In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.It ought to hurt him, obviously. But I suspect that a lot of people -- and not just in Trump's voter base -- will apply the "just world" fallacy and assume that anyone who signed up but couldn't afford the fees probably deserved to go into permanent debt, and anyone who wasn't able to emerge from the school with the skill to make money in real estate simply wasn't bright enough to take advantage of what Trump had to offer. We're inclined to believe that people who suffer did something bad to deserve that suffering. It's hard to overcome that.
One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.
“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
Contrast the Trump U story with this ad, which was run against Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign:
A worker for a company that came under the control of Romney's Bain Capital says:
"Out of the blue one day, we were told to build a 30-foot stage. Gathered the guys, and we built that 30-foot stage, not knowing what it was for. Just days later, all three shifts were told to assemble in the warehouse.It's harder to apply "just world" thinking in this case -- here's a guy who went to the same job every day, and one day, through no fault of his own, Bain Capital came along and took away his job. We don't see this worker making any bad choices.
A group of people walked out on that stage, and told us that the plant is now closed, and all of you are fired. I looked both ways, I looked at the crowd, and we all just lost our jobs. We don’t have an income.
Mitt Romney made over a hundred million dollars by shutting down our plant, and devastated our lives.
"Turns out that when we built that stage, it was like building my own coffin. And it just made me sick."
But the Trump U attendees all signed on willingly and (if that's what we prefer to believe) wittingly. Just-worlders will say they knew what the costs were, and will cling to the favorable assessments of the U offered up by Trump as evidence that there was valuable information available if you were willing to do the work.
I don't know that this is how most people are going to react. I really can't tell. I just think it's possible that Trump U isn't going to make the scales fall from Trump diehards' eyes, or be the thing that turns fence-sitters into detractors. But we'll see.