Back in 2007, a piece of mail was delivered to my editor's home in Nashville.
It was labeled "exclusive invitation" and "wealth-building the Donald Trump way." My editor was intrigued.
I was working at the Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper, covering labor and social issues on the business desk. In addition to a thriving entertainment industry, several colleges, a historically black medical school and restaurants with food so good that a little weight-gain seemed utterly logical. The Nashville metro area is home to about 644,000 people, about 12 percent of whom are foreign-born. Back in 2007, both figures were slightly smaller, but then and now, Nashville's immigrant population made up far more of the region than the 13 percent of the population they today comprise nationwide.
Tennessee was one of those places that saw a 278 percent increase in the area's Latino population due to legal and illegal immigration, a building boom, tech and creative industry growth in the decade between 1990 and 2000. And the U.S. government also made people fleeing political persecution or armed conflict in Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi and several other countries, part of Nashville.
In short, Nashville had become a pretty international and modern city pretty quickly. Reaction to that kind of rapid change included sometimes palpable resentment. There were a fair number of people -- most of them white Americans -- who believed that almost every housing or community dispute, employment or economic challenge, school issue or manmade or natural disaster had at least something to do with immigration.
And, as such, Nashville is also the kind of place where Donald Trump -- the Republican presidential candidate running a campaign built around the themes of blaming illegal immigration for all types of trouble, barring refugees, surveilling Muslims, and, of course, cutting better deals -- likely has some political followers.
Which brings us back to 2007. Trump had begun licensing his name to marketing companies selling everything from personalized vitamin regimens to advice on the best way to leverage debt and buy real estate for rock-bottom prices off delinquent tax rolls. Some of these bore the name "Trump University." All of them promised to deliver the attendees a pathway to wealth. And under the terms of deals Trump signed with event organizers, Trump University did help to make Trump a richer man. (We strongly suggest you click on that link and the one below to understand how). One note: Different features of Trump U and other Trump seminars were run under licensing agreements, owned or operated by Trump at different times. And Trump University is now defunct.
The thing about that collection of deals, though, is that they also made Trump the subject of a New York attorney general's inquiry and a civil fraud suit, as Sen. Marco Rubio -- one of the men challenging Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination -- pointed out during the debate Thursday night.
With that in mind, The Fix thought some readers might wonder exactly what a day at Trump University is really like. So, I've pulled some big snippets from the 2007 story I wrote for the Tennesseean about what happened after I responded to that "exclusive invitation" to Trump U.
Here's what happened as soon as I arrived:
Walk down one of those extra-long hallways lined with thick carpet and multiple sets of double doors toward the conference center at the Sheraton Music City Hotel. Fill out a stick-on name tag and a short form telling event organizers how to reach you in the future.
Then, Nathan Osmond, a relative of Donnie and Marie Osmond and a member of The Osmonds: Second Generation, takes the stage.
Before the "Wealth Building the Trump Way" seminar ended late Saturday afternoon, the roughly 800 people who organizers say attended the invitation-only event had been serenaded by an Osmond and heard a long-distance telephone lecture from Donald Trump Jr., who said he was calling from a hospital delivery room, where his wife, Vanessa, was "about to start pushing."
Welcome to the world of financial seminars, the one-day to sometimes weeklong gatherings where average men and women from amateurs to stay-at-home money managers get a dose of what's billed as exclusive access to investment tips used by the rich and famous.
Those who showed up starting at 7 a.m. at the hotel off [Nashville's] Elm Hill Pike were recruited by mail with the promise of an "in-person" appearance by Trump Jr. and a free book written by his dad, Donald J. Trump.
It was a mixed group, including people over 50 in suits, college kids in sweat shirts, truck drivers in baseball caps and lots of couples of the kind who wear matching outfits and fanny packs.
Soon, the way this thing really worked became clear:
The seminar [was supposed to feature] the 29-year-old [Donald] Trump [Jr.], billed as an "up-and-coming real estate expert," sharing his family's most successful strategies.
In person, [attendees] got a sales pitch and instructions on high-return stock investing by Brigham Young University graduate David Craig, described as someone who has "taught more people the secrets to low-risk, high-return stock investing than anyone else in the world."
Before Craig's one-hour presentation ended, he offered the audience a $1,999 package including a two-day investment seminar at the same Nashville hotel later this month and a password to access a financial website and its data for six months. The only catch was attendees had to sign up during their 20-minute break.
And that made my editor and I feel that this next section was totally necessary.
Mark Cox and his wife studied the form and weighed investing the nearly $2,000.
"We're thinking about it," he said. "You know, I'm sure he's right, we could probably earn a lot more than we are now. But $2,000 is not a little investment, and 15 minutes isn't much to make this kind of decision."
Such sales tactics are common at these events, said Tobie Stanger, senior editor for Consumer Reports Money Adviser.
"These things tend to have sort of a tent revival feel to them," Stanger said. "If you want to spend the money to get some inspiration and a few tidbits of wisdom, you're probably OK. For a little bit of entertainment and a little bit of inspiration, (financial seminars) probably can't hurt."
The Federal Trade Commission, though, has encouraged the public to be on guard when considering financial advice, particularly short-term offers. An FTC consumer alert last year advised people to be careful of any offer that guarantees a particular rate of return or promises big benefits with little or no training or education.
And in fairness, the entire operation, which I was assured usually included an in-person appearance from Trump or one of his adult children, didn't completely avoid the topic of risk. In fact, it was sort of the take-away.
At the Trump seminar, each speaker cautioned the audience that nothing is risk-free.
One presenter who galvanized the crowd was Texas attorney Robert "Bob" Bluhm, who spoke on protecting assets in the event of a lawsuit.
He offered his firm's tool kit, "The Asset Protection Bible," for $2,995. He said that amounted to a $3,000 discount.
David and Raylene Gilbert of Springfield mulled it over.
"Before this session, I think we had labeled this thing Donald Trump's traveling medicine show," David Gilbert said. "But I think we heard some things in there (during Bluhm's session) that we can use."
Shortly after 1 p.m., Trump Jr. was beamed in by cellphone and loud speaker system. The expectant father said he was sorry he couldn't appear in person. As he spoke, images of his dad's buildings, golf courses and hotels flashed on giant screens.
The younger Trump wrapped up his speech with what he called the most important advice his father ever gave him: Steer clear of smoking, drinking and drugs. And, most important, he said, "don't trust anyone completely."
Now, you too have been schooled.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post understated the share of the nation's population that is foreign-born. This post has been altered to include an accurate figure.