What the hell kind of weak-ass “populist moment” are we in here? I was expecting 75 percent minimum on a question like this. If the Trump era means anything, it’s that Americans won’t stand for rich, underqualified people conning their way into prestigious positions which they’re unfit to occupy, right?
Er, now that I re-read that last sentence, I see why my expectations for this poll should have been lower. Much, much lower.
Still, presidential politics aside: We’ve got rich people caught red-handed rigging the education system in favor of their undeserving idiot children and ruining the dreams of more conscientious students by doing so. Not even 30 days in jail for that?
Can we compromise and settle on tarring and feathering?
I’m fascinated by how support for more draconian punishment increases the further you go up the income scale, towards the same economic class to which the parents accused in the scandal belong. You would think it’d be the lower classes, whose kids need to scratch for everything they have, that’d be out for blood against the rich villains in this case. Nope. It’s the upper class that wants the book thrown at them.
One theory why: It’s the upper class much more so than the lower whose children are directly competing with the likes of the Giannulli sisters for scarce seats at elite colleges. Their kids are more likely to be “victims” of this particular crimes than kids with fewer means, most of whom will be going to school locally assuming they go at all. Relatedly, the fact that most upper-class parents have the wherewithal to pay bribes and choose not to may lead them to resent the unfair tactics used by a Lori Loughlin more acutely. To a lower-class family, Loughlin’s behavior may seem almost aspirational: If you had $100 million to play with, wouldn’t you buy your children every advantage? It’s the American dream! Whereas a family that really has managed to make a nice living for itself (if not as nice as $100 million) but played by the rules anyway to instill morals in their children will bristle that their virtue placed them at a disadvantage.
Another, grimmer possibility is that lower-class families are much more familiar with the experience of being victimized by crime than upper-class families are — and not vaguely comic white-collar crimes like bribing college officials to pretend your kid is on the crew team either. If you’ve been on the wrong end of a felony and/or know people who have done hard time, the idea of Aunt Becky handing a fat envelope to some pipe-smoking dean to get her little Kardashian a seat at USC might be simply too ridiculous for you to imagine jail time as a just result.
You’ll be relieved to know that majorities in all groups believe that the college administrators who accepted the bribes should go to prison, although in that case too there’s more support at higher income levels than lower ones. Fifty percent of Americans who earn less than $50,000 per year want jail time in that case versus 66 percent who earn more than $100,000 annually. Another interesting result:
There are populists, there are hardcore populists, and then there are the four percent here who want the kids involved in this scandal to go to prison even if they didn’t know what was going on. The overall intuition in these results is clear enough: Those who knowingly participated in the fraud shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from it. But the fact remains that even kids who didn’t know that mom and dad bribed their way in for them are occupying a seat that should have gone to a more deserving applicant. What’s the appropriate remedy for that problem? Students who were wait-listed because their seats were taken by bribe beneficiaries are already attending classes at other schools. Offer them a transfer, maybe? With extra financial aid?
One other thing to think about if you’re uncomfortable with jail time for bribe-making parents, whether because they’re first-time offenders or for other reasons of your choosing, is that someone who’s willing to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions to get their kid into school illegally isn’t likely to be deterred by financial penalties unless they’re extraordinarily stiff. You think the prospect of a $500,000 fine would have deterred Lori Loughlin when she was willing to pay that amount to USC in the first place to get her kids in? A fine will simply be calculated as part of the overall cost of the bribe by future rich cheats. Jail is a whole different ballgame.
By the way, the latest on the Giannulli sisters is that USC is weighing whether to ban them permanently from campus. That feels gratuitous considering they’ve already withdrawn from the school, but remember that Olivia’s only interest in attending seems to have been the party scene. A campus ban would deprive her of parts of that. Although, really, how likely is she to show up to USC parties now that she’s the poster girl for the admissions scandal? Imagine wandering through a college party with a Solo cup in hand while drunken idiots come up to you repeatedly to say, “You’re that dumb girl whose mom paid the bribe!”