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edition 4 (219)
April 2017
Endpiece

Developer-in-Chief?

Nathan North

Developer-in-Chief?

Donald Trump has graced (for want of a better word) the covers of countless publications in recent months – and not just those dedicated to covering the political scene

A recent issue of Golf Digest featured the new leader of the free world in full golfing gear alongside the headline: ‘Golfer-in-Chief’. Esquire magazine last year had a similar Trump-adorned cover, but this time the emphasis in the headline was rather different: ‘Hater-in-Chief’. Many might wish that instead of entering politics Trump could have just quietly retired and instead focused on improving his golf handicap. But obviously, “quiet” and “retiring” aren’t words usually associated with the man. His handicap would not seem to need much improving either, since he claims a rather impressive one (for a 70-year-old) of below three. Unfortunately, as with many facts about the great man, this one is impossible to pin down. But it’s not as though he’s got a track record for having a strange relationship with the truth, is it? Anyway, since he was originally a property developer, why didn’t we emblazon the front of our December issue with his portrait and the headline ‘Developer-in-Chief’? – I pretend to hear you ask?

Well, along with the fact that he inherited a fortune from his father, who then pulled strings at New York City Hall so his son could build Trump Tower, his track-record as a developer is somewhat chequered. There’s the reputation he earned as an unscrupulous slum-landlord. There was the plan to create “the world’s greatest golf course” in Scotland, which involved aggressive tactics to remove those living in the way of its development, such as cutting off their water supply. He also tried to block an offshore windfarm project to provide electricity for the area, because this would mar the view of the golfers. All of this provoked such a backlash from the locals that they labelled him, in the Scottish vernacular, a “bawbag”. Then there were the casinos that famously went bust. But what this débâcle did allow him to do was to record a USD 1 bln loss and so avoid paying income tax for the next 18 years.

And then there are his somewhat opaque dealings in Russia. Trump might not have published his tax returns and divested his business interests upon taking office, but what he has revealed is the strangest of soft spots for Vladimir Putin. When Russia annexed the Crimea in the wake of the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine, the West responded to this aggressive act by imposing sanctions, which continue to bite the Russian economy and Putin’s regime today. What was Trump’s response? To show that he agreed with the West’s stand against this attack on democracy and national sovereignty by a bullying, paranoid Russian state? Or was it to immediately see this as a new business opportunity and sign a deal with his contacts in the Russian government to build projects on Crimean soil? This could prove to be a potentially lucrative move, since Putin has plans to turn the peninsula into the Las Vegas of the East. “I will build the biggest, most beautiful casino on the Crimea – it’ll make your head spin,” Trump is reported to have said. Sadly, however, if this project ever existed it seems to be on the backburner at the moment, as the investigations into his Russian involvement continue.

It could instead turn out that he is the ‘Constructor-in-Chief’, having promised to kick-start the US economy with a raft of infrastructure projects. One of these is the Dakota Pipeline, a scheme blocked by Obama because it threatened to contaminate land sacred to Native Americans. But, according to Trump, environmentalism and sensitivity to the concerns of minorities are precisely the kind of politically correct nonsense that stands in the way of making America Great Again. So the pipeline is now set to go ahead. However, the most famous construction project Trump intends to push through is that of the 3,200 km Mexican border wall. It is estimated that it would cost anywhere between USD 10 bln and USD 1 tln. Trump did promise to make the Mexicans pay for it, but so far they have failed to jump at the chance of funding this “big, beautiful wall!”, so it looks like he will have to ask Congress to foot the bill instead, if they ever allow it to be built at all.

I hope by now that it has become clear why Trump didn’t appear on our front cover late last year. It boils down to the fact that there are plenty of very fine developers and constructors in the CEE region, whose projects are grounded in reality and sensitive to both the environment and the concerns of local populations. They are genuinely contributing to making our countries great again, which is why they are much more deserving of being celebrated on the covers of Eurobuild Central & Eastern Europe.

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