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'There Is No Meritocracy': College Admissions Scandal Exposes Systemic Rot, Progressives Say

"I hope it's a wake-up call for people who have bought into the system that people become wealthy because they have worked hard."

Felicity Huffman

Felicity Huffman at the Finale Walk at The Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection, 2010. (Photo: Patrick McMullan, The Heart's Truth Flickr)

The most far-reaching college admissions plot ever prosecuted, revealed on Tuesday by federal investigators, provides a window into how wealth and power operate in American society, progressives say. 

The scheme involved getting the children of wealthy people into the colleges of their dreams, often by manipulating sports scholarships, disability allowances on tests, and by inflating resumes. Per Democracy Now!

50 people were arrested, including 13 college coaches, for taking part in a scheme where wealthy parents paid exorbitant bribes to secure spots for their unqualified children in elite schools that included Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, University of Southern California and Wake Forest. Prosecutors have charged 33 parents, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin; Loughlin’s husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli; and Bill McGlashan, a founder of TPG Capital, one of the largest private equity investment firms in the world.

The scope of the scandal, and the fact that it's snared well known figures, made it front page news. But for a number of politicians, journalists, and commentators, the scheme exposed a deeper, uglier truth about the lack of meritocracy in America and how power works.

"I hope it's a wake-up call for people who have bought into the system that people become wealthy because they have worked hard," Ivory Toldson, professor of counseling psychology at Howard University, told Democracy Now! in an interview Wednesday. "It's a deception that's pervasive in our society."

Toldson joined a chorus of people pointing out the rot exposed by the scheme.

Twitter user @dlnodots mused on whether the people arrested Tuesday would face the same kind of consequences as black parents whose children attend out of district schools.

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Alexis Nedd, a reporter with Mashable, was wryly amused by the "fumbling" attempt at crime on the part of the parents.

New York City public defender and criminal justice advocate Rebecca J. Kavanagh noted the difference in bail for Huffman and one of her clients, a 16 year-old boy.

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) compared the scandal to access in American politics. Both, said Ocasio-Cortez, are examples of how money can get you "in."

At Splinter, writer Libby Watson used the scandal as a teachable moment. 

"There is no meritocracy," wrote Watson. "Just remember that the next time someone tries to sell you on any vision of America's future that includes a supposedly benevolent and productive wealthy class, instead of just taxing them on the money they clearly have no idea how to spend."

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