Here in the US as the gulf between rich and poor gets wider, an interesting thing seems to be happening. The rich, for all their privilege, look to be more insecure than the rest of us. More unhinged. A bit like a class of people who are rotting from the inside out.
All you need to do is look at the president (lower case p on purpose — a small-but-satisfying act of disrespect). I was listening to a story on the radio yesterday that noted how he has changed the business of lobbying in DC. Apparently, many on K Street have learned that if they buy time from programs like Fox and Friends and run brief commercials about their area of interest, including images of Trump in those commercials, there’s a chance that he will notice and then view those subjects favorably. Staffers have used similar ploys to hold his attention, doing things like repeatedly adding his name in printed briefings to try to keep him engaged.
It’s not just the under-handed methods being used to garner favor. Egregious as they are (and let’s not forget the huge amounts of money forked over for visits to his hotels and golf clubs) the even more disturbing part for me is what it reflects about the man. This is an exceedingly privileged white, adult male we are talking about. Only the best and biggest for him. And yet, his very being is, apparently, so fragile that without constant infusions of attention and adulation, he wanders off, deflated and lost. There’s absolutely no way that this could possibly end well.
And now we turn to yesterday’s college admission scandal. You’ve probably read all about it. Let’s just say that a bit more of the veneer of America’s so-called meritocracy has been chipped away.
The rich have always had a leg up when it comes to accessing slots at elite colleges and universities. Legacy kids get looked at differently, and if mommy and daddy contribute, say, a building, to their favorite school, probably little Susie or Jimmy is going to be looked at more favorably.
But this latest scandal takes it all into a slightly different ballpark. Apparently, some wealthy folks are so worried about their kids getting into elite colleges that they have been buying into an expensive scam that essentially guarantees admission by paying off coaches in exchange for slots on teams — or in some cases actually offers to ‘game’ the SAT’s for students.
Indeed, the very nature of the crimes alleged by the government illustrates the ways in which college admissions are not based only on academic merit. For example, John Vandemoer, the coach of the sailing team at Stanford University, is charged with certifying a landlubber as a sailing team recruit in exchange for a payment to the sailing team of $110,000.NY Times
While it’s all incredibly corrupt and disturbing, there’s a sense in which it isn’t very new – just quite a bit more desperate.
And this is where you can really see, as with Trump, the terrible fragility and emptiness of white privilege in extremis. I mean, here are people with the means to buy their way into college the usual way. But instead they choose a method that essentially reinforces two things for their children:
- It tells little Jimmy or Susie that they deserve to have whatever they want, by whatever means necessary; and
- It further tells little Jimmy or Susie that they are essentially unworthy and incapable and thus, require Mommy and Daddy’s heavy lifting to get them what they want.
It’s an ugly American lesson. As it plays itself out, it spawns emptier and emptier elites. Pouting people like Trump and his pouting family, who have money and power and privilege, but no sustainable, central core of morality or real personhood.