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  • Monica Harris

The College Cheating Scam Makes It Official: The U.S. Is A Banana Republic

Updated: Apr 22

March 20, 2019


The elite shamelessly excuse bribery — when it comes in the form of a “donation.”


Photo by Vitaly Taranov on Unsplash

If you live in the United States, it’s time to stop pretending. The writing has been on the wall for years, but the difference now is in the size of type:


WE DON’T LIVE IN THE COUNTRY WE THINK — AND WE’VE BEEN TOLD — WE LIVE IN.

Nothing is as it seems anymore, even though we’re still expected to believe things are operating as they should, even though we’re supposed to believe people are behaving as they should. It’s all b.s. And every day, this is becoming more obvious to more people. It feels like we've been punk’d on an epic scale, and we’re just now catching sight of the cameras and the sly director.


When political parties secretly work with the media to sabotage presidential candidates, when banks casually loot their customers without batting an eye, when charismatic wunderkinds shamelessly seduce investments in multi-billion dollar companies based on sham products, you know you’re living in a country where corruption and chicanery are now just part of the scenery.


You’ve been put on notice that when the stakes are high enough, people with power and influence will do whatever it takes to get what they want, while appearing to play by the rules. And to add insult to injury? They expect us to play by the rules they ignore.


So if you were shocked to learn that wealthy parents have been paying big bucks to get their kids into elite schools, then you’ve obviously popped the “blue” pill; you’ve been asleep, comfortably cocooned in an illusion. For better or worse, I swallowed the “red” pill and stumbled out of my pod years ago. That’s why none of this shocks me.


But last week, I was gobsmacked by something else.


I attended an Ivy League university, and the reactions to the scandal from some of my fellow alums — erudite people I thought I knew and respected — have frankly disturbed the hell out of me. The affair has opened my eyes to an even uglier truth I can scarcely fathom intelligent people who graduate from elite schools think it’s appropriate, and even feel entitled, to engage in bribery. As long as it’s the “right” kind of bribery. As long as it’s “legal.”


Let’s be honest about the real purpose of “higher education” these days.


The parents embroiled in the Rick Singer scheme weren’t paying ridiculous amounts of money to send their kids to exclusive schools so they could get a top-notch education. In the case of Olivia Jade (who’s become the poster child for “black market” education, lounging on a yacht owned by a USC Board member while her mother’s career went up in smoke), You Tube videos have emerged of a woman-child who scoffed at the mere thought of sitting in a classroom.


No, these parents paid top dollar to get their sub-standard kids into elite schools for one reason: to protect their progeny from the slow-rolling class tsunami that’s sweeping everyone else out to sea. To make sure they mingle in the “right” circles, are part of the “right” networks, and date/marry the “right” people. Because people with money, status and power move the same way herd animals do — in tight clusters, scampering away from the only thing that threatens them: the less fortunate.


For decades, education has been the slender reed of upward mobility, allowing middle class kids like me, raised by parents on government salaries, to attend Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Once upon a time, education (like health care) was affordable; but those days are a distant speck in the rear view mirror. By IRS standards, I’m now considered part of the “new” upper middle class (otherwise known as the “old” middle class). And yet I can’t afford to send my son to the schools I graduated from — which means that his chances of climbing the slender reed, or even hanging on to the spot I’ve managed to get us to, have all but disappeared.


Intelligent people who graduate from elite schools think it’s appropriate, and even feel entitled, to engage in bribery. As long as it’s the “right” kind of bribery. As long as it’s “legal.”



As the population swells, and the competition for jobs that pay more than just a living wage hits a fever pitch, the race to escape the approaching class tsunami has become one of life or death. But while people with deep pockets have the wherewithal to get their families to safety, the rest of us do not. We stand paralyzed on shore, watching the wall of water race towards us, powerless to save ourselves.


I have a problem with that. But this week, I discovered the unthinkable: some of the people I went to college with have no qualms about what’s unfolding.


When I logged into Facebook and saw a post about the scandal from a Princeton '87 graduate, I couldn’t resist offering my two cents.


“Let’s not kid ourselves,” I wrote. “Legacy families have been ‘donating’ to get their kids into Princeton for years. If you erect a library or an auditorium, your kid is a shoo-in, as long he’s got a pulse and decent motor skills.”


That’s when an ’88 graduate, Hannah, called me out: “Monica, you’re confusing legal acts and illegal acts, ” she corrected me. “Princeton is a private institution and allowed to take large donors’ offspring. Singer’s dealings are covert and bribery, which is illegal.”


I re-read her response, confused. “Yes, overt donations are legal, but they have the same effect as bribery. They give wealthy kids an undue advantage in the admissions process. The same way Super-PACS donations allow wealthy interests to influence political candidates. How is that fair?”


“Then you should lobby Congress to pass a law that limits donations to major universities. We’ll see how far that goes.”


“I don’t think we need to get Congress involved,” I wrote. “I think schools just need to hold donors’ feet to the philanthropic fire. If they are donating for the right reasons, to foster a quality class of leaders for future generations, then it shouldn’t matter whether their kids are part of that class. Give without expecting anything in return. When I give to the Red Cross, I don’t expect a free pint of blood for my kids.”


“Good luck with that,” Hannah quipped.


A few hours later, Ben ’87 chimed in: “Yeah, but you do expect a free pint of blood when you donate! You expect the Red Cross to be there if your kid needs it.”


I just stared at the screen, flabbergasted by what I was reading.


“When you give to the Red Cross, your kids have the same opportunity to get free blood that every other kid has, regardless of whether you gave money. Donating shouldn’t give you perks/privileges. Otherwise, it’s not selfless giving; it’s a business transaction, which means it’s bribery.”


Radio silence.


And then it hit me: these people, who had been given advantages available only to a very few, were perfectly happy to use any means necessary to secure their class notch, as long as they could convince themselves that it was “legal.” Even if their arguments made no damn sense whatsoever. The smartest people in the room were using their brains to rationalize criminal activity.


Bienvenidos a la republica de las bananas.





Make no mistake: U.S. may have troops mired in battles and skirmishes all over the world, but the real war is being waged right here, right now, on our own soil.


It’s not a war between races, political parties, sexes, or sexual orientations. The war is one of class, and it’s being between fought between the “haves” and the “have nots.” You probably haven’t heard about this war on CNN or Fox. Congress hasn’t convened to issue a declaration of war. But it’s mortal combat.


And as the battle wears on and the stakes rise each year, people rationalize every strategic advantage at their disposal, search for any weapon they can possibly lay their hands on, and grab every piece of armor available in the desperate effort to keep themselves and their loved ones from getting a bayonet in the gut and falling into the trenches.


And the worst part about this war? We pretend it’s not happening. The people who sent us into battle refuse to even acknowledge that we’re fighting. So we struggle to survive in eerie silence, pantomiming our fear and agony. As bodies fall around us, we look the other way and just keep moving forward, hoping we’ll live to fight another day.


It’s madness in the extreme. It’s the world we live in now. And Hannah and Ben made it perfectly clear that they intend to use their privilege to survive in it.


Just to be clear, the majority or the people I attended Princeton with are extremely intelligent, hard-working souls who earned admission the hard way: by working for it. But I think they’re also keenly aware that hard work, alone, isn’t going to cut it anymore. Because most of them are still in the class of people that has some money, they believe they can survive this war. They’re in denial of the fact that eventually many of them will exhaust their weapons and their armor will one day wear thin. The lower classes on the front lines will die first, but sooner or later, all but a very few will perish in this war.


The people I went to school with have no reason to question their moral compass. They feel comfortable using their privilege as a weapon. Why? Because they get cover from a government that’s charged with holding the real evil-doers accountable. And just in case any of us were confused, last week Andrew Lelling, an attorney in the Dept of Justice, clarified who the evil-doers are by explaining that the distinction between bribery and donations is essentially one of size and visibility: “We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school is more likely to take your son or daughter,” he said. “We’re talking about deception and fraud.”


Do you understand what our “justice” department is telling us? Because it should be pretty clear now, even to people still snuggled in their cozy illusion cocoons.


Passing insane amounts of money over the table to get favors is “legal.” But passing chump change under the table? That’s a big no-no.


Our government is telling us that the U.S. is a country in which only one class of people can "legally" bribe its way into top schools — and it doesn't include Felicity Huffman or other nouveau riche who can only scrape together a few hundred thousand or a few million dollars to secretly protect their kids from the class tsunami.


No. The only people allowed to protect their kids are the elite of the elite who can afford to pay BIG money in plain view: those wealthy enough to donate gymnasiums and art centers (and still get an enormous tax write-off in the process).


But the implications don’t stop there. Because this would also mean the U.S. is a country in which only one class of people can legally bribe public officials — and it wouldn't include a real estate developer who’s only willing to pass a few million under the table.


No. The only people allowed to influence our political representatives are the elite of the elite who can afford to pay BIG money in plain view: those wealthy enough to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to candidates through Super PACs.



Passing insane amounts of money over the table to get favors is “legal.” But passing chump change under the table? That’s a big no-no.



Do you understand what this means?


We’re trapped in a country masquerading as a democratic republic, but actually run by oligarchs.


And just so we're clear, these aren’t the oligarchs who supposedly upended the 2016 election by spending $100,000 on Facebooks ads. These are home-grown oligarchs who spend billions of dollars to buy the people we vote for, own the media companies that “inform” us, and donate to the schools that breed the elite who “lead” us.


If you’re an American, it’s time to stop pretending.


It’s time to stop pretending that we live in a country where laws make sense, where people have a voice, where justice is meted out fairly.

It’s time to stop pretending that we live in a democratic republic and admit that, in reality, we live in a banana republic where every man, woman, child, and solider is now out for themselves in the desperate bid to stay alive.


It’s time to stop playing along with a government that gaslights us by pretending we still have a working rule of law, an economy that gives everyone a decent shot at getting ahead, and leadership who gives a damn about us.


The college cheating revelations are a clarion call to all who are still asleep. The question now is what will it take for us to break out of our pods and escape this shit show?


The ball is on our court. Are we ready to stop pretending? How long will we keep playing along?