This weekend in Manhattan, a small Scottish storm erupts. Anthony Baxter, a Scottish filmmaker and journalist brings his amazingly bold project: You've Been Trumped to New York. Baxter uses the powerful art of cinematography to expose the bully-capitalism of billionaire Trump to a small group of courageous and feisty Scottish farmers. The film captures the actions of New York's own self-promoting real-estate baron Donald Trump, as he trumps over the personal, civil, and economic rights of the Scottish locals. Trump, it seems, wanted to build yet another golf course.
His own America experiencing economic hardship, Trump turns his eyes to Scotland's Aberdeenshire coastline and 1,400 undeveloped acres on the North Sea. The coastline is a "legally protected ecosystem of dynamic dunes" which Trump plans to turn into a luxury resort. Confident that he can overturn local environmental protection laws, Trumps succeeds in convincing parliament member Alex Salmond to bypass ecological concerns for economic gain.
The story is as old as human history itself. Money over mammon, money over morals, money over human decency, money over well... everything. In the film, Trump calls the Aberdeenshire locals "pigs" and cuts off their water supply. When a farmer refuses to sell the land he has lived on for his whole life, Trump threatens to take it over by eminent domain.
Yet in 2012, Trump's old-school capitalism looks as primitive as it really is. To his credit, Trump doesn't pretend to be a "good guy." He doesn't feign concern for people or planet. He never resorts to the greenwashing or phony CSR hyberbole of other indifferent capitalists. In a testimony to Parliament, Trump claims that climate change is not real and that the proposed wind farm off the coast should be scrapped in favor of tourism.
A Theory of Moral Sentiments
Capitalism began its official birth in Scotland with the publication of Edinburgh native Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. The year was 1776. While a feisty colony of American revolutionaries fought off the powerful British Empire, the Scottish native son espoused the idea of a new freedom-loving pursuit of wealth. Scotland has been the birthplace of many independent bold thinkers dating back to 16th century John Knox who sowed the seeds of democracy.
The irony of Smith's book that has been lost through the centuries is that the philosopher's economic treatise challenged monarchical supremacy by suggesting that ordinary people could take control of their economic lives. Contrary to common misunderstanding, Smith did not espouse Trump-like capitalism where the pursuit of money supersedes all moral and ethical reason. In fact, quite the contrary was true. Smith was above all a very principled man. His basic belief was that man was inherently good. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments he makes the following assertion:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
Herein lays the real flaw in Smith's theory of human relations, his belief that compassion overpowers selfishness. The greatest ruffian Trump, who is accused by Scottish locals and filmmaker Baxter of being the most hardened violator of the basic laws of society, appears to be entirely without any sense of humanity or sensibility for his fellow man.
The real shame here is not The Donald's lack of sensitivity or bullying style of capitalism. The real crime is that the laws that are in effect to protect the rights of all citizens against this type of economic tyranny never does -- on either side of the Atlantic. An environmentally protected spectacular natural coastline can be transformed into spewing water fountains and fakely gilded Frederick's of Hollywood "luxury" with barely a ripple. The civil rights of the locals are trampled with complete impunity. Were it not for the courage of an innovative filmmaker, none of us would ever know about it. In truth, it is not Trump that trumped the Scottish people. It is their own legal guardians that make the laws and rip them away to make room for personal profit.
We can brand Trump "the bad guy" and by all accounts he is the villain to the Scottish locals. Yet this scenario is all too common to be attributed to just one ruthless businessman. There are millions of Trump vs. the Little People stories occurring everyday -- not just in autocratic "unjust" nations, but in our very own democratic backyards as well. The tale of the bold citizens in the tiny Scottish village of Balmedie versus the dehumanizing brutal machine of survival-of-the-fittest capitalism is the fight of all of us.
The film is a template for everything wrong with the predatory capitalism practiced by Trump and so many others from the 19th century to the present. In reality, "You've Been Trumped" is an indictment of the economic system of capitalism without conscience. Such blatant cruelty and human indifference looks truly savage and outdated to the 21st century mind. We should watch this film depicting the cartoon-like callousness of the unpopular Trump and see it for its place in the bigger picture.
The question the film really asks each of us is: how much human misery and suffering will it take before we finally come together as citizens and incorporate a higher moral ethic into the pursuit of profit once and for all?