In ‘affluenza’ case, apple didn’t fall far from tree

I’ve been trying to look at the Ethan Couch hullabaloo through a Jewish lens.
What I see starts with a hark-back to “olden times” of at least 50 or so years ago, when our people would cull the newspapers to find Jewish names, and heave great sighs of relief when criminals and those in other kinds of major trouble didn’t have any that looked suspiciously ethnic.
Racial identification is a bigger thing now. If Ethan Couch were other than white, that fact would be loudly announced:  “… a 16-year-old African-American …” I wonder if any of today’s A-As read the papers for these “clues,” the way Jews used to many years back.
Our Torah says “Bereshit”:  everything started, in the beginning, with a single word. And so did everything controversial in the Ethan Couch case.
That word, of course, is “affluenza.” The mental health professional who decided to resuscitate this rare bit of English for the world at large must have been proud for a moment or two; he may even think he coined the word himself. But, no. Just a smidgen of research provides the name of John de Graaf, co-producer of a PBS special back in 1954, who used it then “for social criticism, not psychiatry,” he said recently. He also noted that the great Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, spelled out the concept almost a century earlier, denouncing the whites who were overtaking his tribal land: “They make many laws which the rich may break but the poor may not, and the love of possessions is a disease with them.”
De Graaf’s and Sitting Bull’s names are easier to find than that of the affluenza announcer, but I’m willing to bet that if it sounded as ethnic as theirs, especially Jewish-ethnic, we’d have heard it loud and clear. The notoriety resulting from Judge Jean Boyd’s decision to sentence the youthful drunken driver Couch to 10 years’ probation  after he killed four people and seriously injured two others has led her to step down from the bench, but her ethnicity is not an issue.
Was she actually influenced by affluence?  A friend of mine, a former policeman, says no. Standard procedure, he maintains, is to give all juveniles in serious trouble every chance to repent and redeem themselves, on the theory that help when they are young can turn them into productive adults.
If the defense had merely called Ethan a spoiled brat, Judge Boyd might well have handed down the same sentence without all the backlash that “affluenza” generated. But — maybe not: She herself had once sentenced a young boy to 10 years in prison because he punched someone who died as a result.
Torah also tells us to raise up our children in the way we’d like them to go, and when they’re of age themselves, they’ll follow the path that their parents have charted for them. We usually look at that statement and assume it’s positive, the presumed path being one of goodness, of caring about others as well as self.
This much was true with Ethan Couch: The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But it was a tree with sick roots that produced bad apples, rotten to the core. Mother Tonya aided and abetted her son in his running away from probation, and then — according to those who brought her back from Mexico to the U.S. — actually seemed relieved to get away from Ethan, leaving him in the hands of a high-powered attorney who’s trying to keep him from having to return at all, since he’d have to face actual punishment: 120 days, max, in prison for the “minor” crime of not following prior court orders. In light of his “affluenza” and the law’s tendency toward juvenile leniency, skipping probation doesn’t count for much at all.
Still, when I look at all this through that Jewish lens, I am so glad that Couch is not a typically Jewish name.

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