Donald Trump & Scientology’s Not-so-Secret Sauce

Where shady commerce and cultism converge

Despite Trump’s desperate efforts to keep them under wraps, 400 pages of the Trump University “playbooks” have been released. The playbooks, which were used to train “instructors” in how to sell the courses, sound a lot like Scientology.

“It was a facade, a total lie.” Jacob Nicholas, former employee of Trump University, via CNN

The playbooks were unsealed as part of a class action lawsuit against Trump, alleging that Trump University defrauded customers with false claims. When you read the documents, you get the feeling that Trump might as well have modeled Trump University after Scientology.

  • Scientology promises groundbreaking information and techniques to help you succeed in life.
  • Trump lured students with a promise of groundbreaking information and techniques that would help them succeed in business.
  • Scientology offers free classes, so they can get people in the door and convince them that they need expensive classes.
  • Trump offered free classes to get people in the door and convince them that they needed expensive classes.
  • Scientology wants to know how much money you make.
  • So did Trump.
  • In Scientology, the level of success you can obtain is directly related to the amount of money you spend on courses.
  • Ditto with Trump University.
  • David Miscavige is a delusional narcissist who presents himself as a savior of the human race.
  • Trump is a delusional narcissist who presents himself as the savior of America.
  • Scientology requires participants to buy lots of books published by Scientology.
  • Trump University pressured students to buy Trump University books.

Assessing students not by ability, but by income

The documents show that students at Trump University were divided into two categories, those who had $35,000 or more in liquid assets, and those who had only $2,000 in liquid assets.

The most expensive package, Gold Elite, cost $34,995. Trump’s handbook for instructors — most of whom turned out to have no actual teaching credentials — advised them:

If they can afford the gold elite don’t allow them to think about doing anything besides the gold elite.

According to CNN

Big portions are dedicated to how to bring in customers, encourage students to sign up for more courses and counter any objections or doubts they may have.

Sound familiar? These are the same tactics used by Scientology to get people to sign up for courses and auditing. Once Scientology has you in the door, you pay higher and higher prices as your are pressured to move up the ladder to increasingly enlightened levels, until, ultimately, it is claimed, you will be able to “go clear.”

It has become increasingly clear that Trump University was a scam, with “students” treated like customers, paying tens of thousands of dollars to get information they could have gotten for free online (for example, they were told to go to trulia.com to get information about homes for sale and to IRS.gov to get information about taxes. Duh).

Trump University was a “fraudulent scheme and that it preyed on the elderly and to separate them from their money.” Ronald Schnackenberg, former Trump University sales manager, via CNN

Worse, students were instructed to bilk the elderly and the disadvantaged out of money. Seriously. Watch the video. If there’s one thing Trump knows about, it’s taking advantage of the elderly. (Just ask this village in Scotland.)

One student, who signed up because he was a great admirer of Trump, paid Trump University more than $26,000 for a 5-day real estate course. According to the CNN report, it was a bad experience from moment one, culminating with this:

“An instructor detailed the benefits of paying off unpaid tax debts of elderly people, keeping them in their homes until they die, and then taking ownership of their property.”

When the student discovered that the only thing Trump University was telling him was “how to steal people’s homes,” he realized he’d been the victim of a scam. (Did I mention you should watch the video?)

Daily News quotes some of the juicier bits of the documents, whereby instructors are told to find out exactly how much potential customers make per month and then explain how they can afford to drop $35,000 at Trump University. Potential “students” are pressured to put tens of thousands of dollars of debt on their credit cards, even when it is abundantly clear that doing so is against their best interests.

Let’s get you a Mentor and you to a whole new level of thinking and investing.

Scientologists, too, are promised whole new levels of thinking and enlightenment.

If there is one thing Trump loves, it’s, well, Trump. His schtick is nothing new among egomaniacal narcissists or dictators. It is nothing new among cult leaders. He’d be as cozy with Kim Jong-Il as he is with Putin. After all, Trump is the guy who expressed admiration for Deng Xiaoping for ordering the massacre of students at Tiananmen Square. Trump does, however, exhibit a more blatant and tyrannical disregard for the rules of civil engagement than I have seen coming from a presidential candidate in my lifetime. And I’ve seen a lot of nastiness and mud-slinging.

It’s not surprising at all that Trump tried to get one over on the little guy, but it is bizarrely egomaniacal. What does a billionaire possibly have to gain from stripping ordinary people of their hard-earned cash? Trump University wasn’t exactly a rousing success story. Couldn’t he have sold off an apartment or two and called it a day, instead of taking money from people who trusted him to help make their lives better? Is “the deal” so important to him that his reputation means nothing? (Apparently, it is: how else to explain Trump Steaks?)

Obviously, I’m not saying that Trump is a Scientologist (although I’m sure they’d love to have his money, even if he is exaggerating it by a few billion). My point is that he acts a lot like David Miscavige: tone-deaf, self-serving, greedy, petty, moral bankrupt, fearful of detractors, lashing out at any criticism, delighting in violence, willing to do anything to make a buck.

Trump has, by the way, contributed to Scientology. His single, miserly donation to help the victims of 9/11 — $1,000 dollars — was to the The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Fund, a controversial program that was co-founded by Tom Cruise, which put traumatized firefighters on Scientology’s “purification rundown.” That’s what the multi-billionaire Trump gave back to New York, which had given him so much. One thousand dollars. Because that’s the kind of man he is.

Comedy or Tragedy?

All of this would make great absurdist comedy were it not for two things:

  • The people who lost their money were real people, who trusted Trump to deliver on his promises.
  • The head of this racket has somehow become the Republican nominee for president. For President. Of the United States of America.

Therein it is not a comedy at all, no matter how absurd. It is a tragedy in the making.


Disclaimer: I have never taken a Trump course or a Scientology course. My longstanding interest in Scientology is based on reading everything I can get my hands on about the cult. My interest in Trump University is based on my incredulity that such a person appears to be gaining the support of the Republican party, despite the dangerous rhetoric he espouses, which has already put Americans in danger and threatens our relationships with our allies. While I have made every effort to be accurate, I am not a journalist and have not interviewed anyone related to the Trump University case. Please refer to the actual court case and documents, as well as reporting from the New York Times, LA Times, and CNN, for details on the case. For fascinating reporting on the Church of Scientology and the methods of David Miscavige, read the award-winning reporting, Inside Scientology, by Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin for the Tampa Bay Times.

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