NEW YORK -- Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he would run for president was met with delight, disbelief and ridicule across much of the US. For those who gorge on the machinations of American political culture, Trump’s run adds an element of burlesque to the 18-month campaign ahead.
There’s already a whiff of pantomime in watching Republican candidates contort into reflections of the unlettered fringe, then warp back after the primaries hoping they haven’t fatally alienated the rest of the country. And now there’s Trump -- a man belittled as a buffoon, a reality TV star, a businessman with false hair who boasts about wealth and thinks calling Mexicans "rapists" might serve him well in a country that boasts 54 million Hispanics.
Frivolity aside, it's unlikely Trump will be president. As revealed in a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, a slender 21 percent of Americans, including around a third of Republicans and independents who vote Republican, say they consider Trump a serious candidate for president.
Yet according to a new documentary out this week, the man isn't just a political sideshow; there's something more malign about the property magnate and his Parallax-like Trump Organisation that pushes the 69-year-old’s business interests.
“A Dangerous Game,” Anthony Baxter’s sequel to “You’ve Been Trumped,” details the ecological damage wrought by Trump's exclusive golf course in Scotland, built "against the wishes of the local community."
The film, which has already been decried by the Trump Organisation as "propaganda," sees Baxter return to the Trump International Links in Aberdeenshire, recently in the news for the Trump's spat with the Scottish government over the building of an offshore wind farm, a dispute the billionaire property tycoon looks to have lost.
So the wind farm is going ahead, but according to Baxter the damage to the countryside has already been done. The course, which was opened in 2012, was built on a site of special scientific interest, a detail dismissed by the Scottish government on the promise that Trump would "invest £1.5 billion in the area and create 6,000 local jobs."
Neither the investment nor the jobs were realised, with Trump admitting in 2013 he had created around 200 jobs and invested just £25 million.
The residents neighbouring the course appear in the film with stories of bullying and intimidation from The Trump Organisation, including having water supplies cut and large sand banks built close to their homes.
One farmer, Michael Forbes, who lives next to his mother Molly, has resisted the purchase of his home on the Menie Estate. Trump said that he lived in a "pigsty" and was a "disgusting blight on the community."
The Trump Organisation denies this opposition, telling HuffPost the "vast majority" of people who live in local area are "overwhelmingly in support of this major development" and the "myth" locals don’t support the project is "perpetrated by a handful of central belt detractors and three disgruntled neighbours."
Earlier this month, Trump opened a new clubhouse at the development, with a hotel complex and a second course promised for the future. These "further phases of development" will, according to the Trump Organisation, create the "thousands of jobs" promised.
The filmmaker, in New York this week to promote the documentary, has been covering the billionaire’s endeavors in Scotland for more than five years, but is still unsure as to what drives him beyond a “love of media attention.”
He notes that a Scottish golf course fits well into Trump’s portfolio (“to have a course at the home of golf was clearly always an ambition”) but was struck by the “pigheadedness” with which he set about achieving it. “What I really found disturbing was when Trump came to Scotland and said he wanted to build a golf course on a site of special scientific interest, a protected site,” he told HuffPost.
There was an outcry from environmental groups when the course was mooted a decade ago. According to Baxter, Trump was offered a different location but forged ahead with his course aided by a complicit Scottish government, despite warnings of an ecological catastrophe from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, the World Wildlife Fund and others.
The theme of the documentary is how environmental destruction goes hand-in-hand with a manipulation of democracy. Baxter was filming the first documentary when he was arrested, an incident he alleges was at the behest of the Trump Organisation who “use the local police as a private security force.” The Trump Organisation denies this, suggesting the filmmaker "breached health and safety regulations" on the construction site.
According to Baxter, former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond cancelled several interviews scheduled for both films, so was unable to explain why standard environmental protections and planning procedures were swept aside for the Menie course.
Naturally, Trump denies any environmental damage, heralding his green credentials on camera: "We've had tremendous support from environmental groups.” The Trump Organisation told HuffPost that only 5% of the site of special scientific interest had been altered by the planting of indigenous grasses, a process called "stabilisation."
Baxter, who made "A Dangerous Game" via a crowd-funding project, is unsure if the documentary will have any impact on the presidential race. "Trump supporters probably won’t care about an old lady having her water supply cut off in Scotland,” he reflects.
Yet there are reasons as to why Trump should be worried. The first film led to a backlash against his Organisation, particularly after it was shown on the BBC in the UK. The second could do likewise in the US should Trump's political detractors take note.
And while Donald's brand of brash capitalism may still appeal to the 1 percent, we now live in an age in which Republicans are voicing concerns about growing economic inequality. And while the plight of homeowners backing onto a golf course in Aberdeenshire probably won't fly, watching a billionaire using “flimsy economic arguments” to justify building a luxury golf course for the super rich might just hit the green.
"A Dangerous Game" is available on iTunes and at the film's website.