The ongoing Trump University scandal might be the ultimate demonstration of the saying, “When someone shows you who they really are, believe them.” For anyone considering voting for Donald Trump, this situation represents their best chance at a wake-up call — lest they follow thousands of other hapless Americans down the path to parting ways with millions of dollars.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 28, 2016
What is “Trump University?”
After researching, I learned that it’s not a university; it’s a place of higher learning at all. It’s just a bunch of seminars named “University.” It’s worth noting that the New York State Educational Department demanded the name be changed out of fear that people would be misled about the actual purpose of the seminars.
According to the Washington Post, Trump University was first conceptualized in 2004. It wasn’t even the brainchild of Donald Trump himself.
“Two businessmen proposed to offer distance-learning courses in entrepreneurship under the Trump brand. Trump gave his blessing, according to court documents, becoming a 93 percent owner of the new enterprise.”
This information might be a bit misleading at first glance. It suggests that Trump merely agreed to put his name on this project, as he does with so many business ventures. The fact that this scam — as it was later revealed to be — did not originate in the mind of Trump himself did not prevent the billionaire from profiting.
As for the series of seminars, the first one was free. Rather than teach any useful information about real estate, it served as a glorified 90-minute sales pitch. Attendees were told that they had to shell out $1,495 for a three-day seminar where they’d learn Donald Trump’s trade secrets and be that much closer to making more money than they’d ever dreamed possible.
Most attendees smelled a scam and walked away. Others didn’t, and paid the fee in hopes of learning trade secrets. During that seminar, these people didn’t learn anything of note and never saw Donald Trump (despite promises by speakers that he might “drop by”). Instead, they were told they needed to spend even more money to truly learn anything useful: Tens of thousands of dollars.
The terrifying part? More than a few individuals in one of the three ongoing lawsuits claim that at this stage, after shelling out thousands upon thousands of dollars, Trump University took their money and gave them nothing.
National Review mentioned plaintiff Michele Cintron, who paid $25,000. According to Cintron, she was promised access to “high-level mentors,” but said the so-called “power team” wasn’t available to be reached, even after she agreed to pay the pricey fee.
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) February 26, 2016
Trump University isn’t unique in that there are plenty of infomercial based bait-and-switch and pyramid schemes. However, that a leading presidential candidate is involved in what amounts to a “get rich quick” scheme should serve as a warning. At the very best, Trump University is an immoral means of taking advantage of trusting individuals by using one’s celebrity. At worst, Trump University just might be a preview into the future of America should Trump be elected.
Here is Donald Trump promoting the controversial seminars in an ad.
Even now, Trump insists that the program was a great opportunity and is on the level.
Nevermind that attendees were, as Mother Jones reports, encouraged to lie to their credit card providers to spend as much money on the fraudulent program as possible. Nevermind the fact that the Trump University playbook (as obtained by the Atlantic) encouraged instructors to dodge media questions or anyone representing the district attorney’s office. Also, nevermind the fact that according to court documents, victims of this scheme have been threatened with lawsuits for speaking out.
The most mind-boggling aspect of the scandal is that if Donald Trump were elected president, he’d still be in court answering for a program that defrauded Americans out of $40 million.
Imagine that: America, being represented by a man who is in and out of court in relation to a scam. This is the man we would set as a representative of our country? A man we would ask foreign leaders and countries to trust? It’s hard to argue against the fact that this would be a humiliating spectacle on a global scale.
— Slate (@Slate) February 28, 2016
What Donald Trump has going for him, even in the wake of this controversy, is his celebrity appeal — a factor that should not be underestimated. Even the people he stole thousands of dollars from say that they might still vote for him because, as the Washington Post found, they still like Trump and “trust him.”
“‘He says what he means, not like politicians, not like Obama,’ said Louie Liu of Hurst, Tex. Liu, a motel owner, said in a sworn affidavit that he paid $1,495 for a three-day seminar, then felt lured into paying $24,995 for more classes, an online training program and a three-day in-person mentorship.
“A few days later, he called to ask for a refund, but his request was rejected. Trump University, he concluded, was a ‘scam.'”
This is absolutely pitiful on so many levels. How can anyone say that Trump “says what he means” in the same breath as admitting he tricked you out of your life savings? As Slate observed, this just might be a testament to the mental state of many of Trump’s supporters.
The good news is that the Trump University debacle lends hope to just how many Americans are likely to be taken in by Trump. In all, 80,000 people actually attended those free seminars. Of that number, 9,200 went on to invest money. We can only hope that Americans look at Donald Trump the way most of those people at the initial free seminars did — and then choose to walk away with their hard-earned money still in their pockets.
[AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki]