The Lesson of Aberdeen
(David Moir / Reuters)
Last weekend, while my husband and I participated in the Women’s March on Washington, I ruminated about this week’s article: I wanted to write about walking to the Capitol Building the day before the inauguration and listening to the military band and a soloist practice the Star Spangled Banner, which stirred within me a strange mix of patriotism, melancholy, despair, and terror. I wanted to write about the thousands and thousands of port-a-potties lining the streets, bearing the name “Don’s Johns,” and how Trump’s people demanded the name be covered with blue and white tape: the first of many Trump cover-ups. I wanted to write about entering a plush, wood-paneled bar, and talking with a charming, 30-something Republican, who said that John McCain's son had once been his roommate, and then told me, "Women need to have more babies. Not just a few, but a LOT more. We need to rebuild our country." About the 20-something Republican who, when I asked why she supported Trump, responded, “Emails, Benghazi, and abortion.” She could give no details about the emails, no facts about Benghazi, and her true motivations for being Anti-choice, I finally discovered, arose from her being adopted and her adoptive parents repeatedly saying, “What if you had been aborted?” I wanted to write about the personal verbal attacks I received from Republicans—on the streets of Washington and from my own siblings—and about how this election has ripped apart not only our country, but also our friendships and our families.
I wanted to write about all of those things. But I also wanted to write about the powerful energy, the love, the unity, the sense of purpose born from the Women’s March on Washington, and from marches across this nation and around the world; and how, though millions of people marched, not one incident of violence occurred anywhere—which makes me so grateful and proud. How this election has birthed a new generation of feminists, a new stronghold of activists, a new Movement of People—and not just for women, but for all oppressed people. How this election has reminded us again of the fragility of Democracy and Freedom, and that we now must rise up, march on, and protect those rights, which the Trump administration threatens to destroy.
Ultimately, though, I realized that so much has already been written about this uprising—and tweeted and shared and discussed—and that what we really need is to confront what lies ahead.
Two days ago, on the Sundance Now website, I watched a documentary called You’ve Been Trumped, which followed Trump’s business venture in Aberdeen, Scotland, where he built a sprawling golf course across hundreds of acres of 4,000-year-old coastal sand dunes, designated as one of Europe’s most environmentally sensitive areas.
The local residents have lived there for generations, in an area known as Balmedie. Susan and John Munro could look out of their kitchen window and “see 10 miles across open land all the way to the Girdleness lighthouse on the other side of Aberdeen.” And every day of their lives, they and their neighbors had watched the sun rise over the ocean, walked miles and miles among the dunes, raised crops and children, and acted as proud stewards of their land. They had lived quietly and respectfully in their humble homes, good neighbors all.
Then an Ugly American flew to Aberdeen in his private jet—his name emblazoned on its side—throwing out promises like candy at a parade, but succeeding only in destroying the delicate wilderness, bullying and suing the locals, and pursuing a vicious land grab. We need to pay attention to this story.
Trump’s original plan was to build two golf courses, “a 450-room luxury hotel and spa, a conference center, employee housing, a turf-grass research center and a holiday community with hundreds of villas, condos and homes. The project,” according to Trump, “would pump millions of dollars into the local economy and create 6,000 jobs — maybe even 7,000 jobs.” Trump promised a $1.25 billion investment. Ten years later, he has spent $50 million, built one golf course, employed 95 people, and converted an existing manor house into a 16-room boutique hotel. The luxury hotel and the 950 time-shares never materialized—and the parking lot is nearly always empty.
As Martin Ford, a local government representative, said, “If America wants to know what is coming, it should study what happened here. . . . [Trump] suckered the people and he suckered the politicians until he got what he wanted, and then he went back on pretty much everything he promised.”
Double-dealing, reneging on contractual agreements, cheating, and lying to Scotland’s local and national government is egregious enough. But Trump is also a mean, narcissistic bully, who insists on getting what he wants, and he wanted land that the locals wouldn’t sell. So he threatened to seize the Munro’s, the Milne’s, the Forbes’s, and other locals’ family homes through a law called “compulsory purchase”—similar to our “eminent domain”—forcing them to sell.
(Two of the locals that Trump wanted to kick out of their homes.)
When that didn’t work, Trump sent security forces to harass them by circling their homes several times a day. Trump attacked the families in the media, saying, “I look at Mr. Forbes and his disgusting conditions in which he lives, and that people have to look at that, and it’s about time for someone to speak out. It’s almost like, in fact it is like a slum-like condition. For people to have to look at this virtual slum . . . Mr. Forbes is not a man that people in Scotland should be proud of. . . . Mr. Forbes lives in a pig-like atmosphere—it’s disgusting.”
(Forbes and his family farm)
Trump’s team built a paved road on top of Mr. Forbes’s spring, cutting off Forbes’s water supply: no drinking water, no water in his toilet or from his taps, no way to cook or to wash his dishes and clothes. Then Trump’s crew took down David Milne’s fence and destroyed an outbuilding that encroached on the property line, leaving Milne and his neighbors without electricity or phone service. Then, unbeknownst to Milne and without his consent, Trump’s people built a new fence and sent the bill to Milne, demanding that he pay $3500 for the project. Milne refused. Sound familiar? Milne now flies the Mexican flag, along with the flag of Scotland, above his home.
In the midst of this ongoing attack, Trump’s construction continued—bulldozing the 4000-year-old dunes, cutting down over 400 trees and burying them in mass graves. As British journalists filmed the destruction, their cameras were confiscated and the journalists were thrown in jail. Sound familiar? Trump had convinced the local police to work on his behalf.
Trump was not finished. The locals had withstood his onslaught—a group of activists purchased part of Forbes’s land, making it more difficult to seize; and the elected leaders who previously had given into Trump’s demands now refused to help Trump kick locals off their own land. Trump retaliated by building walls—sound familiar? He told his crew to bulldoze topsoil from the construction site and form a two-story-high hill, surrounding the houses and destroying the families’ views. Now when the Munro’s look out their kitchen window, they see a wall of dirt, and rain runs down the hill, turning their yard into a lake and their driveway into a mudslide.
(David Milne's home before Trump . . .)
(. . . and after. David Milne standing atop the 15-foot mound of dirt, surrounding his home)
But the story does not end here. When Trump announced his grandiose plans in 2006, he promised the project would bring jobs and an influx of tourists to help the economy, and he promised to protect the fragile environment. A local paper had hailed Trump’s golf course “as economically historic as the discovery of oil under the North Sea,” and The Washington Post reported: “Local leaders greeted his private Boeing 727 at the airport, along with a bagpiper playing ‘Highland Laddie.’" They admitted to being a bit confused when Trump repeatedly referred to himself as "Scotch," rather than as a "Scot" (his mother had emigrated to America from Scotland). Soon after the visit, "Trump was named a global business ambassador for the country.” Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen even awarded Trump an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree "in recognition of his achievements as an entrepreneur and businessman." Scotland could not have been more warm or welcoming.
But Trump couldn’t help being Trump. David Milne compared him to a poker player who bluffs with an inferior hand: He promises everything, but delivers little. Three years before Trump had even conceived of the Trump International Golf Links resort, Scotland had developed plans for a wind-farm off the shore of Aberdeen. Trump knew about the project going in. But after bulldozing the dynamic dune system—destroying it to where it could never recover, which Dr. Jim Hansom of the University of Glasgow compared to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest—Trump threatened to pull out of the project, because the wind turbines would ruin his guests’ ocean view. So even though Scotland needed this source of clean energy, the government conceded and reduced the number of wind turbines from 33 to 11.
(These are not the sand dunes. This is the destruction after the dunes had been leveled, and hundreds of truckloads of sand dumped on top.)
How did the Scottish government allow this to happen? They trusted Trump’s word. Trump swore that he was an environmentalist, stating, “The greatest thing I’ve ever done for the environment is what I’ll be doing right here in Aberdeen.” Two years later, in 2008, during a hearing on the project, Trump admitted that “he didn’t read his environmental consultants’ advice because he didn’t need to.” Sound familiar? And The Wall Street Journal reported that during the hearings, Trump said:
“ ‘I would consider myself an environmentalist in the true sense of the word,’
. . . a comment that drew so much laughter from the public gallery that the inquiry chairman had to call for order.”
Ultimately, Trump’s project was green-lighted because he promised to provide jobs—which never happened. Sound familiar?
And now the people of Scotland despise him. In 2016, over 500,000 Britons signed a petition to bar Trump from the country. According to the petition's organizer, Aberdeen’s Suzanne Kelly: “Trump would have us think that he is widely respected and loved. . . . That’s just delusional, I’m sorry to say. . . Nobody wants him around. . . . And he refuses to see or refuses to accept what is reality.” Sound familiar?
Dr. David Kennedy, a retired but highly regarded university principal—equivalent to a university chancellor in the United States—staged a one-man protest against Trump: On his own honorary degree, Kennedy wrote "Not Wanted" and handed it back to Robert Gordon University—he did not want to be associated with a university that would award an honorary degree to a man like Donald Trump. “Somebody’s got to stand up to these people and make sure the world knows there are people who do not approve of this,” Dr. Kennedy said. “I do not approve of bullying. . . . Donald Trump has said he thinks that you cannot be too greedy, he believes that you should be brutal and powerful, he believes that sacking people is not a bad thing—he boasts about the number of people he’s sacked. These are not the qualities that I would expect of a man who was to receive an honorary degree.”
Locals have staged protest marches, walking behind a lone bagpiper across the ancestral land that Trump threatened to seize; they have waved protest banners and chanted slogans against the Ugly American.
Artist David McCue protested by creating an installation of his paintings and other artists’ sculptures in Forbes’s barn, so that visitors could “glimpse into the history and heritage of this space”—the space that Trump had called a "slum."
On one side of Forbes’s barn, McCue installed paintings of Trump; on the opposite side, paintings of locals. The juxtaposition reveals the battle. The colors reveal the character. “In the Trump paintings, the accent is very much in the red—the anger—which contrasts with the cool blues and the relaxed greens [of the locals],” said one onlooker, “reflecting the diversity of where they come from and what they mean and what their intentions are. I think [Trump’s] intentions are very angry, very self-motivated, very self-interested. . . . The way they display their wealth and their attitude, you know, it’s very much a contrast to what goes on here.”
One of McCue’s paintings became the cover for the documentary. The background is composed of dollar bills, which McCue said form “a brick wall”: That’s what it’s like to confront a moneyed man like Trump—“like you’ve hit a brick wall, a dead end.”
The Trump regime is now bulldozing America as it did those ancient dunes of sand. We might feel that brick wall now, but this does not have to become a dead end. The Women’s March on Washington was a powerful and beautiful uprising, inspiring millions of people to become activists, people who never before had stood for their political and social beliefs. But we cannot let this become just one moment in time: We must turn this into a Movement of the People. Our only enemy is complacency, falling back into our daily routines. We all need to stand up and speak out, like the Secret Service agent who declared that she would not stop a bullet for Trump. We need to use our talents to protest. We need to support the agencies that, like those 400 trees, the Trump regime will attempt to bury in a mass grave: journalists, environmental agencies, Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting. Call your local representatives. Send postcards and ask them to support the causes dear to your heart.
Visit the Women’s March on Washington website for daily actions: https://www.womensmarch.com
This was not an election. This was a coup d'état, backed by Putin himself. Trump is leading a wolf pack of ravenous, rabid Republicans, eyeing social programs and personal freedoms like wounded deer.
Learn the lesson of Aberdeen. As Susan Monro said, “He has a thing about walls, that Mr. Trump. I hope America has a better experience than Balmedie.”
(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
© Ellen Antonelli 2017
Watch You've Been Trumped.
Listen to Terry Gross (NPR's "Fresh Air") interview the Moscow Bureau Chief for The Guardian, who discusses Putin's involvement in America's 2016 election.
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Unless otherwise noted, all images from:
You've Been Trumped, Montrose Pictures
David Moir / Reuters, originally published in The Atlantic:
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images, originally published in The Washington Post: