Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Trump doesn't believe in private property rights.

"Eminent domain, when it comes to jobs, roads, the public good, I think it’s a wonderful thing. You’re not taking property. … You’re paying a fortune for that property." ---Donald Trump

Trump's stance is not surprising considering he once tried to throw an elderly woman named Vera Coking off the property she'd lived in for three decades so it could be used as a parking lot for his Trump Plaza Hotel. When Coking declined Trump's offer of $1 million, he whined to the  New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority who filed suit against Coker, demanding she vacate the property within 90 days with a settlement of just $250K. Thankfully, Coking prevailed when the court threw out the case.

Eminent domain is the "the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation."

Let's expand on expropriate. It means to seize, appropriate, take possession of, confiscate, requisition, commandeer, claim, acquire...dispossess someone from their property. Usually it's done in the name of the public good.

And while we're at it, there's an extremely loose interpretation of the public good when it comes to eminent domain. Be very careful when you are told that perfectly good neighborhood near you (maybe your own!) needs to be razed to build a shopping center, high-rise condominium or a factory, all of course for the public good. And as to being paid a fortune? There's the requirement of just compensation but it isn't always what you think. Developers will try to low-ball and get away with paying as little as possible.

Then there's the cost of defending one's right to keep the property. There are lawyer fees, experts to hire, surveys, papers to be filed, etc. There's time taken off work, business lost, etc. Often times, homes and businesses are taken anyway. In the end, it's a financial and emotional nightmare and nothing most people are paid, especially your average middle-class, working-class Americans, could adequately compensate for what they've endured. Ever.

One of the many horror stories about eminent domain abuse is the case of Kelo v. New London. The New London Development Corporation fought to purchase a nine-acre area of Susette Kelo's beautiful, historic neighborhood so that a developer could build on it, including a $300 million Pfizer research facility. Pfizer promised jobs, New London and the Supreme Court sided with Pfizer and Susette and others lost their fight.Oh but there's more. Pfizer left New London in 2009 and took its nearly 1,500 jobs with it. New London wound up spending $80 million on a piece of land that went undeveloped.
Time and time again, local governments, backed by the courts, take private property away from hardworking Americans to give to developers for building and expansion. Often times it isn't even about infrastructure, it's about developers with a lot of money and influence getting into bed with local governments. The word "blight" is thrown around a lot. I've seen pictures of the neighborhoods deemed blighted. The term has a tendency to be overused and stretched to the limit and beyond by greedy local governments.
"The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management." --Thomas Jefferson, 1816.

The Founders knew that ownership of private property was essential to building a strong America. Americans have always had a religious-like devotion and respect for private property. Some might even argue that this sense of devotion, while noble, may hinder the spirit of community and togetherness...thinking perhaps that too much emphasis placed on a sense of entitlement/private property reduces the development of a sense of citizenship but I don't believe that to be true of Americans. The inherent desire to own property is deeply rooted in our culture. It isn't about status, not for most, it's about pride...working hard and building something from the ground up...something you put your blood, sweat and tears into, something you can pass on to the generations that come after you. Your property, that you put so much into, is essentially your legacy. This ownership of private property, the pride that goes into it---this is how communities are built, how they stay strong. Private property rights are essential for communities to thrive. They contribute to the economic prosperity and social harmony and are essential to the economic and political health of a nation.

So pardon me if I tell Donald Trump he's full of shit. Just because you can legally do something doesn't mean it's morally right. But don't tell that to people like Trump because he'll just laugh at you and call you ignorant. For people like him it's about the bottom line: "How much money can I make and how fast?"

The greatest tragedy in all of this is how it affects the people. It is people, not money, who are the backbone of America. This country was built not by money but by people and it is great not because of money but because of people. This is a concept men like Trump will never understand. Perhaps he would  if the government jumped in and seized his buildings and razed them and then turned the land into residential neighborhoods, parks and small businesses for poor and working-class families.

You know...in the name of the public good.