Always Remember: We Live in a Nation of Scammers
Trump University's playbook is the same one American big business has been using for years.
If there is a single, overriding lesson in the unfolding Trump University scandal, it is this: If you are the defendant in a civil trial in which you are accused of a massive and grotesque act of fraud, it's probably best if you don't get up in public and imply (loudly) that the presiding judge is a Mexican criminal. This can result in the judge's simply saying, "Fck it," and dumping a metric ton of evidence regarding said fraud into the public domain. This then will require you to hold a press conference in which you are forced to call a reporter "sleaze" and generally act out because—and I am borrowing here from the Twitter account of the great Quinn Cummings—you are really a giant toddler.
If there is a single, overriding question in the unfolding Trump University scandal, however, it is this: Why in god's name is anyone surprised?
Of course, the fact that He, Trump was behind this scam is prima facie evidence of some thoroughgoing shenanigans, but that's not what I mean. He, Trump is an apex bunco artist, but he also is a high-profile American corporate businessman of the late 20th century.
But I repeat myself.
Bernie Sanders gets roasted in some quarters for saying this, but it's true—for going on 40 years now, the primary business model for the American corporate class has been fraud. What we're getting a peek at now with the Trump University is indeed garish in its contempt for the suckers, but what it's not is surprising. From The New York Times:
Within the documents made public Tuesday were internal employee guides encouraging customers with little money to pay for the tuition with their credit cards. "We teach the technique of using OPM ... Other People's Money," explained the internal instructions for salespeople. The documents pushed employees to exploit the emotions of potential customers. "Let them know you've found an answer to their problems," read confidential instructions to salespeople. The most striking documents were written testimony from former employees of Trump University who said they had become disenchanted with the university's tactics and culture. Corrine Sommer, an event manager, recounted how colleagues encouraged students to open up as many credit cards as possible to pay for classes that many of them could not afford.
This is awful stuff. No question about that. But is it really worse than those famous emails from the Enron employees about Grandma Millie and how easy it was to game the California energy market? From CBS News:
Officials with the Snohomish Public Utility District near Seattle received the tapes from the Justice Department. "This is the evidence we've all been waiting for. This proves they manipulated the market," said Eric Christensen, a spokesman for the utility. That utility, like many others, is trying to get its money back from Enron. "They're f------g taking all the money back from you guys?" complains an Enron employee on the tapes. "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?" "Yeah, grandma Millie, man" "Yeah, now she wants her f------g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a------ for f------g $250 a megawatt hour."
President George W. Bush was joined at the hip with the top executives of Enron. He fobbed off that relationship and, in general, the elite political media let him. And let's not forget that we still don't know what went on with Dick Cheney's energy commission meetings that took place right at the beginning of the Avignon Presidency in 2001.
Is Trump University really worse than that? Is Trump University really worse than Timberwolf?
Timberwolf was a collateralized debt obligation put together by the good people at Goldman Sachs. It was, by any measure, a scheme to defraud investors. Goldman marketed this dead flounder just as it was dawning on the various Masters of the Universe that the housing bubble was about to burst. Goldman gave Timberwolf a marketing value of over a billion dollars. Investors could cash in on the debts owed by other people.
Simon Head of The New York Review of Books, picks things up from there:
As underwriter and placement agent for Timberwolf, Goldman produced a pitch book for clients that claimed that it was structured to "generate positive performance for the benefit of both debt and equity investors" and had "an objective of zero loss for CDO debt investments." Yet Goldman emails subpoenaed by the Levin committee show that at the exact moment the bank was making this sales pitch, senior Goldman executives, including Blankfein, knew that the real market value of Timberwolf's underlying assets was much lower, and that they were aiming to unload as much of the CDO as they could before it lost even more value.
There doesn't seem to me to be much difference between Goldman's "pitchbook" for Timberwolf, and Trump University's "playbook" for its sales staff, except that Goldman's publication probably was printed on higher quality paper.
Of course, Timberwolf collapsed and nobody made any money except Goldman, which had bet on the failure, essentially betting against itself while it sold this garbage to the suckers out there in the world. I wonder if their hearts glowed with her warm compliments.
This led to one of the greatest moments in the history of the United States Senate, when Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, just by quoting internal Goldman e-mails, broke the Senate record for using a single obscenity.
"How much of that shitty deal did you sell to your clients?"
"You didn't tell them you thought it was a shitty deal?"
"Should Goldman Sachs be trying to sell a shitty deal?"
This is the organization to which Hillary Rodham Clinton gave three speeches for fees totaling $675,000. I wonder if any of the people involved in marketing the shitty deal that was Timberwolf were in the audience? I wonder if anybody who cut her those hefty checks made any money out of what was transparently a swindle? Just as I wonder whether or not George W. Bush got any money from the people who were conning Grandma Millie, or whether Dick Cheney's friendship with Enron swindler di tutti swindlers Ken Lay was even more lucrative than we know today.
This isn't cynicism. This is the universe of our politics today, and it has been for almost four decades now. There are those In The Know and there are the suckers. There's nobody in between any more, and it's certainly not the government. Too often, the government is on one side while pretending to be on the other.
So, yeah, it's a goddamn shame what Trump University did to those poor people and I hope they sue him for everything, including his socks and underwear. But please, don't ask me to be shocked. This is the world we live in. The American democracy is becoming the longest con of all.