Dumping on Trump

Author’s note: This essay, first published in September of 2012, is particularly relevant now that Donald Trump is running full bore for the Presidency of the United States. While I’ve retained its original title for filing purposes—it is after all easier to reblog than rewrite—it is renamed Double Dump on Trump here to highlight his no apologies/no retractions habit of doubling down on every vicious aspersion he hisses under the banner of honest talk. I think you’ll agree that my attempt at the art is primitive and amateurish by comparison. WC 7-21-2015

Double Dump on Trump

Anthony Baxter’s recently released documentary, You’ve Been Trumped, appraises Donald Trump’s efforts to transform a jewel of coastal grandeur into “the world’s greatest golf course.” One reviewer opines: “If you didn’t hate Donald Trump before, you definitely will after this riveting and infuriating expose.” True enough, this film will test your emotional maturity, and I’m speaking mostly of your self-control in the theater. The scene is Aberdeenshire, on the North Sea coast of Scotland, near the village of Balmedie. In 2005 Trump purchases the Menie estate, 1400 acres of heavenly coastal dunes, and proposes to build a 450-room resort hotel, two 18-hole golf courses, and 1500 luxury apartments and town houses, a hefty 1.5 billion dollar project. Since the land is a protected ecosystem—windblown dunes and tidal wash—he must gain the approval of the local council. He doesn’t. The council turns the project down after extended consideration. Parliament then steps in and the government overturns the local council decision and approves the project, deciding that the economic gains—6000 jobs, tourist visits, tax income, etc.—outweigh the human and environmental costs. The locals revolt, led by landowners who would be forced to sell and forfeit their properties. Work on the first golf course begins. Filmmaker Baxter, who has roots in the area, fires up the cameras and starts collecting footage of key events, including strikingly, of Donald Trump’s various fly-in visits, with an impressive entourage, to celebrate accomplishments, resolve issues, and herald upcoming actions. Baxter is mostly behind the camera; his voice is heard quietly in the fray, and an occasional glimpse is evident of the filmmaker, but he is not prominent in the movie. He doesn’t serve as its narrator. The film revolves around Trump’s heavy-handed attempts to squash local protest and to grab the land away from the remaining holdouts and get the project built. Earth is moved up and down and all around as opposition cameras click. The adversaries turn out to be no pushovers. Surprising results are achieved: parades, shows of support for holdouts, television interviews, a public fuss when Mr. Trump is given an honorary degree by nearby Robert Gordon University, and an amazing art gallery in Michael Forbes’ barn that offers for sale myriad portraits of Trump in an array of terrible moods, along with various representations of project devastation. What is it that you would want to know about Donald Trump in this movie that you might not expect? Does he harass the holdouts? Yes. Does he get permission to take their houses without their consent? Yes. Does he scapegoat and viciously belittle those who stand in his way? Yes, He tongue-lashes Michael Forbes, calls his place a slum and a pigsty and calls Mr. Forbes disgusting. Does he play loose with the truth? Yes. He says Forbes is a loner no one likes or supports. He claims the environmental issues are minimal and resolved. Does he somehow manage to get the police to do his dirty work? Yes. The police even prevent people from photographing the earth moving work from their own backyards, and they haul off a couple of folks, including the filmmaker Baxter, for a bit of jail time. Does he tear down people’s fences and put up new ones to more exactly bound their property and then bill them for the work? Yes. Does he cut off water to opponents’ houses? Yes. Does he have his construction people pile up sand so high that a holdout owner can no longer see the ocean or the construction work from his house? Affirmative. He comes across as a self-centered, uncaring bully. He’s probably as horrid as you’ve ever seen him. Yet, the documentary is not totally fair to Trump, nor is it complete as a history of the venture. It is obvious that the project has considerable national and regional support, and not just from the powerful. Trump is out front and does the work, but he didn’t pull this caper off by himself. One would like to know how the Parliament came to believe in the project and what led it to reverse the refusal decision of the local authorities. Who were the politicians who led the way in convincing parliament? Who in the government pulled the strings? What was the process? Did illegal activity happen? How did the honorary degree come to seem appropriate and to be awarded? Who were the police serving if not the taxpayers and local citizens? Who is the offended filmmaker? Why doesn’t he narrate the story? In other words, the project looks horrific, and the politics seem dastardly and undemocratic, but the viewer can’t be sure of what exactly happened. If this project is an act of betrayal, there are powerful others in the band of betrayers. Yet, Trump takes the hits in the documentary by himself. What meaning should be given to the documentary other than exasperation and loathing for Donald Trump? In a fast paced, electronic, media-driven society, there is a tendency to overlook significant general meanings by paying exclusive attention to the atrocious local details. Some important meanings of the film require a wider perspective than the details of the film provide. Several points seem worthy of note. First, Americans have seen this movie before, and more than once. Perhaps the most memorable example of the genre is the film Local Hero, wherein a Texas Corporation connives to buy an entire island for oil exploration (A fictive island somewhere out in the British Isles), but gives the project up in the end when its emissary, who has gone native, calls back to tell the company to shove the project you know where. Interestingly, Baxter refers to this movie twice in You’ve Been Trumped, the second a repeat of the final scene in Hero when a call is made back to Trump headquarters by a critic, perhaps Baxter himself, to warn headquarters about the film, that it’s about to be released, that the jig is up. No answer. I thought at first that Local Hero was based on the Trump project until I learned that it had been filmed 29 years ago in 1983. Second, the United States has acquired an image, deserved or undeserved, for proposing grandiose projects such as Trump’s project in Scotland and imposing them on sovereign countries through devious and less than democratic means. We are also thought to be ruthlessly effective in achieving our ends, even at great cost to others and at some injury to ourselves. This image is evident in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, in critiques of Teddy Roosevelt’s Nicaragua and Panama Canal project, in the book of the same name describing Henry Ford’s Fordlandia project in Brazil, and of the building of military installations in “friendly” countries all over the world. If Trump’s projects tell on him, they also tell on us. Americans get a share of gratuitous blame, earned or otherwise. In You’ve been Trumped, it is said that the dream resort is to attract “American tourists.” Lerner’s ugly portrait in The Ugly American, and the stereotype of the greedy, heartless capitalist can be sensed floating through the dialogue. Third, it is relevant to recall, entirely separate from the film, that Donald Trump announced in April 2011 that he was considering a run for the Presidency of the United States. This was happening just as the events described in the documentary were nearing completion. At the end of the film we learn that the first golf course is finished (it is open now), that Trump has decided to desist from further forced land acquisitions, and that, bombshell of bombshells, he’s bloody well going to terminate the rest of the project if Scotland goes ahead with an offshore Windmill farm that would ruin the view for visitors at the resort. It sounds like Trump may want out of the project and that the locals have fought him to a draw. Just then, in another venue, he announces he might run for President and launches an ad hominem attack on President Barack Obama’s authenticity as an American. He does so in the same intemperate tone he has been using to abuse Michael Forbes. Trump’s entrance into the Presidential race was, at the time, a surprisingly welcome idea to Republicans. A poll of Republican voters in mid-April showed Trump in first place among the candidates, with 26% of the vote, eleven points ahead of the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. He sets the date of May 25, 2011 for an official announcement, but declines to enter the contest when his appeal and the saliency of the “birther issue” recedes. Still, the remaining candidates are more than impressed with his popularity and charisma. They want his endorsement. Five candidates—Bachman, Cain, Perry, Gingrich and Romney travel to New York for private audiences in the Trump Tower. Governor Romney eventually secured his endorsement. Trump’s proposed run for the presidency indicates his appeal to millions of Americans, shows that millions more find him intriguing and interesting, and that the rest of us, presumably the majority, have come to love to look aghast at him. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that Trump’s television show, The Apprentice, is in its Thirteenth season and still enjoys more than seven million viewers. Also the sales of his several books add to the same conclusion. The obvious question is whether 25% of registered Republicans would have thought him presidential material if they had known what he had been up to in Scotland? Or, the same question stated another way: will the documentary, when viewed, decrease his popularity and following? I’m not convinced it will. If this surmise is correct, it would be evidence that his followers already know what the documentary has to tell them about his character, attitudes, and habits. In an impressive but poorly understood way, Donald Trump’s persona and life style represent a big piece of America and correspond to a significant piece of us. He might be seen by many as the powerful, straight-talking, independent, successful, world-transforming American taken to mythic proportions. Perhaps he thinks of himself or is thought of by others as the mythic developer, the mythic capitalist, the mythic wheeler and dealer, the mythic riverboat gambler, or the mythic tycoon. But do we really know what he means to himself or how we might understand ourselves in him? I think of Donald Trump as the excessive American, the American whose success has led him to inordinate power and to hideous self-worship. His insatiable need to see his name on buildings and planes suggests that he has become an icon even to himself. He is kind of the western cowboy, the Marlboro Man, Emerson’s self-reliant individualist, and Ayn Rand’s capitalist, all rolled into one, a menacing superman, a man whose exploits have become so impressive to himself as to obviate any need for even a pretense of humility or equality with other mere mortals. You’ve been Trumped adds to this impression. In it we watch Trump turn before our eyes from the ugly to the grotesque. Will Callender, Jr. © September 17, 2012

4 thoughts on “Dumping on Trump

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  1. Thanks for these detailed and insightful comments Will. I haven’t seen this film and probably never will. I see enough of Trump’s “hideous self-worship,” as you say, every time I go to New York City to visit my daughter. No need for any more.

    To me the great irony here is that Trump loves to promote his brilliance as a businessman, his sagacity for making “the deal.” Although I am no economist, it seems to me that one of the industries that has been most devastated by the international recession and its weak recovery has been golf. Hundreds if not thousands of courses have closed. Memberships just about everywhere have declined. Who in his right mind would invest in golf in light of these trends? I wouldn’t be surprised if the aborted plans for continuing the project in Scotland were heavily based on financial losses accruing in phase 1.

    All of this suggests to me that Donald Trump just made a double-bogey!


    1. Mike, Thanks for the comment. I hadn’t realized that so many golf courses have declined or gone under. I imagine that Trump’s project looked better to him in 2005 than it does today. I would guess you’re right in the surmise that finances had more to do than wind farms with his waning enthusiasm for the project.

      On the other side of the ledger, I note that three 18 hole courses are planned for Sheldon Adelson’s EuroVegas project, which he announced just last week would be built in Madrid and not Barcelona. Adelson, you may recall, of Sands Vegas and Macau gambling fame, came up with a million dollars for Speaker Gingrich after the Iowa primary, and effectively won South Carolina for the speaker. Now he’s a significant contributor to Governor Romney, who he was trying to help the Speaker defeat in the southern states earlier in the year. Best regards, Will.

    1. May we sum it by simply pointing out that he never got rich being a nice guy. Nor, did he ever become personally refined because of it. There is only one way, the “Trump Way” or, the highway.

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