The Corner


A Perfect Populist Moment

Jussie Smollett performs at the 47th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, Calif., February 5, 2016. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

In just the past few weeks . . .

  • Jussie Smollett’s gotten the ultimate sweetheart deal from prosecutors, with all charges dropped and the record sealed, leaving the mayor and the police force livid, in a case where the evidence appeared overwhelming.
  • More than 750 wealthy families bought their children admissions to the country’s top colleges, including Yale University, USC, UCLA, Wake Forest University, the University of San Diego, Stanford University, Georgetown University and the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Two of the country’s most famous lawyers — certainly two of the most televised — are accused of attempting to extort tens of millions of dollars from Nike.
  • After two years of prominent media voices and politicians speculating about the president colluding with a foreign power, a special counsel finds no evidence — and a Democratic member of Congress insists it’s a “whitewash” and declares that she does not believe that the report did not find evidence of Trump colluding with Russia.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center, which set itself up as the chief private-sector investigator accuser, and litigator of allegations of racial discrimination and hate, now finds itself “wrestling with complaints of workplace mistreatment of women and people of color.”

This comes after #MeToo rocked the worlds of Hollywood, media, politics, academia, and business, and after another round of egregious sexual-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and after Wells Fargo set up millions of accounts without customer permission, and after we learned two-thirds of Virginia’s current statewide elected officials wore blackface in their youth, and after the Fyre Festival, and after . . . you get the idea. On front after front, our political, cultural, legal, financial, and educational elites are being exposed for unconscionable behavior, and a pervasive sense that the rules and the law don’t apply to them.

This is perhaps the most perfect populist moment in American politics since . . . well, the last cavalcade of embarrassing scandals by the wealthy, powerful, and well-connected.

This is usually the sort of situation where it’s good to be the party out of power, running on a platform of change, reform, and higher ethical standards. But other than a select few of the 2020 challengers — John Hickenlooper? Pete Buttigieg? — it’s hard to picture any of the Democrats using these recent scandals to make a cohesive argument about the state of the country. Are Democratic candidates really going to denounce Jussie Smollett? College-admissions officers? The Southern Poverty Law Center? Most of these scandals are occurring in places that are key junctions of the progressive movement.

Some of us would argue that these places’ status as key places of the progressive movement is precisely why the people in those corners thought they were entitled to cut corners.

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