A cautionary tale about someone who may one day be in charge of the IRS.
As a large-scale real estate developer, Trump has sometimes sued in his efforts to use government to condemn houses belonging to people of modest means whose homes—which Trump considers insufficiently attractive—have stood near his big developments and have chosen to exercise their liberty by refusing to sell to him.
That’s one of the reasons Trump agrees 100% with the SCOTUS decision in Kelo (decided in 2005): he sees it making it easier for him to use government to compel the sale of a person’s house even against that person’s will.
It’s Trump’s prerogative to approve of Kelo, and it’s certainly understandable that someone in his line of work might have that point of view. He has every right to build his projects, and to try to buy the land of those with adjacent property.
But if more people knew about the tactics he has used in trying to get government to force people out of their homes against their will, and his own condescending and often insulting comments about those same people and their modest homes, he might not be seen in such a positive light. With Trump, the legal often seems to segue into the personal.
There are several examples. One occurred in the 1990s, when Trump was trying to buy the home of a 70-ish Atlantic City widow named Vera Coking. He wanted her property not for building his casino, but in order to use the land as a waiting area for limos. She had lived in the same place for three decades, and said no to Trump’s offer to buy. After that, Trump tried to get the city to condemn her property and buy it for a reduced sum, and the court battle took five years:
The decision ended a five-year condemnation dispute that had raised the fundamental question of whether the government could condemn land on behalf of someone else.
In this case, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a state agency, had sought to seize three properties — an elderly widow’s home, a family-run Italian restaurant and a pawnshop — by invoking the Federal and state constitutions, which allow property to be condemned for “public use.” The authority then planned to turn the properties over to the Trump Organization for additional landscaping and parking, including a waiting area for guest limousines…
Judge Williams also said in his decision that he would have granted the authority’s condemnation applications had there been a firm contract between the authority and Trump Plaza as a guarantee that the seized properties would be used solely for additional parking and new trees.
Lawyers for the property owners suggested that the Trump Organization’s true interest in the properties was to expand its casino and hotel space and that the company would not be interested in acquiring the land with restrictions.
Vera Coking (and several other plaintiffs) won:
Mrs. Coking’s daughter, Branwen Torpey, said…”It feels like a big weight’s been lifted off us. We have had a lot of help from the American people, little people just like us who work and earn what they have.”
Ms. Coking had said earlier that “This is my home. This is my castle.” Trump had disagreed; he had built a different kind of castle with a different kind of aesthetic, and he made it clear that her home didn’t fit into his picture:
Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees that [Coking] property,” Trump continued…”They’re staring at this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.”
In case you were wondering, here’s a photo of Coking’s “terrible” house, with Trump’s casino (and accompanying advertisements) in the background. I’m not sure everyone would agree as to which of the two buildings is more aesthetically pleasing, although of course it’s Trump’s prerogative to design the building as he saw fit:
Vera Coking wasn’t just playing a game, either; she did want to stay in her house, and lived there until 2010. Trump’s casino, of course, is now defunct, having gone bankrupt—and not because of Vera Coking’s “terrible” home.
Someone running against Trump might be able to make a campaign advertisement out of parts of the following video. In it, Trump demonstrates an obtuseness about the difference between eminent domain for public use and for private business (Dana Berliner, seen in the video, was Coking’s lawyer):
The video tells us a quite a bit about the extent of Trump’s respect for the property rights of others. I can assure you that, if Trump ends up being the Republican nominee, the Democrats will not hesitate to use it. They will probably have a field day with this and other similar actions of Trump’s.
As an example of one of those “similar actions,” much more recently Trump tried to do virtually the same thing to people living near—not on but near—a luxury golf course and resort he was planning in Scotland. So this story had an international flavor. Again, Trump wanted to buy their property, despite their adamant refusal to sell, because they lived near his planned golf course and he felt that they homes would spoil the view for his wealthy clients.
In Scotland as in Atlantic City, Trump again tried to get an agency of local government to condemn their homes and evict them. This time, Trump also let loose with a fusillade of very personal insults toward some of the holdouts themselves, as well as their property, insults that were considerably worse than what he’d said about the home of Vera Coking. Among the insults he leveled against one man in particular in Scotland named Michael Forbes was to say he was “the village idiot” and that he “lives like a pig.”
There are many videos about the incident available on YouTube, nearly all of them taken from a documentary entitled “You’ve Been Trumped” that was made in 2011 (the entire film is available at YouTube, as well). Here is a trailer from the movie; Trump can be seen spouting a few of the insults from 0:18 to 0:23, right after Forbes has spoken. Afterwards I’ve posted a somewhat longer video with more background material (you might want to use the caption function when you watch; the Scottish accents can be hard to understand):
You can be certain that this is the sort of ammunition that Democrats are saving up to use against Trump in the general election if he becomes the nominee. There is a ton more where that came from, all of it with the potential to make him look very bad in the eyes of Independents and Democrats in particular—and, I would add, in the eyes of many conservatives and libertarians as well.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]