One of the biggest headlines of the day today is the FBI bust of dozens of wealthy parents who bribed school officials, SAT administrators and coaches to get their children into elite schools. My first reaction to the pictures of soccer moms in the headlines of all the major news outlets was, I wonder if the overzealous moms qualify for the “otherwise blameless life” discount.
Here’s the problem with that reaction. Three years ago this scandal would have been much bigger news than it is today, and my first reaction would have been anger. Our country and our economy were founded on the idea of individual mobility and opportunity. At its best our country operates as a meritocracy: people are able to rise or fall based on their level of ability, merit, determination and effort. Equal opportunity is our ideal. We have fallen dreadfully short of this goal.
Wealth conveys societal opportunity that’s not available to those without it, and over the last twenty years there has been a dramatic decrease in the ability of those not born into wealth to obtain it. Opportunities for social mobility are getting more scarce. Our colleges and universities are supposed to be a gateway for opportunity. The system for entry into these institutions is supposed to be merit based.
The idea that the wealthy can illegally purchase a coveted slot into the best universities for their otherwise unqualified child, gives another precious advantage to an already advantaged child, and takes that opportunity away from a gifted child more intellectually equipped to make use of a fine education.
This should be a big deal, but let’s face it. When the President’s campaign manager was secretly working as an agent of the Ukraine and Russia, when he laundered money, when he evaded paying taxes on his earnings from that secret agency, and he lied to FBI agents, and then he gets off with only four years in prison, and is referred to by a judge as, “otherwise blameless,” it’s hard to get worked up over a mom cheating to get her child into a university.
And, that is why Donald Trump and his criminal conspirators have to be stopped and they have to pay serious consequences, because if selling out your country and abusing public trust is not a really big deal, then nothing else is.
Cheryl Kelley lives in the DC area with her husband and young son. She is active in government and politics.