The Joy Of Schadenfreude
Schadenfreude is a great German word referring to the joy (Freude) taken at the damage (Schaden) sustained by others. It’s normally a low sentiment, but Caitlin Flanagan’s wonderful essay celebrating the justice of the rich college-scam parents getting busted puts the Freude in Schadenfreude. She was once a high-school guidance counselor who had to deal with monsters like these entitled creeps in the fancy Los Angeles school where she worked. Read on:
Sweet Christ, vindication!
How long has it been? Years? No, decades. If hope is the thing with feathers, I was a plucked bird. Long ago, I surrendered myself to the fact that the horrible, horrible private-school parents of Los Angeles would get away with their nastiness forever. But even before the molting, never in my wildest imaginings had I dared to dream that the arc of the moral universe could describe a 90-degree angle and smite down mine enemies with such a hammer fist of fire and fury that even I have had a moment of thinking, Could this be a bit too much?
Let’s back up.
Much of the discussion of this scandal has centered on the corruption in the college-admissions process. But think about the kinds of jobs that the indicted parents held. Four of them worked in private equity, a fifth in the field of “investments,” others in real-estate development and the most senior management of huge corporations. Together, they have handled billions of dollars’ worth of assets within heavily regulated fields—yet look how easily and how eagerly they allegedly embrace a crooked scheme, as quoted in the court documents.
Here is Bill McGlashan, then a senior executive at a global private-equity fund, reacting to Singer’s plan to get his son (who does not play football) admitted to USC via the football team: “That’s just totally hilarious.”
Here is Robert Zangrillo, the founder and CEO of a private investment firm, talking with one of Singer’s employees who is planning to bring up his daughter’s grades by taking online classes in her name: “Just makes [sic] sure it gets done as quickly as possible.”
Here is John B. Wilson, the founder and CEO of a private-equity and real-estate-development firm, on getting his son into USC using a fake record of playing water polo: “Thanks again for making this happen!” And, “What are the options for the payment? Can we make it for consulting or whatever … so that I can pay it from the corporate account?” He can. “Awesome!”
Here is Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of a large investment-management company, learning from Singer that his son will be admitted to USC via a bribery scheme, and that it’s time to send a check: “Fanstatic [sic]!! Will do.”
One last savory morsel:
These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone. They can’t believe it—they truly can’t believe it—when they realize that even the colleges they had assumed would be their child’s back-up, emergency plan probably won’t accept them. They pay thousands and thousands of dollars for untimed testing and private counselors; they scour lists of board members at colleges, looking for any possible connections; they pay for enhancing summer programs that only underscore their children’s privilege. And—as poor whites did in the years leading up to 2016—they complain about it endlessly. At every parent coffee, silent auction, dinner party, Clippers game, book club, and wine tasting, someone is bitching about admissions. And some of these parents, it turns out, haven’t just been bitching; some of them decided to go MAGA.
And so it was that at 5:59 on the morning of March 12 in the sacramentally beautiful section of the Hollywood Hills called Outpost Estates, all was quiet, save for the sounds of the natural world. In the mid-century modern house of a beloved actress—a champion of progressive values, as is her husband—and two lovely daughters, everyone slept. But at the strike of 6:00, there was the kind of unholy pounding at the door that must have sounded more like an earthquake than a visitor: FBI agents, guns drawn, there to apprehend … Felicity Huffman? Felicity “Congress is attempting to eviscerate women’s health care. Like many women across America, I am outraged” Huffman? For the crime of … paying to get her daughter an extra 400 points on the SAT?
Down, down, down she went in the FBI car, in her handcuffs and athleisure, down below Outpost, down below Lake Hollywood, down below the Dolby Theatre where she had been so many times—in a beautiful gown, with her famous husband, William H. Macy, beside her—to watch the Academy Awards, once as a nominee. All the way down to—my God!—the downest place of all: Spring Street. The federal courthouse! This was where Donald Trump was supposed to go, not Felicity Huffman. Cool your heels, defender of the downtrodden: There is no rushing through all this—the mug shot, the phone call, the hearing. And this can’t even be grist for the mill of a new devotion to the plight of American mass incarceration. You’re now Exhibit A of law enforcement finally treating rich, white Americans as unsparingly as it treats poor, black ones.
Please, please, please read the whole thing. You have to treat yourself. The friend who sent me the link said that he and his wife were taking turns reading parts of it aloud to each other. It’s that good.