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The High Cost of College Elitism

There’s been a great deal of attention paid to the Justice Department charging 50 people, including a couple of very famous actresses we’d not previously heard of, for breaking various laws in an attempt to get their children into  a prestigious university. If the defendants are proved guilty as charged, it strikes us as an unusually dumb crime, as there’s nothing quite so overrated as a prestigious university.
There are indeed quite a few very smart people who come out of the Ivy League and other brand name schools, but in most cases they went in smart and would likely have come out of a typical land grant college just as smart. In many other cases, the elite schools turn out graduates who aren’t noticeably smart.
Way back in our school days we had a swell summer job working at the United States Supreme Court, where all the other summer employees were graduates of fancy prep schools headed off to fancy-schmantzy universities, and we were shocked to learn they were all so culturally illiterate that none of them had ever heard of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. During our newspaper days we worked with a couple of Yale graduates who were nice enough guys but very mediocre journalists, and one of them a downright unreadable writer, and a Harvard Law School grad we used to run into at the Fabulous Tahitian Room wound up getting disbarred for dumb reasons. Both of the major party nominees in the past presidential election were graduates of Ivy League universities, and we wound up voting for an obscure independent candidate without bothering to find out where he’d gone to college.
A diploma from an elite university does make life a lot easier, which is why the rich and famous might well break the law to get their academically underperforming children into one, but it’s by no means the only path to success. President Ronald Reagan was the only alumnus of Eureka College we’ve ever heard of, President Harry Truman never attended college at all, and we prefer them to most of many the Ivy Leaguers who occupied the Oval Office. William Shakespeare and Mark Twain didn’t have higher formal education, but we like them better than any old creative writing graduate of an elite university. Bill Gates famously dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, which seems to have worked out pretty well for him. Andrew Carnegie dropped out of school at age 13 to work as an office boy, and wound up donating millions to build the sort of public libraries where he acquired his excellent education.
The elite schools have an undeniable snob appeal, and some people will always pay extra for that, but for most people the money would be better invested in a good mutual fund. An ivy-covered diploma might lead to a comfortable sinecure at some lesser university or a corporate law firm that likes to brag about its lawyer’s academic credentials, but we know at least three cow college graduate who are now full professors at elite universities, and the richest lawyers each year are graduates of no-name institutions who had to hustle and sue their way to big bucks. The easy life that comes with an elite school diploma often seems to induce a certain laziness, and the lack of curiosity that comes with the certitude one already knows it all.
America’s social and economic elite have always sent their offspring to the elite schools, which have retained their stellar reputations by turning out graduates who somehow became the social and economic elite, and the hoi polloi of America’s electorate long have always entrusted them with high offices in government and business, but we wish that would stop. We believe in a meritocratic society and economic system, and notice that credentials don’t necessarily confer merit. Once upon a time movie and extras and mailroom employees became movie stars and studio executives without college degrees or family connections. and the likes of Clarence Darrow and Abraham Lincoln could get a job as a law firm clerk and go on to legendary legal careers without the benefit of law school. We’re among the very last of the college drop-outs who went from copy boy to front page bylines at a metropolitan newspaper, and although we can’t claim to have so well as the countless legends from the golden newspaper age of fedora-wearing scribes shouting “get me rewrite!” into a candlestick phone, we do take a certain reverse-snobbish pride in that.
Computers have largely eliminated movie extras and mail rooms and office boys and copy boys and all the other traditional back doors into the white collar world, however, and robots are rapidly replacing a lot of the entry-level blue collar jobs that allowed smart and ambitious workers to keep learning what was needed to reach the next rung on the ladder to a comfortable retirement. We can well understand why parents might be willing to bend a rule or two to get their children into a better college than they deserve to be in, and although those 50 people haven’t been proved guilty we’re pretty sure that Fred Trump once did so to get our president into an Ivy League school, and we’re sure it happens all the time, but we wish they’d all stop.

— Bud Norman

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The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman