Opinion

The Epstein case is laying bare America's morally bankrupt ruling class

Why do we let people like this have any power or authority?

Jeffrey Epstein.

I like making lists. Here is one of some notably terrible people: The celebrity law professor who first made his name defending the Deep Throat guy and went on to advise upstanding characters like Harvey Weinstein. The gazillionaire lawyer who bankrupted Napster and hired a firm with the so-evil-it-sounds-made-up name of "Black Cube" to discredit and silence Weinstein's accusers. A two-bit hustler from Arkansas who makes a living by shaking down sheiks and tycoons for donations to his alleged charity. The president of the United States.

What do they all have in common? (Beside the fact that they are all incredibly rich, I mean.) Alan Dershowitz, David Boies, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are only a few of the names caught up in the alleged Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia scandal. This isn't six degrees of Kevin Bacon. These people all know each other well and have for decades. They go to one another's weddings, ride on the same airplanes, and do business together. They are all old and white. They all have the same kind of anti-aesthetic, which I would loosely describe as "New York Daily News sleezebag chic." They are what passes for the ruling class in this country.

Shots are now being fired inside the tent, which I imagine is very large and tacky and full of gold bronze statues of naked children. Since at least 2015, Boies — who in between high-profile Democratic political causes has represented tobacco companies, NFL owners, and the fraudulent medical startup Theranos, among others — has represented a client who accused Epstein of sexually abusing her along with several of his friends, Dershowitz among them. Dershowitz, now mostly known as a cable news crank, responded by claiming that Boies and his client were extorting him. Now Boies is suing Dershowitz for defamation. "He's now trying to destroy me and destroy my reputation, destroy my economic situation, destroy everything," Dershowitz told the Wall Street Journal. Boies in turn claims that Dershowitz is trying to deflect attention away from the case against Epstein. "He wants to make this between him and me."

Why do we let people like this have any power or authority? Why do we allow them to exert any influence over our public life or over the direction of our politics or the coordination of our economy? Why do we reward them with hundreds of millions of dollars and penthouse suites and airplanes and the media attention they obviously crave? Is any living American actually okay with the fact two of our last four presidents were allegedly good pals with the guy whose private airplane was referred to openly in the press as, wink-wink, the "Lolita Express"? To borrow a phrase from his lawyer friends: Noscitur a sociis.

Surveying the decadence of the Trump-Epstein-Boies cabal leaves me with a lot of feelings. One is that we have by far the least glamorous ruling class in the history of the world. Say what you want about the Ancien Régime, but at least they gave us Versailles and Boucher and opéra comique. The Manchu court in its twilight years under the Empress Dowager was vicious and cruel, but it was also fascinating. Even goings-on in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin were amusing enough to be turned into a good movie. There is nothing even remotely interesting about our own class of lawyered-up jet-setting internationalist crooks.

This is, in fact, a good thing, perhaps the only upside to being ruled by them. It has never been easier to renounce evil and all its works and all its pomps than it is today, when instead of powder-faced bewigged vicomtes tittering in perfectly composed alexandrines in front of rococo mirrors they are goatish hedge fund managers, mercenary lawyers, professional speech-givers, and the founders of fake online colleges suing one another out of boredom.

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