It’s easy to be mad at Lori Loughlin. She’s a rich famous person who used her fame and riches to take unfair advantage of a corrupt college admissions system. And every single detail that’s emerged from the story has been hilarious or jaw dropping. Loughlin’s most famous character is named “Becky,” a name now synonymous with clueless white entitlement. Her influencer daughter Olivia Jade didn’t even want to go to college in the first place.
But while it’s easy to get wrapped up in Loughlin’s scandal, you’ve got to let it go. Loughlin is obnoxious but she’s not important. Elites are throwing Loughlin into the water like chum. Don’t take the bait. We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Besides, with the prosecution of Martha Stewart, we know how it’s going to play out.
Rahm Emanuel comes close to giving the game away in his second Atlantic column, “It’s Time to Hold American Elites Accountable for Their Abuses.” It’s surprising to see Emanuel rail against elites. The former White House Chief of Staff and Chicago Mayor is no class warrior. Throughout his political career, he’s sided with elites and thwarted progressive change. From co-writing NAFTA and welfare reform agreements in the Clinton White House to fighting financial industry reform in and stifling healthcare and labor advances in the Obama administration and his Chicago war on public unions, giveaways to corporate interests and protection of bad cops.
Emanuel loves elites and they love him back. In three short years in the private sector in the late 1990s, he was paid $16.2 million.
So what elites does he have a problem with? The ones in Hollywood, like Lori Loughlin (but not, we can assume, the ones like his brother Ari Emanuel, the profane high-powered talent agent and real-life model for Jeremy Piven’s Entourage character). The article’s illustrated with a picture of actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman. Emanuel writes, “the outrage over the Varsity Blues investigation perfectly illustrates what may be the most important, least understood, and underappreciated political dynamic of our era: a full-on middle-class revolt against the elites and the privileges they hoard.”
He’s writing while wealth inequality rivals the gilded age, after a massive tax giveaway to the rich and at a time when medical debt accounts for two-thirds of personal bankruptcies. But Rahm looks at the crumbling American middle class and thinks some instagram chick falsely claiming to be a high school crew star encapsulates the moment’s rage at unfairly distributed privilege.
The celebrities who bribed colleges acted badly and people suffered as a consequence. They took the place of deserving applicants. But the damage is minimal compared to the devastation wrought by elites behind hedge funds, hospitals and the housing industry. we can reasonably assume those displaced worthy students didn’t only apply to one school. Throw a dart at any high profit industry, insurance, to finance to pharmaceutical, and you’ll hit someone causing far more pain.
It’s the same play they ran with Martha Stewart. In December of 2001, Stewart used insider information to avoid a stock loss of less than $50,000. At the time, she was one of the most famous people in America due to her self-made multimedia empire. The same month, Houston energy company Enron filed for bankruptcy after years of massive accounting fraud. Investigations revealed that the Texas company’s energy market manipulation caused rolling power blackouts in California. In the wake of the scandal, friends of Enron execs, like George W. Bush, scrambled to downplay their ties. A year later, the telecommunications firm Worldcom filed Chapter 11 after committing $3.8 billion worth of fraud. Enron and Worldcom executives were charged and served jail time (except Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, who died before sentencing) but Stewart’s trial drew commensurate media coverage.
The media’s more fractured and weakened today than in the early 2000s, so it’s easier to manipulate. In 2002, they could cover Stewart and Enron. Today, they don’t have the resources to do both. When media outlets see they can get cheap attention with Lori Loughlin stories, they won’t bother pursuing the ones that matter.