The problem(s) with Trump’s plan for an American Academy

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The problem(s) with Trump’s plan for an American Academy

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Over the course of his political career, Donald Trump has deliberately avoided sharing substantive plans with voters. As a candidate in the 2016 cycle, the Republican insisted “the public doesn’t care” about public policy, which came on the heels of a campaign insider saying Trump didn’t want to “waste time on policy.”

In the 2024 cycle, however, the former president keeps releasing brief videos in which he addresses assorted controversies and issues. The New York Times reported months ago, “The videos, in which the former president speaks directly to the camera, are aimed at reassuring supporters that he’s focused on topics other than his 2020 defeat.”

As we’ve discussed, these clips aren’t real policy proposals. It’s not as if Trump explored the granular minutiae of governing solutions and formulated a set of white papers which he’s unveiling episodically in video form.

On the contrary, these videos have all the sophistication of bumper stickers written in crayon.

Nevertheless, they keep coming, and Politico took a closer look at the latest.

Trump’s latest policy proposal proposes taxing large private university endowments to pay for a new institution called “American Academy.” The school would grant credit to prospective students for past coursework and use their credentials to apply for jobs with the U.S. government and federal contractors, according to plans shared in advance with POLITICO.

Evidently, under the plan — I’m using the word “plan” loosely — Trump envisions a federally funded online school. Students wouldn’t have to pay anything for the degrees.

The details remain murky, though the Republican apparently has certain political and ideological expectations for this “academy.” In his video, Trump complained that existing U.S. universities are “turning our students into communists and terrorists and sympathizers of many, many different dimensions,” adding, “We can’t let this happen.”

The creation of such a school would need congressional approval, and at least in theory, it stands to reason that GOP lawmakers would be highly skeptical. Republicans generally believe the federal government should play a very limited role in education — the destruction of the Department of Education is a perennial goal for the party — and the idea that Congress would create new taxes on private entities in order to create an “academy” that hands out free degrees seems like the sort of thing that might give conservatives pause.

There are also all kinds of administrative questions — who would run the “academy,” who would hire the faculty, etc. — that Team Trump will probably struggle to answer.

But stepping back, what’s surprising is the former president’s willingness to even broach the subject in the first place. Has Trump University already faded from memory?

In case anyone needs a refresher, let’s circle back to our earlier coverage and review just how dramatic a scandal this was. In fact, it was eight years ago when The Washington Post reported on Trump’s “students” who sometimes “maxed out their credit cards to pay tens of thousands of dollars for insider knowledge they believed could make them wealthy.”

Never licensed as a school, Trump University was in reality a series of real estate workshops in hotel ballrooms around the country, not unlike many other for-profit self-help or motivational seminars. … Instead of a fast route to easy money, these Trump University students say they found generic seminars led by salesmen who pressured them to invest more cash in additional courses. The students say they didn’t learn Trump’s secrets and never received the one-on-one guidance they expected.

“He’s earned more in a day than most people do in a lifetime,” one 2009 ad said, featuring Trump’s photograph. “He’s living a life many men and women only dream about. And now he’s ready to share — with Americans like you — the Trump process for investing in today’s once-in-a-lifetime real estate market.”

Trump’s attorneys insisted that aspiring investors learned valuable lessons with which most students were satisfied. But the Post’s article also highlighted a Texas man, Louie Liu, who said he paid “$1,495 for a three-day seminar, then felt lured into paying $24,995 for more classes, an online training program and a three-day in-person mentorship.”

He later concluded that the Trump University program was a “scam.”

Another man, Bob Guillo, paid nearly $35,000 for the “Trump Gold Elite package,” which amounted to very little. “I really felt stupid that I was scammed by Trump,” Guillo said.

During the 2016 presidential race, Trump boasted that the Better Business Bureau gave Trump University an “A” rating — a claim that turned out to be a brazen lie — while further insisting that he wouldn’t settle the fraud case filed by his former customers.

That wasn’t true, either: Shortly before he was supposed to take the stand, Trump settled the fraud case he said he’d never settle. What’s more, during his White House tenure, the Republican was required to pay $25 million to his former “students” — a first-of-its-kind payment for a sitting American president.

This is the guy who believes he has credibility on the subject of higher education? This is the guy who expects voters to trust him to create a new, untested federal “academy”?

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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