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Body Politic: Everyone's Coming Out of the Closets


Last Updated: 04/01/2019 10:50 am

The grotesque, over-the-top, outrageous, spend-and-bribe-your-kid's-way-into-college scandal is a coming-out-of-the-closet moment.

The progeny of the rich, the well-connected, and the traditional upper echelon of society have always had a huge advantage in college admissions. The more "elite" the institution, the more likely that was to be true. Simply being able to pay full tuition increases the chance of admission. Upper-class homes are vastly more likely to be part of the same culture as upper-level universities. They speak the same language and teach it to their children. They are intertwined with the same networks and connections. The richer the neighborhood, the better the public schools are. Rich parents can afford tutors, special programs, and, if their children get in trouble, lawyers who will keep their records clean. As for private schools, the selling point of the most desirable ones is that they are feeder programs for the most coveted college.

If all of that doesn't cut it, there are "legacy" programs, preferential treatment for children—even nieces and nephews—of alumni. (Come on, did you think George W. Bush got into Yale and Harvard Business School by merit?)

The Wall Street Journal (April 25, 2003)summed it up nicely with this little tale of two students from Groton, with virtually identical accomplishments, one from an established white family (Roberts) and one the child of Korean immigrants (Park).

Mr. Roberts, unlike Mr. Park, had a significant Harvard hook. His grandfather and uncle, both alumni, gave Harvard an indoor track and tennis center and a professorship, among other donations. Mr. Roberts' arranged for him to meet with Mr. Fitzsimmons, the admissions dean, and Jeremy Knowles, then dean of arts and sciences. Mr. Roberts's relatives also linked him up with Harvard's track coach and team members in the hope that he would be given preferential treatment as an athletic recruit. Harvard accepted him.

There have been thousands of articles written about affirmative action. Many have been critical. The positive ones twist themselves into pretzels to justify it. Very few, on either side, include legacies, the affirmative action for the rich, even though there are more legacies in elite colleges than members of any other affirmative action group.

The current college admissions scandal is not about substance. It reveals substance, but it is about vulgarity.

The parents who were caught had not played the game the true, well-mannered, WASP* ascendency way. They laundered mere tens of thousands through a fake charity to bribe characters like soccer coaches, instead of pledging a robust $2.5 million directly to Harvard as Jared Kushner's father had done! (In case anyone thinks that Jared might also have been a stellar student earning gold stars for all his grades who could have gained admittance on achievements—no, he couldn't.)

A host of abuses and deceptions that had been disguised as established norms have been dragged from their hiding places. Not so much because crusaders after truth have revealed them, but due to events.

Police have always killed black people far more often and with far less reason than white people. They've always denied it. Investigations have always found them justified. Then everyone had smart phones, and smart phones came with cameras. Suddenly, there was video, and video trumped testimony.

Drug abusers were thought to be black or, if white, counterculture types. They were seen as horrible criminals, low, vile, to be attacked by the most endless of endless wars, the War on Drugs. Life sentences. Even for weed. And heroin was worse.

Yet marijuana use became widespread among middle and upper class white people. Marijuana activists cleverly promoted legalization—starting with medical use—as a source of significant tax revenue.

Meanwhile, Purdue Pharma—along with other "ethical pharmaceutical" companies, various health care providers, and selected doctors—got into the business of addicting everyone they could, even white people, to opioids.

Now cultivating and selling marijuana is (mostly) not a crime—it's a growth industry.

Addiction is no longer a crime, it's a disease. Simply changing the hue of the users has pulled the actuality of drugs out of the closets they'd been locked in.

A politician's private life was regarded as a private matter. Until the pursuit of Gary Hart dragged it out of the closet. When Bill Clinton was president, the religious right, Republicans, and conservatives were united in their cry that "character matters!"—with character defined exclusively by what a man did with his penis. Yet members of the religious right, Republicans, and conservatives stripped themselves naked and stepped forth from the closets of righteousness to support Donald Trump, hypocrisy hanging uncovered, revealing themselves to not really be concerned with sexual conduct and even less with character.

Think back, for a moment, to the days of George W. Bush. Alex Jones, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the right-wing talk radio crew were around, but their lunacies were regarded as fringe. Fox News was big, but their relentless fictions were regarded as journalistic variety. The racism was there but restrained by good manners. The dedication to pass tax cuts for the rich above all else was regarded as legitimate and the lies that sold it were treated as truths.

All of that was there before Donald Trump. He's dragged them out of the closet.

Truths do not reveal themselves. They do not establish themselves. It is because we have so many people dedicated to lying and to keep lies alive that we have to rely on truths stumbling out of their closets by accident.

* With apologies to Catholics, Catholic universities like Notre Dame, and Catholic private schools like Georgetown Prep, and to Irish who might think themselves distinct from Anglo-Saxons, to Italians, Germans, Jews, and others who've learned to play the game without disruption and to the schools they've embraced and endowed, this is a style reference more than anything else.

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