Donald Trump’s Power of Persuasion Through Big Government

Donald Trump and Eminent Domain


Robert Verbruggen|National Review

The Devil's in the Details: Not yet confronted with hot button issues, Trump has a history of playing both sides of the fence, and the subject of eminent domain and his use of those powers should have libertarians seeing red. Buyer beware.

In a free market, there’s a pretty simple process for dealing with the situation that arises when one person covets another’s belongings: The coveter makes an offer to purchase them. If the offer is rebuffed, the coveter can make a new proposal, but he cannot simply take what he wants. It’s an effective way of recognizing the impracticality of the Tenth Commandment while enforcing the Eighth.

Donald Trump’s covetous nature is not in dispute, but what many may forget is that he’s no great respecter of the admonition not to steal, either: The man has a track record of using the government as a hired thug to take other people’s property.

This is called, of course, “eminent domain.” The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment allows the government to take private property for “public use,” so long as “just compensation” is paid. In the infamous 2005 Kelo decision, the Supreme Court held that “public use” could include, well, private use, so long as the new property owner paid more in taxes than the previous one. In other words, it allowed developers and the government to gang up on homeowners. The developer gets more land, the government gets more tax money. The only losers are the original owner and his property rights.

A decade and a half ago, it was fresh on everyone’s mind that Donald Trump is one of the leading users of this form of state-sanctioned thievery. It was all over the news. In perhaps the most-remembered example, John Stossel got the toupéed one to sputter about how, if he wasn’t allowed to steal an elderly widow’s house to expand an Atlantic City casino, the government would get less tax money, and seniors like her would get less “this and that.” Today, however, it takes a push from the Club for Growth to remind us of Trump’s lack of respect for property rights.

The problem dates back to at least 1994. That year, Trump promised to turn Bridgeport, Conn., into“a national tourist destination by building a $350 million combined amusement park, shipping terminal and seaport village and office complex on the east side of the harbor,” reported the Hartford Courant. “At a press conference during which almost every statement contained the term ‘world class,’ Trump and Mayor Joseph Ganim lavished praise on one another and the development project and spoke of restoring Bridgeport to its glory days.”

The wrinkle? “Five businesses and the city-owned Pleasure Beach now occupy the land,” as the Courant put it. The solution? “The city would become a partner with Trump Connecticut Inc. and obtain the land through its powers of condemnation. Trump would in turn buy the land from the city.”

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