There is a richly varied catalog of grounds for loathing Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. But even among the smorgasbord of personal flaws including his general intolerance, his overwhelming arrogance, and his involvement in myriad shady businesses, Trump University stands out as an unparalleled example of Donald Trump’s repulsiveness.
The false brand.
I believe deception pervaded the Trump University school to its core. Even the name misled unwary consumers; the institution was not a school, but a for-profit business which conferred no degrees and held no accreditation. Those who forked over thousands expecting to learn investment secrets from “professors hand-picked” by the Donald himself report being quickly disappointed to find that they’d been part of a bait-and-switch operation. Trump admitted in a recent deposition that, despite his personal involvement being a core facet of his marketing, he never actually “hand-picked” anyone.
I think it is clear that the claims made by Trump University went beyond false advertising; the promises perpetrated upon its “students” were more than simple puffery. The apparent falsehoods seem to have gone to the heart of what the product actually was. And when sales talks misrepresent the very nature of a product at the expense of the consumer, in my opinion that’s clearly fraud. In this case, assuming witness statements to be true, the alleged fraud was twofold: the seminar business was neither the university it purported to be, nor did Trump manage that business as he had promised. Trump sought to capitalize on his public reputation – but failed to connect that brand to Trump University beyond slapping his well-known name on it.
Trump University appears to be what Trump himself has always been: all-façade, no-substance. The business hyped up impressionable consumers and capitalized on the myth of Trump as business and real-estate guru. The plan worked to line Trump’s pockets, and was the perfect method to test-drive his campaign strategy.
The predatory sell.
If there’s anything Donald Trump does know, it’s people. He is a platinum-standard manipulator who has practically trademarked the “I’m better than you, now pay me” method of closing a deal. Now that the Trump University matter has reached the courtroom, employee after employee is going on record with the disturbing details of the alleged predatory practices they were expected to execute. Perhaps what’s most disturbing about Trump’s practices was the scale on which they appear to have been premeditated. The recently-released Trump University Sales Playbook details not only the sales script, but also the psychology underlying the predatory sales pitch; staffers were taught to prey on customers’ emotions while pushing them to open and max out credit cards for “tuition” payments. Salespeople were instructed about the “roller coaster of emotions” that consumers would experience, and about how best to use those emotions to effect a sale.
Let’s face it: Donald Trump isn’t marketing to millionaires on their way to the Ivy League. He played to masses who were financially-strapped and ill-informed, and he played to them again when he began his campaign. Influencing the vulnerable is apparently this man’s business plan, and the “students” enrolled in Trump’s seminars were nothing more than canaries in the ultimate coal mine of our electorate. While aggressive and even unscrupulous sales techniques are often technically legal, they will certainly factor in to the overall analysis of Trump University as an alleged fraudulent endeavor.
Trump’s “I said it, so it must therefore be true,” philosophy seems like a twisting of the law of attraction that would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. The idea that positive thinking carries positive consequences is one that resonates in truth; but Trump’s mutation of the value of optimism appears to be manifesting in outright delusion. Trump’s absolute certainty that he will win the class-action and fraud lawsuits parallels his outlandish claims that he’ll get Mexico to cover the cost of a border wall. From my perspective, Trump’s insistence that the lawsuits are nothing more than legal flies to be easily swatted away is absurd. Trump’s accusations that everyone from the federal judge to the attorney general are biased against him are juvenile and offensive to the those claiming to be victims of his swindling who have banded together to bring suit on their own behalf.
The evidence adduced in the lawsuits points to the entire Trump University scheme systematically preying on unsuspecting, unsophisticated Americans who honestly (if foolishly) believed that Trump had the answers that they so desperately needed to turn their lives around.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that Trump University may have been a mass-scale scam, Trump refuses to discuss settlement on the basis that he is sure to win the lawsuits. Such a spiteful, wasteful, and unrealistic view of federal class action lawsuits parallels Trump’s similarly farcical positions on everything from foreign policy to gun control. When watching Trump campaign, we all should think long and hard about this “University” because it’s the same guy using the same tactics trying to get all of us to buy into the same bad deal.
Follow Elura on twitter @elurananos
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.