Two stories really lit up my social media feeds last week: the first was the college bribery scandal that ensnared many rich elites, most notably actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. People paid tens of thousands of dollars to get their precious darlings admitted to college with false credentials, including skills at sports they didn’t even play. The second was the rather light sentence of just four years handed down by a federal judge in the Paul Manafort case. Manafort spent decades lobbying on the behalf of dictators and strongmen to Congress. He may have helped Donald Trump collude with a foreign power to get elected as POTUS. While he may receive more jail time from at least two other judges, hi sentence seemed rather light given the gravity of betraying his country to make money.
These stories may seem very different on the surface, but they both hit on a very similar theme: if you are white and have enough money, the world is made a lot easier for you. This is something all of us have known on some level, but this hard truth really has smacked us all in the face the past few years, especially since the 2016 election. For instance, Lori Loughlin got one of her daughters into University of Southern California by pretending she rowed on the crew team. She took a spot away from another student who worked hard, was actually good at the sport, and deserved the spot a lot more all because Lori Loughlin and her husband had $500,000 to burn. Meanwhile, Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade, an influencer on Instagram, said in a video posted on YouTube before the scandal hit, that she wanted the “experience” of college, but probably wouldn’t even attend classes regularly.
Paul Manafort made a lot of money selling out the country and evading taxes. When his home was raided, the FBI found a rather elaborate wardrobe, including a python skin coat worth about $18,000. When the federal judge handed down the sentence of only 47 months, he said that the recommended 19-21 years seemed excessive, and Manafort had been “in no other trouble.” Would he feel this way about someone who wasn’t well-spoken and wearing custom-made suits before he was arrested? My guess is both made a big difference to the judge, even if the bias was unconscious.
The truth is money is insulating. We all know this on some level: stress levels are lower when you have had no big surprises in your monthly bills, and you have paid everything on time and in full. You worry less day-to-day when you just filled up the gas tank to get to work, or you have bought enough groceries to last you a few weeks. So when you have more money than you know what to do with, you are incredibly insulated from the both the small problems and the big problems of the world, even ones you created yourself. You can also overcome the obstacles simply by throwing money at your problems. Maybe because of the current occupant of the White House, Americans are finally outraged enough that rich people are allowed to use money to do whatever they want.
It seems like our country has hit a tipping point of valuing money above all of us in American society, at least among people my age and younger. We like to think our society is classless. If you work hard enough, you too can find success, wealth, and happiness. The implication behind that is that somehow the country is made better by our ingenuity or entrepreneurship, that overall value is added to our country for every person who works hard and makes a lot of money. By that measure, Paul Manafort and Olivia Jade are both successful because they have money. But what exactly have Olivia Jade and Paul Manafort added to our country? From what I learned this past week, not a lot. Rich people should not be given to pass simply because they can pay to get rid of their problems.