It may sound trivial, but Donald Trump’s high school test scores have come front and centre in the past week.
Social media users, investigators and the US media alike are eager to get their hands on them, based on claims the President went to great lengths to conceal them from the public eye.
Now Mr Trump’s old school principals have spoken out, confirming claims of a plot to keep those records concealed at all costs.
HOW TRUMP’S EXAM SCORES BECAME AN ISSUE
Last week, Mr Trump’s ex-lawyer Michel Cohen appeared before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where he detailed everything from the Mueller investigation to his own personal relationship with the President.
During the hearing, he claimed Mr Trump had directed him to threaten schools he attended in his youth with legal action if his high school exam grades were made public.
“I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant, but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores,” he said.
Mr Cohen presented the Committee with a letter he wrote in 2015 that pressured Mr Trump’s alma mater Fordham University — as well as the College Board, which administers America’s final school exams — not to release his scores.
The scores refer to the SAT, a standardised test taken by high school graduates that’s used for admission to American universities — similar to our HSC or VCE.
In the letter, Mr Cohen warned the release of Mr Trump’s records without his consent “is expressly prohibited by law”, and that releasing the records would “lead to jail time”.
A spokesperson for Fordham University confirmed to Buzzfeed News that the letter was received.
Fordham University spox confirms that they received the letter from Cohen threatening them with legal action if they released Trump’s school records. They also got a call from a Trump campaign official before the letter. pic.twitter.com/jNVmVtuUdy
— Tasneem N (@TasneemN) February 27, 2019
Evan Jones, the headmaster at New York Military Academy — one of the schools Mr Trump attended — has subsequently claimed he received a similar order from his boss to “find Trump’s academic records and help bury them”.
“(My boss) came to me in a panic because he had been accosted by prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr Trump’s friends,” Jones told the Washington Post. “He said, ‘You need to go grab that record and deliver it to me because I need to deliver it to them.’”
Jeffrey Coverdale, the superintendent of the school and Jones’ superior, told the outlet he was instructed to give Mr Trump’s records to members of the school’s board, but declined.
“I was given directives, part of which I could follow but part of which I could not, and that was handing them over to the trustees,” he said. “I moved (Trump’s records) elsewhere on campus where they could not be released. It’s the only time I ever moved an alumnus’ records.”
Both declined to disclose information contained in the transcripts.
Mr Trump has frequently claimed he was an excellent student, but he declined requests throughout his campaign to release his academic records.
He has previously referred to himself as a “stable genius” with “the best words”, while he criticises those he dislikes as “not smart” or “wacky”.
Wacky Omarosa, who got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time. She never made it, never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her but heard….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2018
Shortly after Mr Cohen’s hearing, the internet went into a frenzy of curiosity over the President’s test scores:
I now really want to know what Trump’s SAT scores were.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 27, 2019
there is nothing funnier than the 72-year-old millionaire president being worried about his SAT scores https://t.co/dEoejmVYqk
— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) February 27, 2019
I know there’s so much in that testimony but man I need those SAT scores
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) February 27, 2019
To date, they have not seen the light of day.
WHY DO THESE TEST SCORES MATTER?
The report suggests Mr Trump was a poor-performing student, which would explain why he was so eager to conceal his academic record.
But does that really matter? Considering we’d be going back more than 50 years, the average American voter arguably couldn’t care less if the US president flunked trigonometry as a teen.
Countless data has shown that end-of-school exams are a poor predictor of a student’s future success, and many billionaires — from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg — famously dropped out of university.
“It’s hard to imagine that anyone would have changed their vote for or against Trump based on whatever his Fordham GPA was: His appeal or lack thereof isn’t more or less intense if he had a 4.0 or a solid C minus,” notes an opinion piece in GQ.
But if Mr Cohen’s account is true, what could be more concerning is that the President was able to censor information about his grades in the first place.
The other issue is the potential hypocrisy involved regarding the pressure he put on Barack Obama.
In 2012, Mr Trump famously urged the former president to make his school records public.
Mr Cohen’s letter was sent three years after Mr Trump posted a video to YouTube offering Mr Obama a $US5 million donation if he released “his college records and applications” and “passport applications and records”.
In 2011, he publicly questioned Mr Obama’s academic record, telling the Associated Press: “I heard he was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard? I’m thinking about it, I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.”
Post opinion writer Paul Waldman argues the concealment of Mr Trump’s academic records goes to the heart of his base of white voters, whom he encourages to believe the system is “rigged” against them.
“When Trump told them that the system was ‘rigged’ against them, he wasn’t talking about wealth and power. He was talking about white people supposedly being held back, by immigrants and undeserving black people who had been pushed ahead of them to the front of the line,” writes Waldman.
Implicit in his questioning of Mr Obama’s academic record, Waldman argues, is the idea that the former president got into Columbia University and Harvard Law School through this same “system” of affirmative action to the detriment of white people.
However, while Mr Trump has separately questioned both Mr Obama’s academic merit and spread the “birtherism” theory — that Mr Obama was actually born in Kenya — he never directly said Mr Obama only got into Columbia and Harvard based on his race.
In July last year, the Trump administration announced it would roll back the Obama-era policies of affirmative action.