Bizarre, hilarious and disturbing, the college-admissions scandal is a perfect fit for our political moment.

A central claim of today’s populists, both on the right and on the left, is that we have a ruling class that wields power in its own interests and justifies that power with the pretense that it has earned its position through merit.

The elites, for their part, do not always recognize themselves as such. They consider themselves part of a meritocracy, with merit defined largely in terms of educational credentials. The legitimacy of the process by which institutions of higher learning select students is thus tied to the legitimacy of their own privilege.