Whenever the rate of return on capital is significantly and durably higher than the growth rate of the economy, it is all but inevitable that inheritance (of fortunes accumulated in the past) predominates over saving (wealth accumulated in the present). ... wealth originating in the past automatically grows more rapidly, even without labor, than wealth stemming from work, which can be saved. Almost inevitably, this tends to give lasting disproportionate importance to inequalities created in the past, and therefore to inheritance.
- Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Legacy kids are destroying America. In the last two weeks, there have been three sterling examples.
First case: the famous college admissions grift. Felicity Huffman, and god knows how many suburban wine-box couples, got found out.
Now, American higher education has always been a half-scam; like a bad-dye-job faith healer who passes out vitamin C enemas. In reality, most American colleges are the same. They all overcharge, and the “higher tier” charge more than others. Elite degrees are the ultimate luxury good, so legions of well-heeled cheaters signed up to game the system. And they got found out.
This would all be deliciously funny, except the scandal shows the basic unfairness of American education. The “best schools” still favor the same people they always did: the privileged few. The Ivies are essentially unchanged from George W. Bush’s time. They service the semi-literate predator class, and will bend over backwards to accommodate their dumbest whims.
Second case: the sad story of Meghan McCain. McCain took the trouble to get born and little else. Everything since that decisive movement has been a steady trajectory upwards. In theory, it should be hard for someone to make the Kardashians look like earnest strivers. But, by God and all his neutered angels, McCain was up to the challenge. Since the day McCain first appeared on “The View,” she has managed to involve herself in one faux pas after another.
Ask yourself: really, how is McCain relevant to the national conversation? We make fun of Kanye for delivering quips that only a head-wound sufferer would find insightful. Everybody, including the Pope, understands that Kanye is a famous dullard. But at least Kanye has given us great music. What has McCain given us, but a reason to pray hard for the ultimate victory of the rising seas over sinful man?
McCain’s most recent botch was the roast of Ilhan Omar. In February, Congresswoman Omar called out AIPAC for buying up American politicians. It was brave of her, and earnest … and couldn’t be allowed to stand. The Beltway Consensus tried to crush her. They smeared Omar by day, and they smeared her by night. Well-off white pundits went out of their way to bash a refugee woman of color. It was nauseating to watch. On the March 7 episode of The View, McCain bashed the Congresswoman. As Splinter News pointed out, “McCain explicitly compared Omar to white supremacists in Charlottesville.”
I don’t think we should be politicizing [anti-Semitism] on either side because, as we know, if it’s a tiki torch person in Charlottesville saying ‘Jews will not replace us’ or…these more dog-whistle moments, that in my view, Ilhan Omar is doing.
“That’s right,” Jack Mirkinson wrote, “Omar, a lone politician talking about the political influence that the pro-Israel lobby has in America is the same as neo-Nazis, tacitly supported by the White House, violently marching through Charlottesville and killing someone.”
McCain wasn’t done: “I don’t have family that is Jewish but Joe Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman are my family. I take the hate crimes raising in this country incredibly seriously, and I think what’s happening in Europe is really scary and I’m sorry if I’m getting emotional.”
In conclusion: Muslim woman bad, McCain the real victim. When progressives on Twitter called McCain out for her terrible take, she was defended by a host of hall-monitors. An army of dull lanyards, celebrity apologists, centrist time-servers, and very online stans tried to defend her. But McCain was the warm-up for the main attraction.
Which brings us to the third case of Watch Privilege Work: Chelsea Clinton. Like McCain, Clinton is an heir, a child of privilege, and someone who managed a career in media without doing much.
Ms. Clinton got involved in the Omar dust-up. And how! Observers had already watched privileged whiteness work. But Clinton taught all of us a masterclass. She joined in the Omar smear, capping several days of elite Islamophobia. She managed to include the phrase “as an American”:
Here's what is truly sickening about all of this. I want to you keep in mind that McCain, Clinton, and the Democratic Party exist in an America where the president is a white supremacist, and where Steve King held power until, like, yesterday. This happened in an America where the major supporter of the Clinton Crime Bill, Joe Biden, is being seriously considered as a Dem nominee. Remember, this happened in a nation where our civil, penal, and military forces spend most of their day disciplining and punishing people of color. Also, keep in mind that on March 11, Netanyahu told the world that Israel was for Jewish people and them alone; this was the same Netanyahu who made a public alliance with the deeply racist Kahanist sect. That's the background. That's the context.
Congress decided to condemn Omar, instead of any of those institutions. Their first instinct was to blame the marginalized person. When privilege met intersectionality, guess which one got thrown out of the window first?
Then, on March 15, the world saw the result of that blame game. A Neo-Nazi walked into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed fifty people.
The same elites and media platforms who'd been smearing Omar decided, suddenly, that Islamophobia was a problem — gosh, where did all this Muslim hate come from?.
At that point, Clinton tried to go to a prayer vigil in New York. After she arrived, she was confronted by several NYU students. One of them, Leen Dewik, spoke to Clinton about the Omar smears. Dweik said to Clinton: “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world.”
Dweik was recorded, and the video went viral. As soon as Dweik dared to criticize Clinton in public, center Twitter seemed to forget about the dead in Christchurch.
Once again, their instinct was to blame the Muslim woman.
Once again, the heiress was declared the victim.
Once again, we saw whiteness work; once again, we saw privilege protected.
Donald Trump Jr., a fellow heir, defended Clinton. Isn't that touching? When the proles are involved, political differences just melt away.
What unites all three of these cases? The case of the colleges, the case of McCain, and the case of Clinton? In each instance, wealth and power won. By itself, those aren't noteworthy facts. Winning unequal battles is what privilege is for.
What surrounds the story is more interesting than the story itself.
Elites in the past had fewer illusions about what they were doing. The Duke of Wellington was the rare aristocrat with functional talents and working brain-lobes. Speaking of his soldiers, the men who beat Napoleon, Wellington said, “The French system of conscription brings together a fair sample of all classes; ours is composed of the scum of the earth—the mere scum of the earth. It is only wonderful that we should be able to make so much out of them afterwards.”
Clinton and McCain and Wyatt Koch and Betsy Devos and Jared Kushner are not the Duke of Wellington. What is remarkable about the American legacy children is their delusion. They cannot accept their own class membership, as Wellington could. In the most literal sense, our modern predator class is made of credulous, easily-duped adult children. From the President on down. Wellington believed that advantages of feudal breeding created his superiority. But our modern legacy kids sincerely think they are the smartest, gentlest, best human beings to ever live. Read Bess Levin on Ivanka Trump:
In an interview with Fox News that will air on Sunday, Ivanka was asked what she thought about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, specifically the part of the plan that ensures “a job with a family-sustaining wage . . . to all people of the United States.” What would she say to “people who will see that offer from the Democrats . . . and think, 'Yeah, that's what I want'”? host Steve Hilton wondered. To which the heiress, who has literally been handed everything her entire life thanks to federal housing subsidies her grandfather received from the government, responded: “I don't think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I've spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get. So, I think this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job.”
Our society is run by true believers. The people up top are Kool-Aid drinkers, bar none. They really believe they earned their way there. The legacy kids are more indoctrinated than anyone. They have to be, for the society to function. They have to buy into society's BS, much more than a janitor's daughter does. This is true up and down the social scale. The higher up the ladder you go, the more deluded about the basic facts of life you are. Yemeni villagers know more about war than Eli Lake ever will. Oaxacan peasant women get hard work in a way that Ivanka Trump just can't.
The Huffman news was only surprising if you believe in the meritocracy. Conservatives are unashamed of privilege. But centrists and liberals are deeply wedded to the myth of just desserts and earned status. When meritocracy fails (as it always does), they get shook, rattled like a paint can in a Home Depot mixer.
Huffman and William Macy never figured out the sting. Few people bother to look close enough. Simply put, the Ivy League is a triumph of marketing over reality. The determiner of success in this country is class, full stop. That's it. The delicious irony of the Ivy League scandal is that the people who are lobbying to get their kid into the “top schools” don't have to. They're already rich. Since class power is the determiner of society, the legacy kids would be “successful” regardless. I mean, the Trumps have one reptile brain between them and they're sitting atop the world. What does that tell you about American society's sorting mechanisms?
The only reason meritocracy exists is to justify inequality. And the first people it convinces are its beneficiaries.
Look around you. In every part of our society, the corrupting influence of passed-down power lays heavy. It sticks to every surface, like a shadow that never sees the sun. In the ages when America was slightly more equal, we could look the other way. But the last several decades have shown us we live in the time Thomas Piketty warned about. We inherit our ancestors’ mistakes as we do their property: we receive an unjust country, a doom-ridden climate, and the promise of resurgent fascism. The heir class gets careers on national TV; the rest of us receive the end times. That’s our inheritance. Legacies are the enemy; pass it on.