This week, after being called out by Bill Maher and a host of others, TV news hosts arose from a year-long slumber to actually do their jobs and challenge presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump in interviews.
First came CNN’s Jake Tapper, who questioned Trump’s claim that Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two cases against his Trump University and requested that a cache of case documents be released, is “biased” because of his “Mexican heritage.” Tapper asked Trump 23 times that if he thinks Curiel—who was born in Indiana to a blue-collar father, took on the cartels, and was appointed to the bench by a Republican—couldn’t do his job because of his “ethnicity,” isn’t that the very definition of racism?
Trump stammered on, repeating the claim that because he’s “building a wall” between the U.S. and Mexico, Curiel cannot perform his job properly due to his Mexican heritage.
“Jake, I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall. I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico. Mexico is fine. There’s nothing…” said Trump.
“But he’s an… he’s an American,” Tapper replied. “He’s of Mexican heritage, and he’s very proud of it—as I am where I come from…” offered Trump.
Cue John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. “Wait—where exactly are you from?” he asked. “Because you look like you came out of a clogged drain at the Wonka Factory, and that’s great… I think that’s fine. But think about what he’s implying there: the judge is unfit to do his job because of his ethnic background.”
And Trump’s bigotry doesn’t just extend to Latino judges, either. On Face the Nation, John Dickerson asked Trump, “If you had a Muslim judge, do you also feel like they wouldn’t be able to treat you fairly because of that [temporary Muslim travel ban] policy of yours?” “Uh… it’s possible, yes,” answered Trump. “That would be possible. Absolutely.” “I would say that’s the dictionary definition of bigotry, except after this campaign the definition of bigotry might just become See: Trump, Donald,” joked the HBO host.
Gonzalo Curiel, the judge Trump has repeatedly slandered and insulted, indeed ordered a collection of documents to be unsealed this week, and in them came many disturbing revelations. Trump had promised his students that the teachers were “handpicked” by The Donald, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
“Trump University wasn’t even a university, which makes you wonder: what the fuck was in Trump Steaks?” said Oliver. “But the name was just the beginning, because remember how he had ‘handpicked instructors?’ Well, according to his own depositions, he did not personally select instructors for live seminars, and was unable to recall the names of key faculty members,” said Oliver.“And it doesn’t stop there,” he continued. “According to sworn testimony by several former employees, many instructors and mentors had no experience buying and selling real estate. In fact, one had worked as a salesman for Lowe’s, and another had been manager for Buffalo Wild Wings. And even a member of Trump’s own sales staff testified that it was, among other things, ‘a joke… a façade… and it was just selling false hopes and lies.’”
Trump University also had a series of “playbooks” used to coach its salespeople on how to squeeze every last dollar out of prospective students.
“These new documents also include several revealing playbooks of sales tactics, including…how to sell and upsell students, or as the playbooks call them ‘buyers,’ on expensive courses with typo-riddled tips, like, ‘If a client is adamant about knowing the price, simply say ‘Our course range anywhere from $29 to $35,000…,’” reported Oliver. Oh, and another playbook had an entry that said, “If they complain about the price, remind them that Trump is the BEST!”
The playbooks also apparently preyed on the less fortunate, including “single mothers of five,” advising its salespeople: “Money is never a reason for not enrolling in Trump University; if they really believe in you and your product they will find the money. You are not doing any favor by letting someone use lack of money as an excuse.” “Lack of money is not an excuse is not what single parents need to hear, it’s what Donald Trump needs to hear when a fifth company of his inevitably files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” joked Oliver. “And, as you might expect, some of the customers on the other end of that hard sale wound up feeling duped—like Carmen Mendez, who put $35,000 on her credit card and ended up disappointed.” Another ex-student claimed, “We were also told… we would get to have our pictures taken with Donald Trump. It ended up being a cardboard cutout of Mr. Trump.”
Oliver said this “is actually a perfect metaphor for Trump University: you’re expecting the real thing, but in the end, all you get is a tacky two-dimensional façade with Donald Trump’s face slapped on it.”
“But perhaps the most suspicious thing of all,” said Oliver, “is that the playbooks even include specific instructions on what to do ‘If an attorney general arrives on the scene…’ Apparently, you ‘contact April... immediately…’ and it also reminds you that, ‘By law, you do not have to show them any personal information unless they present a warrant…’” This, Oliver argued, “is suspicious advice for a university employee.”
Trump further claimed that “98 percent” of Trump University students gave the program a rating of “excellent,” which made Oliver raise both of his bushy eyebrows. “There’s something fishy about 98 percent,” he quipped. “The only things that have that level of unanimous approval are: dictators, Pixar movies, and Neapolitan ice cream.” It turns out that Trump University had such a high feedback rating because, according to plaintiffs, the surveys “were not anonymous and were filled out… when participants were still expecting to receive future benefits from the program.”
“Perhaps the most valuable lesson to come out of Trump University is the one that it is currently giving all of us in what’s behind Trump’s campaign strategy,” proclaimed Oliver. “Because the playbook tells his salespeople, ‘You don’t sell products, benefits, or solutions—you sell feelings.’ And that is what is happening now. Crowds at a Trump rally may not be able to point to a concrete benefit or solution he offers, but they know how he makes them feel: and that is jacked up and ready to boo any name that sounds vaguely Latino.”