Don't Douthat

O death of the WASP, where is thy sting?

Regarding Ross Douthat’s Poppy Bush/White Anglo Saxon Protestant Appreciation Column:

Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel…

Stop right there. I don’t think there’s ever been a Ross Douthat column where “we” has been properly used, because Douthat never gives the impression that he walks among normal people or has ever, say, had a conversation with a stranger on a bus, or made a meal assembled with only what could be bought with pocket change. If “we” means people who might agree with Douthat, it should always be rendered “we of the Chesterton Throne & Altar Society executive committee.”

Some people are calling this column “racist” and “elitist,” I read in the papers, but I think the real problem with it is wishful thinking. Also dumbness. First, get a load of this They Looked From Pig to Man and From Man to Pig bit:

You can get rid of the social registers and let women into your secret societies and privilege SATs over recommendations from the rector of Justin and the headmaster of Saint Grottlesex ... and you still end up with something that is clearly a self-replicating upper class, a powerful elite, filling your schools and running your public institutions.

Not only that, but you even end up with an elite that literally uses the same strategy of exclusion that WASPs once used against Jews to preserve its particular definition of diversity from high-achieving Asians — with the only difference being that our elite is more determined to deceive itself about how and why it’s discriminating.

The Trump era has made a lot of rightwing talking points look dumber than usual, but it is amazing that anyone who can write read and write English sentences would believe or be expected to believe that America is being taken over by the Betty Shabbaz black feminazi brigade, especially given that brigade’s primary manifestation here in the real world is 1.) lady corporate executives, who are as devoted to capitalism as Douthat and certainly doing more to advance it; 2.) gender studies professors, whose power extends no further than the boundaries of the ivory towers; and 3.) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who so far has mainly served as a rubber spider to scare wingnuts.

Also, I don’t see the Asian-Americans complaining, though I expect the editorial staff of National Review are trying to brew one in a vat who will. Onward:

The WASP virtues also included a cosmopolitanism that was often more authentic than our own performative variety — a cosmopolitanism that coexisted with white man’s burden racism but also sometimes transcended it, because for every Brahmin bigot there was an Arabist or China hand or Hispanophile who understood the non-American world better than some of today’s shallow multiculturalists

One is tempted to say “name one,” but of course there are many Yalies and Old Etonians who learned much about the heathen, thugee, and fuzzy-wuzzies while killing, torturing, or exploiting them, or just by observing them as they were killed, tortured and exploited by more energetic WASPs. Or maybe Douthat was thinking of Albert Schweitzer?

And somehow the combination of pious obligation joined to cosmopolitanism gave the old establishment a distinctive competence and effectiveness in statesmanship — one that from the late-19th century through the middle of the 1960s was arguably unmatched among the various imperial elites with whom our establishment contended...

Ooooh I see, he means Dean Acheson and that lot. Some say no human beings are genetically destined to lead, but as evidence Douthat presents a few of the sort of people he finds good dinner company who were also Great Men! I wonder if anyone in Douthat’s edit cycle ever mentioned Alger Hiss to him, in the vain hope that it would open his way to a clue.

....and that certainly hasn’t been matched by our feckless leaders in the years since George H.W. Bush went down to political defeat.

Bush may have been handsy but he was no Clenis!

There are many other howlers — “I’m not sure that self-abnegation has aged well” is a weird thing to say about one of the more admirable WASP qualities, and when Douthat mentions “the dubious ideal of ‘merit’” all I can say is, look who’s talking.

But the really ridiculous thing about it is how pointless it is — not only the There Were Giants In Those Days guff about Bush and the WASPs, but also and especially the bizarre idea that, now that dark femmey hordes have replaced all the Poppys, everything is shit (obviously as a consequence!) and since we can’t get the Old Boys back then we must hope to make the New Boys and (shudder) Girls more like them: “our current elite might someday be reformed — or simply replaced — through the imitation of the old establishment's more pious and aristocratic spirit.” 

Okay, who’s gonna make that happen — a committee of public-spirited citizens? 

Look: conquest and domination were not just bad habits the WASPs happened to have — they were how the WASPs got power in the first place. And the actual “current elite” running things now doesn’t hold power because everybody saw them being ostentatiously nice to women and minorities and went “ooooh let’s let them run things, we like that way betterrrrrr than that gross old more pious and aristocratic spirit.” No, they got power the same way it’s always been had — by taking it. They worked connections and family wealth, they made political calculations, they sought rents, they crushed their enemies. Think less SJWs and more DeVoses.

You can see why Douthat wrote this nonsense; he and all the other conservative intamallectuals are trying to position themselves for the post-Trump period, when everything’s in ruins and they have to explain why their conservatism is different. Will it work? Put it this way: he says the WASPs’ “admirable influence is still felt in figures as different as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.” The future is a 2012 rematch, only this time the white guy wins! If I wanted to play the popular game of attributing major backlash to marginal players, I’d say This is How You Got Trump. But maybe it’s more germane to say This is How The Times Loses Subscribers.