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#EndorseThis: Seth Meyers Talks To The New York AG Who Sued Trump University

It’s a tall task to get anyone to watch a late-night comedy show with special guest: a government lawyer. Unless that government lawyer is Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who filed a successful $40 million civil lawsuit against Trump University.

For Schneiderman’s efforts, now-President Donald Trump directed a characteristically ham-fisted Twitter tantrum @AGSchneiderman.

#EndorseThis: Colbert Raps Trump’s Raging Retort To ‘Hamilton’ Cast

For some reason, Stephen Colbert seems to think that the $25 million settlement of a fraud lawsuit by the president-elect of the United States is major news. After all, nobody preparing to assume the highest office in the land has done that before.

And to mark the occasion, The Late Show host delivers a special commencement speech to the thousands of ripped-off students of Trump U. (Football cheer: “Go Grifters!”)

But before the conclusion of this remarkable stand-up, he reviews the weekend’s really important story — that huge Pence-Trump-Hamilton Twitter feud — in a costumed rap performance, rhyming “aspersions” and “gay conversions.”

Not to be missed.

We Need To Stop Pretending Donald Trump Isn’t Good At This

It’s well past time that we admit something obvious. Donald Trump is very good at this.

By this, I could mean “using Twitter to distract from an accumulations of fraud settlements and scandals that stink of the corruption he tried to pin on Hillary Clinton.” Or I could just mean “lying” or “trolling,” the catchall phrase that describes any sort of provocation on the Internet.

But what I mean is “propaganda,” which is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view,” according to the Oxford Living Dictionary.

He has always been his own greatest propagandist, but now that he’s becoming president of the United States, the implications are stark and a bit terrifying — especially because Trump is so damn good at it.

Of course, he’s a master of self-promotion and demonizing his opponents, recently with a crucial assist of foreign hackers and the FBI. But his superpower is a totalitarian’s genius for occupying our political discourse with the sort of bullshit that feeds his fame and appeal to Americans who feel victimized by change.

It’s the distraction that makes it possible for him to do ever more terrible things.

Take the example of Trump’s response to Mike Pence attending the musical Hamilton, where some audience members booed the vice president-elect and he heard  a brief, polite appeal by a star of the show at the end of the performance.

Trump’s tweet the next morning was a genius act of propaganda, because it produced exactly the response he hoped for.

The left immediately jumped on Trump’s use of “safe and special place,” of course. Conservatives who despise “PC culture” have long mocked the notion of “safe spaces” on college campuses. The hypocrisy is too delicious too ignore, even as he ignores the hundreds of hate crimes that seem to have been inspired by his election.

Trump was attacked as “special snowflake” while spreading his charge of hypocrisy against the left to all his supporters. Meanwhile, this “controversy” overwhelms the massive settlement he paid out in a fraud suit to students who trusted his “University” to help make them rich. We’re not talking about how his business seems to be strong-arming foreign diplomats into staying at his hotels in possible violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. And we’re barely talking about his plans to roll back the Wall Street regulations designed to prevent another financial crisis while engineering the end of Medicare as we know it as part of what could easily be the largest transfer of wealth to the richest in human history.

This isn’t to say that the president-elect’s abuse of his considerable power to intimidate artists by inventing his own victimization isn’t a story worth frisking. But again, he has warped our discourse for his own personal gain — and we have to face that responding to him as he hopes we will may be helping him.

In this way he resembles Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire who improbably became the prime minister of Italy.

“His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters,” writes Luigi G. Zingales, a finance professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Mr. Trump is no different.”

Imagining Trump as our Berlusconi should make people optimistic, which is why the comparison seems to thrive. Yes, the prime minister’s tenure was riddled with scandal, conflicts of interest and economic disaster. But he was eventually defeated, twice, and stepped down.

Berlusconi lost, Zingales suggests, when his opponents treated him as a normal politician.

“They focused on the issues, not on his character.”

So there’s some hope.

A far more pessimistic assessment imagines Trump’s coming administration will resemble the rule of Vladimir Putin, an autocrat the president-elect has continually praised for strong leadership. This prospect is much harder to entertain because it involves recognizing that no one has yet figured out how to permanently extricate Putin from power.

The democratic institutions of the United States should be able to withstand much more duress than those in Russia, But again and again, observers have overestimated America’s immune system’s ability to fight off the Trump virus.

Assuming that our history will protect us may turn out to be as foolish as assuming the Internet would make us more tolerant or radio would make Germans of the 1930s more informed.

Trump — aided by his Satan-and-Dick Cheney-praising chief strategist and white nationalist provocateur Steve Bannon — won a less than convincing victory by impossibly thin margins, yet the Republican Party may be at a peak of its political power. He used Twitter to help make this happen — either by pure genius or pure chance. And his staff helped by keeping him off that platform when it mattered most.

Now, the left needs to start finding better ways of confronting Trump and the damage he’s about to do. This starts by recognizing that there’s an art to his madness. And that art may be getting us to focus on his madness.

If we can focus the debate on issues and how Trump has conned voters into voting for class suicide, there’s hope of getting the non-cultists who voted for Trump to see what they’ve done or, even better, inspiring the millions of voters who stayed home on November 8 to get into the fight.

The Absolute Best, Most Terrific Reporting On Trump University

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica. Update November 19, 2016: President-elect Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits from students who say they were defrauded by Trump University.

Trump University promised to help students get rich. Enrollees would study the wisdom of The Donald and get mentoring from other terrific businesspeople. But a class-action suit by former students and a suit brought by the New York attorney general allege that the unaccredited “school” mainly helped students part with the money in their wallets. (Trump has called the suits a “scam” and “thug politics.”)

Trump Spins in Foreclosure Game

The Los Angeles Times, December 2007

As subprime mortgages were skyrocketing in 2007, columnist David Lazarus noticed a Trump University ad promising to teach students how to make “millions in foreclosures.” So Lazarus went to class. The instructor had never bought a house in California, had been through bankruptcy, and had gone through foreclosure with his own home. After the column ran, Trump told Lazarus it was “inaccurate and libelous.” When Lazarus asked what the problem was, Trump said, “You’ll find out in court.” Trump never sued. But he did submit a letter to the editor, which he demanded that the paper run in extra-large print.

Trump U. Hit by Complaints From Those Who Paid Up to 30G, and Say They Got Very Little in Return

New York Daily News, May 2010

By 2010, 150 people had filed complaints with 22 states about Trump University, the New York Daily News found. The school had just received a D- rating from the Better Business Bureau. One former student in California complained she paid $80,000 for access to mentors who didn’t call her back. Another student, a New York City schoolteacher, said she lost her savings, maxed out her credit cards, and had nothing to show for it.

Tales From the Trump University Legal Vault

Politico, March 2016

A 2010 playbook for Trump University gave staff handy instructions: Like to how to rank students based on assets to determine who was most likely to buy more Trump University classes. Or what to do “if an attorney general arrives on the scene.” (Show them nothing unless they have a warrant and call someone named April Neumann “immediately”.)

Trump University Hired Motivational Speakers and a Felon as Faculty

The Daily Beast, March 2016

One Trump University instructor liked to tell students his “rags-to-riches” story: He was homeless in a subway at 19, where he met someone who taught him about real estate and became a top broker. He left out a few details, though: He threatened to kill his ex-wife and was convicted for aggravated assault. Trump once said he “hand-picked” the instructors and then changed his tune to say he doesn’t remember the employees.

At Trump University, Students Recall Pressure to Give Positive Reviews

The New York Times, March 2016

Trump likes to tout the 98 percent approval rating Trump University received from its students. But the surveys, according to legal documents and interviews with former staff and students, weren’t anonymous and were submitted to instructors in exchange for graduation certificates. One instructor said he asked students to fill out the survey in front of him. A former student said he was pressured by his mentor to give the mentor top ratings. (Trump has not backed down on the number. See his website: 98percentapproval.com.)

Trump University and the Art of the Get-rich Seminar

Ars Technica, April 2016

Before Trump University there was Trump Institute. And before Trump Institute there was the National Grants Conference, a seminar founded by Mike and Irene Milin that claimed it could teach students how to get government grants—for memberships at only $999. None of the NGC members got money, but NGC raked in millions from students. In 2006, Trump licensed his name to the Milins to create the Trump Institute. Trump Institute kept much of NGC’s old materials but promised to share the billionaire secrets. But the NGC soon fell into legal trouble in multiple states, and Trump didn’t renew the license with them in 2009. By that time, Trump University was well established, but still using the same tactics the Milins started at the National Grants Conference.

Trump Involved in Crafting Controversial Trump University Ads, Executive Testified

The Washington Post, May 2016

Donald Trump personally vetted ads and shaped the promotion of Trump University—contrary to what his lawyers had implied—according to the 2012 deposition of Trump University’s president. The deposition, part of a class-action lawsuit brought by former students, was released along with other trial records in response to a request from the Washington Post. Another document showed that a portion of Trump University speaker fees were directly tied to how many students the speaker could get to sign up for more seminars.

Florida AG Asked Trump for Donation Before Nixing Fraud Case

The Associated Press, June 2016

In September 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that she was considering New York’s investigation of Trump University. Four days later, a group supporting Bondi’s reelection got a $25,000 donation from a Trump family foundation. Bondi had personally solicited the donation. After the check came in, Bondi’s office announced that it would not join the investigation. Bondi has since endorsed Trump for president. Bondi declined to comment.