Donald Trump is known for being cheesy — his buildings, inside and out, are notorious for their gaudy style and interiors, and every time I've come in contact with one of his properties in NYC or while traveling, it's elicited a roll of my eyes — each one more blinged out and ridiculous-looking than the last. Tackiness is practically part of the Trump trademark, something we can all laugh about.
But Trump has crossed the line of questionable good taste and into destruction. The new documentary, "You've Been Trumped," takes a close look at how the business scion does business — and it doesn't seem to involve decency or interest in protected ecosystems. At the start of the film, we learn that after buying up enough land in northeastern Scotland (with a few local holdouts), Trump plans to build the world's "greatest golf course." After being rejected on environmental grounds by the local council, the decision is ultimately overturned by a higher-up in the Scottish government in a curious move that renders moot what locals wanted for their land — a scientifically unique, dynamic dune system right on the coast.
Of course Trump says he's going to bring hundreds of jobs to the area (which a London School of Economics professor says is a tactic often used by developers, and usually proves to be pretty much untrue, as estimates are overblown and foreign workers usually take the bulk of the low-wage positions) and that he is "improving and protecting" the ecosystem by putting a golf resort there. Anyone who's taken Geology 101 knows that dunes are notorious for moving and shifting rapidly in response to storms and wind (and which is important for the native plants and animals that live there); stasis has no place in such a system, yet the golf resort will demand just that. One of the saddest parts of the film was seeing the scientists talking about how important this area was — one of the last patches of wild, undeveloped Scottish coastline. Now it will be tamed and a giant hotel (plus parking lots, roads, golf paths and water-polluting greens) will be plopped in the middle of it.
To make this film, the producers were subject to rough treatment by police, including a fairly violent arrest, and spent plenty of time documenting the economic, social and environmental implications of Trump's golf course development. Local residents, some of whom have called the area home for generations, are also harassed by Trump employees and local police. It brought tears to my eyes, watching these people as their landscape of rolling dunes patrolled by seabirds is completely bulldozed. That they lose water (aquifers are obviously disturbed) and power, in some cases for longer than a week, is just another example of the total destruction wreaked on the land and the people who haven't sold out to Trump.
That this is all happening in 2011 in a developed, educated country like Scotland is the most surprising part of the whole story. That power and money always seem to trump local will and environmental protection might surprise many of us who think that these things only happen in Third World nations. It surprised me that such a destructive project, brought in by an American (not even a native Scottish person), could be proposed, and pushed through so that more Americans can go there and play golf — when Scotland is renown for its historic and beautiful courses already — leaves me flabbergasted. Fortunately the filmmakers take a more even hand than I have here, repeatedly asking Trump direct, fair questions and showing, rather than telling the viewers about the destruction of the shoreline.
While it's great that this movie has gotten lots of positive attention, winning a Victor Rabinowitz and Joanne Grant Award for Social Justice at the Hamptons International Film Fest, a Special Jury Prize at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival and a special prize at Edindocs, I'm sure the negative attention isn't going to phase Trump one bit. After all, even David Letterman got wind of what was going on and asked Trump about some of the protests and issues in building this golf course, but they were brushed off; Trump acts as if he is invincible. But maybe this film will keep him from embarking on such a project again (perhaps I'm too optimistic?), and prevent his son and daughter, who seem to be following his footsteps, from going precisely this route in their quest to make more money.