Now consider the most extraordinary exchange in the podcast, when Harris attempts to explain his confusion that not everyone regards Trump as a vile huckster:
Harris: Everything you need to know about Trump's ethics were revealed in the Trump University scandal. This is a guy who is having his employees pressure poor, elderly people to max out their credit cards in exchange for fake knowledge.
Adams: Well, hold on. You understood that to be a license deal, right?
Harris: Yeah, but I understand that to be the kind of thing that he would have to know enough about to know what he was doing. If he only found out about it after the fact, that's not the kind of thing you'd defend, it's the kind of thing you'd be mortified about. And you would apologize for and pay reparations for if you're this rich guy who has all the money you claim to have.
Adams: Unless you were a master persuader who knew that if you ever backed down from anything, people would expect you to back down in the future from other things.
Note that Adams hypothesizes that Trump would not back down even if he were in the wrong and innocents were hurt as a consequence, because it might hurt him personally. A person who wrongs innocents, then hides it because he puts a higher priority on preserving his public persona than justice, is not a person to be trusted with power!
Harris: But what you're describing is a totally unethical person. This is the problem for me. So let me just give you a couple more points here. People will say that all politicians are liars, or all politicians have something weird in their backstory. But there are very few politicians walking around with something that ugly in their backstory that they haven't repaired.
Adams: Let me just clarify. When I said that it was a license deal, as opposed to a business that he was actively running—in the Dilbert world, I do a lot of license deals. And have in the past. The nature of those is that you're giving your brand and your name and then you're not really paying attention to the management of the company. So there are two possibilities here. One is what you described, that he knew the details and he was okay with it, which would be problematic for me, and I'm positive it would be problematic for 100 percent of Trump's supporters if that was the case. Now, if it was a typical license deal where you don't really know exactly what people are doing and you're not paying attention because you've got, in this case, 400 companies with his name on them—
Harris: His whole life is a license deal for the most part––even his real estate empire is a license deal.
Adams: So if it were the case that he were treating it like every other license deal there's a high likelihood that he didn't know about the details until it was too late. Now once he found out the details, how he handled it in court is yet another separate case.
Let’s pause here. What Harris understandably didn’t know off the top of his head is that Trump University was not a typical licensing deal. According to The Washington Post, court documents revealed that the Trump Organization owned 93 percent of Trump University. As well, “beginning in 2005, New York State Education Department officials told the company to change its name because they deemed it misleading.” And Trump appeared in ads for the enterprise, where he said, “I can turn anyone into a successful real estate investor, including you.” Obviously, Trump did not believe that anyone who saw the advertisement could be turned into a success in real estate, and the ad represented that Trump would be doing the turning.
Harris: But even granting you that, it's another separate case that says everything about the man's ethics.
Adams: It says everything about his ethics if he was aware of it at the time.
Harris: No, no, if you're aware of it in the aftermath. If I created some deal, you know, The Sam Harris Waking Up Podcast University—I mean, first of all, the fact that he would license it out to other conmen who were unscrupulous, and not do proper vetting but claim he had, I mean there's a whole commercial with him talking about how these are the geniuses who will be instructing you in this incredibly expensive but profitable enterprise.
If you did all that you're already a schmuck.
But imagine I had done that, and I'm so busy, I've got 400 different businesses, and I just didn't really understand, I got conned, and got lured into doing this with people I didn't totally vet. In the aftermath, I would be horrified! If I found out that someone had their life savings ripped from them by conmen who I had licensed, right, and I'm this billionaire, I would atone for that as much as could possibly be done. I mean, you have to do that!
Adams: Now Sam, when you say you would atone for it, let's talk about the financial part of that atonement. Would you then negotiate with the people who were complaining to figure out what was an appropriate payment?
Harris: It would be obviously indefensible, and I would immediately pay back everything that was lost, and probably more, because there's all the pain and suffering associated with it. You have to make people whole.
Adams: But would you give them whatever they asked for? Like hey, give me 10 million dollars––
Harris: Well no, there has to be some rational consideration of what the cost is. But again, you know the spirit in which he defended this, right? He hasn't admitted that this was a sham. It's of a piece with everything else he has represented about himself. He's a genius whose done nothing but help the world and the world is ungrateful because they can't recognize it. And all the rest is fake news.
Adams: But let me ask you again—and by the way, I want to be very clear that there's nothing about Trump University that I defend.
Harris: But that should mean something to you!
There were, in fact, things about Trump University that Adams was defending. In an effort to persuade, he was portraying himself as an expert on licensing deals, and suggesting that Trump may well have been innocent of any wrongdoing beyond not knowing what the folks who licensed his name were getting up to. Because Adams is not a master persuader, Harris was able to knock down that argument, even without knowing some of the facts that made it obviously wrong.