similar, are expressed in different amounts in the brain. This explains why our brains are smarter and larger, but that also doesn’t mean that human tendencies are absolutely different than those of chimps.

So like humans, chimps can sometimes display altruistic behavior and a sense of morality; other times, humans and chimps can both act like total dicks. And while Trump himself isn’t a chimp, his similarity to Mike isn’t unfathomable.