Political Animal

The Racial Justice Case for Legacy Admissions

With last month’s college admissions bribery scandal, legacy admissions have come in for another round of criticism. The mere proximity of unethical rich families and elite colleges was enough to set off the commentariat on how legacy admissions are a form of legalized corruption that protects wealth and privilege. “Fraud and bribery are shocking, yes. But fraud and bribery’s lawful cousins—legacy preferences, athletic recruitment, and other admissions practices that lower the bar for progeny of the rich and famous—are ubiquitous,” the Atlantic’s Alia Wong wrote.

Legacy admissions offend Americans’ sense of a meritocratic ideal. Then again, meritocracy in admissions (the use of “objective” metrics like test scores) hasn’t yielded the outcomes—more racial and socioeconomic diversity at elite colleges—it promised. A 2017 analysis by the New York Times found that the “share of black freshmen at elite schools [6%] is virtually unchanged since 1980.” More Hispanics are attending elite colleges since 1980, but the increase hasn’t kept up with overall population growth, so the gap has actually widened. Matthew Stewart’s 2018 Atlantic cover story showed how the logic and mechanisms of meritocracy have actually led to a self-perpetuating aristocracy. “In 1985, 54 percent of students at the 250 most selective colleges came from families in the bottom three quartiles of the income distribution,” Stewart wrote. “A similar review of the class of 2010 put that figure at just 33 percent. According to a 2017 study, 38 elite colleges—among them five of the Ivies—had more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 60 percent.”

Opponents of legacy admissions are very often supporters for increased representation of minorities in elite schools. Their opposition is historically justifiable, given the practice’s racist origins. Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, is a leading expert on legacy admissions—and a vociferous opponent of them. He’s done much to reveal their original motivations. “Legacy preferences have a sordid history,” Kahlenberg told Senators last year:

“This admissions boost originated following World War I as a reaction to an influx of immigrant students, particularly Jews, into America’s selective colleges. As Jews often outcompeted traditional constituencies [white Protestants] on standard meritocratic criteria, universities adopted Jewish quotas. When explicit quotas became hard to defend, the universities began to use more indirect means to limit Jewish enrollment, including considerations of ‘character, geographic diversity, and legacy status.’”

Kahlenberg has argued that legacy admissions continue to hurt minority applicants today. He’s cited John Brittain, a former chief counsel at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and attorney Eric Bloom, who note that “underrepresented minorities make up 12.5 percent of the applicant pool at selective colleges and universities but only 6.7 percent of the legacy-applicant pool.” But that can almost be entirely explained by the simple fact that underrepresented minorities make up fewer legacy applicants. That’s because so few of their parents and grandparents have attended elite colleges over the past half-century—and many more minorities than before are now seeking entrance. To a large degree, critics of legacy are protesting the demographics of the past generation.

Legacy preferences may have dubious origins, but their effectiveness at protecting and perpetuating privilege and wealth is for the most part undisputed. Also true is that attending an elite college offers minority and lower-income students the greatest chance at upward social mobility. Yes, there is still massive inequality in outcomes among elite college students. But as elite schools continue to place a high premium on racial diversity, more minorities are in a position to join the elite after graduation. And some successfully do. In 2014, Harvard admitted the most black students in its history—and then set a new record in 2018. The majority of Harvard’s Class of 2021 is nonwhite. Similar trends have been underway at other elite schools, including Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford.

Recent social science has shown that even when minorities join the elite, their membership—and that of their children’s—is precarious. A study of intergenerational wealth published last year showed that while a plurality of white boys who grew up rich have remained rich, the opposite has been the case for their black counterparts. Additionally, median black household wealth (not the same as income) has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s.

Affirmative action seeks to remediate past injustices and correct for current ones. But what’s also needed are tools to cultivate—and protect—future minority wealth. There are powerful structures in American society that were constructed with the explicit intent of excluding or suppressing minorities. Some of these structures, no doubt, should be dismantled. But some of them, like legacy admissions, can be repurposed to serve the opposite end.

College admissions is in many ways hypocritical and biased. Nevertheless, a rising generation of minorities are learning how to navigate the obstacles and surmount the barricades. More minorities than ever before are poised to enter the upper class. This is exactly the wrong time for those marching under an egalitarian banner to try and destroy a powerful system that, to a potentially significant extent, can help today’s minorities pass on precious wealth and opportunity to the next generation.

Yet that’s exactly what progressives are demanding, and some legislatures appear to be listening. Twenty-five of the 33 families—and 10 of the 17 coaches and university officials—involved in the bribery scandal were based in California. Now the state legislature is considering a scattershot of proposals, including one resolution to “ban any California college or university from granting preferential admissions to donors or children of alumni,” CNN reports. “This would apply to both public and private colleges in the state.”

Minorities who have been fortunate enough to graduate from these elite institutions know exactly what’s at stake. Last year, Ashton Lattimore, a Philadelphia-based African American lawyer who graduated from Harvard, argued with admirable forbearance in the Washington Post to end legacy admissions, despite its potential power to advance minorities’ standing.

“It’s been only a few decades since we were welcomed into predominantly white colleges and universities in any significant numbers; we’ve had only a generation or two to begin building our own legacies. So for some of us, the moral rightness of ending legacy preferences to create a more equitable admissions process comes with a bittersweet edge: It adds one more thing to the pile of privileges that people of color can’t pass down to our children as easily as untold generations of whites have done …

“I wasn’t the first generation to go to college, but my entrance into one of the oldest and most respected universities in the world lifted me — and by extension my family — into an echelon of privilege to which, until then, we hadn’t yet been granted access. And when I had my son, I was warmed by the thought that when the time came for him to apply, the path to Harvard might be just a bit smoother because I had gone before him.

“It’s frustrating but not entirely surprising that legacy admissions stand to be eliminated just as people of color might begin to reap the benefits.”

Ms. Lattimore’s steadfast commitment to a truly meritocratic admissions process—despite what it may mean for her own child and for minorities as a whole–should humble progressives who find it easy to deride legacy admissions. She certainly humbles me as I argue for its preservation.

I only part ways with Lattimore in two ways. I don’t believe a truly meritocratic process is possible, and if it were, I’m convinced it would take more time to create one than it would to solidify minority representation among the elites. American meritocracy, as we now know it, is creating a nearly invulnerable aristocracy. It’s imperative that as many minorities as possible, by whatever means necessary, retain membership to it.

The Facts That Neither Trump Nor Barr Have Acknowledged

For almost three years now, Donald Trump has been unwilling to acknowledge that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election, even as he exploited the material they hacked from the DNC and Clinton campaign. Some enterprising reporter should ask the president for his reaction to Mueller’s opening statement which says, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

Perhaps one of the reasons the president remains in denial about that is because the Mueller report goes on to say:

As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.

In one of the most damning portions of Mueller’s report, someone whose name is redacted sent a message to Russian oligarch Kirill Dmitriev right after Clinton conceded the election which simply said, “Putin has won.”

These are the two facts that even the most avid Trump enabler must now acknowledge: (1) Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election, and (2) they did so in support of Donald Trump.

In is noteworthy, however, that during his press conference on Thursday morning, Attorney General William Barr once again neglected to mention #2, just as he had done in his four-page summary of Mueller’s report. Instead, he talked about Russian efforts to “sow discord among American voters through disinformation and social media operations.”

The failure of Trump and his enablers to name the basics of what Russia did is telling. We can argue about whether Mueller identified enough evidence of a criminal conspiracy on the part of the Trump campaign to warrant charges. We can also acknowledge that no one will ever be able to fully measure the impact of Russia’s efforts on the outcome of the election. But no one can look at the evidence and deny the fact that Vladimir Putin did everything in his power get Donald Trump elected as president of the United States.

The reason Trump and his enablers want to avoid that reality is that it inevitably leads to the question of why, which is the basis of this extremely prescient Clinton ad from the summer of 2016.

While it is interesting to track down every lead that was or wasn’t pursued by the Mueller team as part of their investigation, it is also important to keep an eye on the big picture. As of today, neither the president nor his attorney general have been willing to admit that Russian interference in the 2016 election was aimed at electing Donald Trump, because to do so leads to other more difficult questions that they want to avoid.

One Lawmaker’s Staged Border Crossing Almost Violated His Parole

In an effort to lighten the mood as we head into the Easter weekend, and also to avoid giving you one more Mueller-related post, I bring you hilarious news about Republican member of the House of Representatives, Duncan Hunter Jr. of San Diego, California. The last you probably heard of Rep. Hunter, he and his wife were being indicted on “60 federal charges related to spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses such as a family vacation to Italy and dental work.”

That was a shame. Hunter had to post $15,000 in bail and was forbidden from leaving the country. His trial is scheduled for September. It would be a grave mistake for him to do something stupid like travel to Mexico, especially if he decided to do it on film. Fortunately, he has not made that kind of bone-headed error, but for some reason he wants you to believe otherwise.

In the video, Hunter eased himself over a railing…before proclaiming, “That’s how easy it is to cross the border in Yuma, Arizona.”

But Hunter, the legally embattled Republican from California’s 50th District, did not actually cross into Mexico at the border as he appeared to claim. The railing was a vehicle barrier positioned roughly 75 to 100 feet away from the Colorado River — the actual U.S. Mexico border in Yuma.

“It looks pretty tough to cross. Let me see if I can do it,” Hunter says in the video, before sweeping his legs up and over the waist-high vehicle barrier’s horizontal bar and plopping down on the other side.

In the video, which captures Hunter’s reaction to a ride-along with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the congressman says he visited a detention facility where he saw “hundreds of illegal aliens who are going to be let loose within the next two days into the country.”

In another shot behind the vehicle barrier, Hunter says, “This is why we need a wall. This is why Trump is right. This is what we need to get rid of and expand upon to secure this country.”

In a significant embarrassment for our country and the Republican Party, Duncan Hunter was narrowly reelected in 2018 despite the criminal indictments against him. His opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is running against him again in 2020. He was quick to point out that Hunter was violating his parole by leaving the country, which forced Hunter’s spokesman to admit that he had never actually left the country in the “real” sense.

Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison lambasted Campa-Najjar claiming the Democrat was seeking media attention and drumming up controversy.

“Congressman Hunter remained in the U.S. … I recognize our opponent is trying to create a headline, but I would encourage him and others to look and review a map,” Harrison said, per a reporter for POLITICO California.

Last August, then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stripped Hunter of all his committee assignments, saying “The charges against Rep. Hunter are deeply serious.” It would be an understatement to say that Hunter responded unfavorably, as he initially refused to comply. He is currently one of three House Republicans, along with Steve King of Iowa and Chris Collins of New York, who are considered by their own caucus to be too corrupt or racist to serve on committees.

But he didn’t actually violate his parole, so you really shouldn’t criticize him.

Where Is Mueller’s Counterintelligence Assessment?

Since I’ve been hammering on this issue for months and months, you’ll understand why I am so gratified to see this piece by Joshua A. Geltzer and Ryan Goodman published in the New York Times today.

The Mueller report isn’t actually close to a full account of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. That’s not just because of the redactions. When he was hired, Mr. Mueller inherited supervision of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation. That is the missing piece of the Mueller report.

President Trump may claim “exoneration” on a narrowly defined criminal coordination charge. But a counterintelligence investigation can yield something even more important: an intelligence assessment of how likely it is that someone — in this case, the president — is acting, wittingly or unwittingly, under the influence of or in collaboration with a foreign power. Was Donald Trump a knowing or unknowing Russian asset, used in some capacity to undermine our democracy and national security?

Whether we’re trying to recruit people in foreign countries to spy for us or we’re trying to prevent foreign countries from recruiting our own citizens as spies (or discover if they’ve already succeeded), we want to look for the same things. Are there unexplained assets or large debts? Does this person have the money they need to pay for their kid’s college education or their spouse’s cancer treatment? Has the person committed some crime that has so far gone undetected by the authorities? Are they having an affair or do they engage in other embarrassing sexual acts? Do they have the kind of access or information they can trade? Do they engage in suspicious travel or have improbable contacts? Do they have major character weaknesses like greed or feel slighted by their own government? Are they saying or doing things of a political nature that are hard to explain?

This is basic intelligence work. Ask yourself how someone like Paul Manafort would fare under that kind of scrutiny. He checked every box. Donald Trump checks most of them and adds a few more that I didn’t mention. He has been vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians since the moment he signed a letter of intent to build a skyscraper in Moscow in October 2015, if not long before that. He spent the last days of his campaign paying off mistresses. He’s run a fraudulent “university” and a fraudulent charity, both of which have been shut down by the authorities. He’s possibly engaged in campaign finance violations, tax evasion, bank fraud, wire fraud, and insurance fraud. He’s famously vain and greedy, known for his legendary grudge holding, and exceptionally dishonest. He won’t reveal his tax returns probably both because he’s nowhere near as wealthy as he wants us to believe he is and because he cheats on his taxes. And he says things of a political nature that are hard to explain all the time, especially about Vladimir Putin and Russia. He’s engaged in highly suspicious financial transactions with Russians, like the 2008 sale of a  tear-down mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. He has a long history of doing business with both Sicilian and Russian mobsters.

Donald Trump would never get a security clearance because he’s a counterintelligence nightmare. He doesn’t necessarily have to be part of some adversary’s plan to deliberately “undermine our democracy and national security,”  to be unacceptably vulnerable to such a plan.  The primary reason why Fusion GPS was hired to investigate Trump’s foreign entanglements was because people wanted to understand why he was so solicitous of Vladimir Putin in 2015 while campaigning for the Republican nomination.  The reason a counterintelligence investigation was opened on him was because he was more interested in shutting down an investigation of Russian interference in our election than in preventing them from doing it again.  He was attempting to remove sanctions on Russia at a time when the Obama administration was implementing new sanctions.  He was refusing to accept the assessments of the American intelligence community and giving more credence to the weak denials of the Russian government. He was setting up backchannels so he and his team could communicate with Russia without detection by our own counterintelligence teams. He was spouting the Kremlin line on Syria and Crimea and bad-mouthing NATO, the European Union, and the leaders of our closest allies.

The most important thing for our country is not whether it can be proven that the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia during the campaign, but whether he is coordinating with them now, as president. The Mueller Report we need to see is their counterintelligence assessment. As former CIA officer and Department of Energy counterintelligence chief Rolf Mowatt-Larssen explains, this report is not a legal document.

…not reaching the legal standard for prosecution does not “exonerate” anyone from being guilty of espionage-related activity. That is a separate determination based on different standards evidence that applies to prosecution.

Historically speaking, it is common for FBI and CIA to have gathered sufficient evidence against a target of a counterintelligence investigation to establish that someone is a spy. In many cases, however, there is insufficient evidence to arrest and prosecute that person. It can take years to reach the legal threshold for prosecution for espionage activity even if the counterintelligence case is compelling.

This is one more reason why Mueller punted his investigation to Congress. But Congress cannot act without all the information.