There's really nothing all that wrong with defining "success" as making an absolute buffoon of yourself. You get attention that way. You might even make money that way, especially if you convince people that being as much of an embarrassment as you are is, in fact, a good thing – and you can put them on TV so people can watch the spectacle unfold. And in our absurdly celebrity-obsessed culture, there's enough blurriness to the line between famous and notorious that one can convince oneself they're moral equivalents.
But they're not. If you want to make an ass of yourself for fame and money, knock yourself out. But don't expect to be taken seriously at the same time.
That lesson has escaped walking logo Donald Trump, whom we thought was spending all his time combing his thin hair over his forehead, putting his name on building in tacky bright lights and humiliating people on a recession-era TV show about getting a job. But Trump, it seems, was running something called Trump University. Who knew?
These are not, after all, two words that one would put next to each other, logically. But Trump runs some sort of seminar camp in which he charges people up to $35,000 to hear hand-picked speakers talk about how to do the "art" of the Trump real estate deal, according to a complaint by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. It's not an actual university – that is, it doesn't award degrees. And even the dangling carrot of the institution – the hope of actually getting to meet The Donald – wasn't realized by many students (or, "students") who, Schneiderman said, had to settle for a photo of themselves next to a cardboard cutout of Trump.
To his credit, that's not a bad metaphor for the whole "university" scheme. But it's hardly fair to people who shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars, thinking they'd get rich. Said Schneiderman:
Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers' advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm. Trump University, with Donald Trump's knowledge and participation, relied on Trump's name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.
To be fair, there are other fake schools that collect high tuitions from desperate people who then can't find jobs or make back the investment they made in their educations. Trump is a meaty target – something he surely knows, since he's put a lot of effort into making himself one. And it's entirely possible that Schneiderman, wanting a tiny piece of the media attention Trump courts 24/7, was drawing attention to a serious issue by going after the least serious "school" out there.
But Trump's level of self-aggrandizement has reached stunning heights, as he now contends that the president of the United States himself is behind the sting. President Obama and Schneiderman met on a Thursday night. Could they have been talking about Democratic politics? A looming government shutdown and what it would mean for the economy? The impact of Obamacare in New York, where insurance premiums are expected to go way down? Nope, Trump insists. It all has to be about him – what else? Said Trump:
They meet on Thursday evening. I get sued by this A.G. Schneiderman, I get sued on Saturday at 1 o'clock. Think of it. What government agency in the history of this country has ever brought a suit on a Saturday? I never heard of such a thing.
Perhaps it will all be academic in the end – which is about as close to academics as his institute comes. But Trump University and Trump himself should cheer up. There's always clown college.
- Read Peter Roff: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Dream’ Becomes a Nightmare
- Read Stephanie Slade: Can Obama’s Ratings Plan Make College More Affordable?
- Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad