Every element of the college admissions scandal, aka "Operation Varsity Blues," is fascinating.
There are the players: the Yale dad who, implicated in a securities fraud case, tipped the feds off to the caper; a shady high school counselor turned admissions consultant; the 36-year-old Harvard grad who sold his talents for standardized testing to the highest bidder; the comely actresses from Full House and Desperate Housewives; the fashion designer; the casino magnate. Who would have thought that one of the major headlines of 2019 would be "Lori Loughlin released on bond"?
There are the children: the social media influencer (yes this is a thing) who was told of her parents' arrest while vacationing on the yacht of a USC trustee; the mom who submitted doctored photographs to USC to portray her son as a championship pole-vaulter; the place kicker for a high school with no football team; and the rap artist from the Upper East Side who defended his mom and dad to the press while smoking a blunt.
There are the means: paying tens of thousands of dollars to Rick Singer, Trinity '86, who bribed athletic directors and coaches, doctored student résumés, and arranged for clients to take college admittance exams alongside a "proctor" who answered the questions for them. The icing on the cake: Some payments were made to a charitable foundation so the parents could get the tax write-off. What a country.
There is the objective: placement at a high-profile school. Why? Social signaling, status games, but also because the wage premium for a college degree has become so large that parents are apparently willing to break federal law to earn it. Not for what the students learn at college—they hardly learn anything. Loughlin's daughter, the influencer, spoke for most undergraduates when she said, "I do want the experience of game days, partying—I don't really care about school, as you guys all know." Oh, we know. Otherwise your mom wouldn't be looking for a defense attorney.
It's not what happens in class that matters. The university has long been corrupted by athletics, politicization of the curriculum, identity politics, grade inflation, affirmative action, the death of the humanities, and ideological bias among faculty. What matters is the chit you receive at graduation.
Finally, there are the lessons to be drawn from this story. It's the media's vocation, drawing lessons. I've heard it said that the parents ought to have been concerned about the lesson they were teaching their children—though right now I'd wager they are more concerned with avoiding jail time. Others say this is the latest example of the falsity of meritocracy. For progressives, the affair reveals the classism and racism of our society, its rampant white privilege.
Which is a funny thing to say about the academic world. Colleges exert tremendous energy to be as diverse and inclusive and woke as possible, to the point where Asian-American students are discriminated against lest they ruin the schemes of college admissions officers. A scandal over which the media seems far less upset.
Lessons? Here are two. First the good news: We are shocked by the actions of these parents precisely because there is so little corruption in America. If the problems were as systemic as some on the Internet believe, they would hardly raise such an outcry. Denizens of countries where bribery is a way of life look at us and say, "Amateurs."
The second lesson is not as comforting. Operation Varsity Blues is further evidence of the bankruptcy of American elites. For over a decade now, the legitimacy of elites in politics, foreign policy, central banking, journalism, religion, and economics has crumbled as reality failed to match their rhetoric. Education is the latest sphere where elites have betrayed our country's institutions and our country's people by using wealth and connections to rig the rules of the game.
The scandal also points to the flagrant hypocrisy of Hollywood liberalism. No class is more moralistic, more hectoring, more obnoxiously activist than the Hollywood left. They barrage Americans with displays of their virtue, their calls to humanitarianism, their paeans to multiculturalism and feminism, their slanders of President Trump, Vice President Pence, Republicans in general, and conservatives in particular. And they have great sway in national politics. A Democrat's future depends on the beneficence of Hollywood donors—donors who were well represented among the individuals charged in Operation Varsity Blues.
The entertainment industry liberals talk a good game. But look at their actions. Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are synonymous with predation. Jussie Smollett was a B-list celebrity until he faked a hate crime against himself and blamed it on supporters of Trump. Now we have actors breaking the law so their kids can go to USC.
Why on Earth should we take political cues from these people? By what right do they portray themselves as enlightened, as advanced, as more sophisticated than half the country, even while they lie, cheat, steal, and assault? Plenty of baddies doing nasty things understand that donations to the Democratic Party and its interest groups insulate them from scrutiny and criticism—right until the moment they go to jail. These people aren't interested in the common good. They are interested in themselves.
"Devoid of all collective attachment except membership in its own club," writes Christophe Guilluy in Twilight of the Elites (2019), "the new bourgeoisie merrily surfs the surging waves of the market, reinforcing its class position, capturing the economic benefits of globalization, and building up a portfolio of real estate holdings that soon will rival that of the old bourgeoisie." Guilluy is describing contemporary France. He might as well be talking about Aunt Becky.