It is rare that documentaries incite as much blood-boiling anger as Anthony Baxter’s searing polemic You’ve Been Trumped. Though Donald Trump is known only in hyperbolic terms to many as the soundbyte-dropping entrepreneur host of The Apprentice, here we get a disturbing glimpse at the cold, callous heart of his capitalist empire, which appears to know the cost of everything, but very little about the value.
After Trump recently acquired a great deal of Scottish land with plans to build a luxury golf resort upon it, a small group of Aberdeenshire residents – who would be forcibly removed from their homes in order to complete the construction – took umbrage. While Baxter’s film begins as a somewhat whimsical account of their attempts to preserve tradition and what they perceive to be an eroding way of life, it eventually becomes something much more interesting – and horrifying – than anyone could have expected.
To his credit, director Baxter at first appears to frame the legal battle between Trump and the locals with a relatively objective eye, juxtaposing the salt-of-the-Earth Scots against the slick, efficient corporate machine that rolls into town. In fact, early on, Trump doesn’t seem so bad; he conducts himself earnestly enough – at least for a tycoon – and the local resentment at least in part appears to owe to jealously. That the elderly locals are keen to pore over sentiment of their lineage – reminiscing family outings with their fathers – gives early scenes a taste of forced manipulation, something that, needless to say, is promptly undone over the rest of the film.
Before the real horror of Trump’s operation unfurls, however, we get to hear from everyone in between the two parties, such as the environmentalists who see it as an effrontery, scientists who deem the area – containing a rare bank of sand dunes – to be worth preserving, and the politicians who try to view the situation amorally. It is when observing the relationship between Trump and the Scottish government, however, that things start to get fishy, as rejected planning permission applications are recalled, and the administration of scary “CPO”s – which can force people to leave their homes – is discussed.
Once construction begins on Trump’s course, the film takes a real turn for the terrifying. Diggers looming in the distance behind the residents’ homes are unsettling enough, spectres of what is to come, but soon the Trump camp’s behaviour becomes more aggressive, while the administrative response from both them and the police is patently disgusting.
And it isn’t just the citizens themselves who are railroaded; Baxter himself endures the ire of the police, who frighteningly resemble paid stooges of Trump rather than impartial law enforcers. Baxter is frequently asked to turn his camera off, which makes an interesting point about documentary filmmaking, and its power as a tool to ensure correct delivery of the law. Stunning footage later on, in which Baxter is aggressively arrested, only compounds things, and it’s an amazing find given that the cops confiscated his camera and yet chose not to erase the footage. It is at this point that any pretense Baxter has of not taking a side falls apart, yet this only provides the film with even more ammunition for its cause.
When you think it cannot get any worse, it ostensibly does, as the Scots have their land encroached upon and tampered with, while the police continues to do nothing. What, in effect, can be done? Some wonderful protest art is a sure sentiment, but a scene in which a former University principal returns his honorary degree after hearing that Trump is to be awarded one is among the most powerful. That Baxter later gets to briefly question Trump at a press conference is both a surprise and, more importantly, a further indictment of the man.
In the final stages, things are so grim and hopeless that one cannot imagine an even half-way satisfactory resolution. Trump’s frightening lack of self-awareness about how he is perceived only heightens the unsettling nature of his approach. At least in the end, there is some light relief, and the residents don’t have to resort to chaining themselves to their homes to stave off the diggers.
The emotionally charged power of a protest is unmistakable, and Baxter’s film itself is a call to arms, one liable to involve viewers in the cause and incite plenty of righteous anger in the process. It’s a terrifying doc that only grows more fascinating and infuriating as its filmmakers, drawn into the drama themselves, let go of their impartiality.
You’ve Been Trumped is on limited release from Friday.
This article was first posted on July 3, 2012