When Donald Trump was running for office in 2016, a recording of comments he made about his fame and power being so all-encompassing that he could just grab a woman’s pussy surfaced. Unlike his more prevalent modus operandi of denial and counter accusations, he did not deny having said it. He summed it up as locker room talk that was inappropriate. This may be the closest thing to contrition he has ever done.
Here in Utah, the predominant Mormon culture denounced him and his bid for the presidency. I recall Mayor John Pike posting about it on Facebook saying he could not be president and implying his support for Evan McMullin.
It appeared — on the surface at least — that in spite of being one of the reddest and most fundamentalist conservative states in the union, the Mormons by and large had a moral code which would not abide supporting such a man regardless of the desire to have a republican in the Oval Office.
Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher even lauded Utah on his show, saying, “How about the Mormons?” As outspoken as he is about the absurdity of the claims of all religions, he seemed to be momentarily impressed that perhaps there was a line that could not be crossed with them.
I remember saying to myself in response to Maher, “Don’t count on it.”
This is because, in my own experience living in Utah, I have come to understand the duplicitous nature of this culture intimately and first hand. I doubted (and would eventually be affirmed in that doubt) that the election results would demonstrate that said line even existed. Roughly half (45.5 percent) voted for Trump.
This is anything but an anti-Mormon rant. It is an uttering of bewilderment at the sheer hypocrisy of the conservative religious right. It is a belaboring of the painfully obvious fact that religion and its claims to having the final word on moral authority have been hijacked for the purposes of greedy men and women.
And one would need look no further than the example of the moral ground laid in the 2016 election versus the election results to see this.
After all, Trump was the Will of God incarnate for the legislators of this pristine state to at last have a shot at what they have been fighting for since they arrived in the original territory just a little more than 100 years ago: the right to claim for themselves what was never theirs and do as they please with what does not belong to them — public lands.
Prior to the last year, any attempts at gaining control of land that belonged to every American was stopped in its tracks by long-standing court precedents and legislation such as the Antiquities Act, the Federal Land Management and Policy Act, and even the Taylor Grazing Act. What were tantamount to nothing more than rally cries fortified by frivolous lawsuits and acts of childish behavior with deadly consequences were seemingly validated by Trump’s illegal decision to rescind the newly appointed Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments.
In no less than a week’s time from Trump’s announcement, Utah legislators began to introduce bills to paper over the illegal act, making it veritable law of the land. This has been their hope all along: to take hold of land that does not belong to them under the guise of being better stewards of it only to sell it to the extractive industries, though they deny it.
Adding to the hypocrisy is the constant bemoaning by Utah legislators of federal government overreach and the need for independence contrasted with the copious amount of federal money the state takes. In fact, in a bill proposed to allow a self-governing national park, they will still require federal money to run it in the form of taxes paid by every American who rightfully owns that land.
At present, multiple lawsuits have been brought forth to challenge Trump’s sweeping illegal move and interestingly enough just this week a motion was made to have the venue for these cases to be heard moved from Washington D.C. to a federal court in Utah.
Duplicitous as they may be, I will say that they are cunning. This was a masterfully played hand that could set into motion a chain of events leading to the abolition of federal land management agencies altogether as well as public lands.
Careful what you ask for, Utah. Because the master you serve is not a benevolency at all but rather serves the corporate machinations of greedy and merciless people who have feigned sympathy for your plight in order to steal the birthright of every American. The day will come when you realize the Pandora you have been played for and the box you will not be able to close.
See you out there.
Originally published in the Southern Utah Independent.
“The local people were being caricatured as country yokels getting in the way of progress and not being given a voice by the people who were supposed to represent them.” ~ Golf Courses v. Dunes: A rebellion that failed
I want you to imagine something. Imagine that you have lived in a community your whole life; you’ve grown roots there. You were born and raised in the town that your parents were born and raised in, you know all of your neighbors, and all of your traditions and memories are there. You don’t make a lot of money, but you manage okay, raising your children and making an honest living.
Imagine now that you happen to live on the edge of a pristine and wild piece of land, maybe public lands, suddenly envied by a real estate mogul who wants to build a multi-million dollar golf course and resort there and the only thing standing in his way is you, your community, and your simple way of life. Imagine that when you turn down offers to sell your property, he demonizes you by saying you live like a pig, says you are a poor representation of your country, and encourages politicians to exercise eminent domain to take your property and make you move against your will.
Imagine that your government tenuously respects your property rights but still gives this person the go ahead to build his resort right in your backyard and because he couldn’t take your property, he pushes a dirt berm up around your property and plants trees on it so that the high-paying patrons of his resort don’t have to see the slum-like conditions that you live in. Imagine your access to those public lands, that wild open space that was part of who you are, is now gone and you have not only lost access but the ability to make a living.
Now imagine that this scenario is not a scenario at all; it’s exactly what Donald Trump did to small town residents in Scotland.
In ecology there is a something called ground truthing. It is what ecologists do when they walk the landscape where aerial photographs or remote sensing digital images have been captured to see if what they see on the ground matches what they are seeing in the photos. If we were to ground truth how Donald Trump really feels about working class people, we would find example after example of the real estate mogul dismissing, railroading, and pummeling them. Just ask Micheal Forbes, the fisherman farmer from Scotland who stood up to Donald Trump and may ultimately lose to him.
On the northeast coast of Scotland lies Aberdeenshire. Within Aberdeenshire and north of the city of Aberdeen lies the little village of Balmedie. The population is roughly 2,500. Along the coast is 14 miles of wild dunes listed as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSI), which in the United Kingdom is a designation that denotes a protected area.
To scientists and environmentalists it was a site worth protecting. To locals, the dynamic dune system adjacent to the North Sea was a wild, open space accessible and within reach of ordinary people. Donald Trump convinced politicians to agree that the economic benefits of a golf course on the dunes outweighed the scientific studies and advancement that could be gleaned from them, the environmental sensitivity of the dune ecosystem, and the local use and access the dunes provided average citizens.
The Aberdeen Council rejected the golf course but ultimately got overridden by higher government officials who agreed that the economic benefits would be worth it. When local citizens would not sell their properties, Donald Trump tried convincing the government to exercise Compulsory Purchase Orders (the equivalent to eminent domain in the U.S.) and take their property.
The Scottish politicians would not go that far, but they gave Trump the green light to build his golf course within the protected dune system. When dealing with the stubborn locals who would not sell their property, Trump singled out Michael Forbes, describing his property as slum-like and stating that Forbes lived like a disgusting pig and said visitors to his resort should not have to look out their windows into a virtual slum. To solve the slum problem Trump has bulldozers push dirt up around the local residents’ properties to hide them from view of wealthy visitors who would come to golf.
Who in the scenario do you most identify with, the billionaire from Manhattan or the farmer from Scotland? Who in the scenario would you be? I can’t speak for you, but I identify with the little guy. I know what it is like to be caricatured. Despite working a full-time, white collar job, my whopping gross income of $3000 a month for a family of five is too much to get food stamps despite only bringing home $2200 and having to decide each pay check whether to pay bills or buy groceries. But if I did somehow qualify for food stamps I would be labeled a lazy slob who doesn’t want to work and who is just looking for handouts. I know that if my property was in the sights of Donald Trump, he would mock and belittle me just like he did Michael Forbes.
I might not have tractors in my yard, or multiple tin sheds surrounded by farming and fishing equipment, but I know people who do and they are good, hardworking, honest people, not disgusting pigs, and despite our differences, my life more closely aligns with theirs than the real estate mogul from New York. I know that there is dignity in all honest work and that there is value and worth in anyone who puts food on the table for a family. I also know that wealth and money is no guarantee of class, grace, intelligence, or manners.
While many didn’t heed warning signs of what a Trump presidency would portend, I fear that Middle America will learn what Middle Scotland did. We will find out that the distant proclamations and campaign promises of Donald Trump and the pleas of those who so desperately supported him for political gain will not bear out on the ground for hard-working and struggling Americans in any significant, meaningful, or truthful way. And if the past has anything to say about it, we will find that Trump doesn’t care about Middle America any more than he cared about Middle Scotland, only rather than a local village impacted by a golf course it’s going to be the entire country impacted by his Presidency.
It is unfortunate that we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by cultural issues that have virtually no chance of being changed and that keep us from fighting for issues that we could change. Abortion, gun control, and gay marriage will only change if a new case makes it to the Supreme Court and over-turns current law by setting new precedent, which is highly unlikely in all cases.
By our own gullibility, we have been taken in by crafty marketing campaigns to keep us divided and distracted on issues largely outside of our control, and in being duped we have relinquished our free agency to think for ourselves, to cooperate rather than compete, and have hindered our ability to see and fight for things that have a real impact in our everyday lives.
We have been led to believe that competition is what’s needed, but the only place competition is encouraged is in the electorate because as long as we are divided and distracted, we aren’t really paying attention. As long as we are fighting against each other we are not cooperating and uniting. In nature there is competition for resources, but more often, those species that survive do so by cooperation with other species, not through pure competition.
If we were to come together on job creation, on incomes keeping up with the cost of living; if we checked the impact on the ground with the lofty ideals of policies, we could come together and make our local leaders listen to us the way they are supposed to, and then take our message to Congress and enact new laws, get rid of bad laws, and come up with policies that actually play out in meaningful ways on the ground.
You might be surprised to find out how much you have in common with different races, classes, creeds, and religions if you tried. It’s easy to demonize groups; it’s harder to demonize an individual.
A few years ago I attended the rally put forth by County Commissioner Lyman against the federal government in regard to Recapture Canyon in Blanding, Utah. Ryan Bundy and his entourage were there to illegally ride through the canyon. I was in the minority at the rally. I don’t agree with much Ryan Bundy has to say and I would assume the same of his supporters, but on our way walking to the canyon, an outspoken woman and Bundy supporter at the rally stopped her ATV and asked us if we wanted a ride. We accepted and jumped in.
Had she known we were opposed to what she was doing she might not have stopped. But we got in and joked and laughed with her on the short ride. She was enjoyable to talk to and I could imagine myself having a beer with her and joking about the struggles of life. She dropped us off at the gate where it was illegal to ride an ATV and continued on her illegal journey. I don’t know who that woman was, but I am certain we share many values and beliefs despite our differences and I am certain that is true of most Americans.
If we continue to divide and conquer among political ideologies we will be the ones who continue to get the short end of the stick. We were not as smart as the locals in Scotland who saw through Donald Trump, but we can be now and not allow his administration to ride rough shod over good, hardworking Americans. In 2012 Michael Forbes won Scotsman of the Year in the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards. It hardly compensates for what he has gone through or lost but it’s a start.
Forbes said, “I’m still crofting (farming/small scale food production) but have had to stop salmon fishing as I don’t have direct access to the beach anymore. I have 23 acres of land, which Trump says he needs for his second golf course, and there are 15 homes which still have the threat of a compulsory purchase order over them, but there’s no way I’ll ever sell to Trump.”
“All the morons that caused the controversy in Scotland have made my development more successful than anticipated.”
Like Trump’s promises to overturn Roe v. Wade, to build a wall along our southern border, to ban all Muslims, to start trade wars, and to bring back jobs, Trump’s promises to Scotland were much the same. Trump promised an economic boom and 6,000 new jobs, he said he was doing Scotland a favor.
Just like his back-peddling on campaign promises, the golf course provided roughly 200 jobs, most of which were part-time, low paying jobs one can’t make a living on and the golf course is losing money. Local people lost access to a wild, open space that their families enjoyed for generations and the landscape has been forever changed. The resort was not for Scotland, it was for Trump and his promises were as empty as his political rhetoric and promises made on the campaign trail.
One can only hope that Middle America will stand together and stand strong like Michael Forbes and the locals of Scotland did because if we don’t, the only person that will benefit from Trump’s presidency is Trump’s himself.
***The documentary You’ve been trumped can be watched on Sundance Now.***
If you like what you see here, consider donating. Starving writers don’t like starving.