New York Times, goddamn

Ross Douthat has written an essay in praise of George Herbert Walker Bush, and WASP values, and the New York Times published it. No editor stepped in and said, “this is absurd” and refused to taint the opinion pages with more garbage. The publisher didn’t worry about the reputation of the paper, and suggest that maybe something so bigoted shouldn’t be run. Nope. They just went with it. I guess since they already gave ol’ Catholic argle-bargle Douthat a column, they were already wrecked, so let the guy babble.

So they’ve published a column about pinin’ for a White Aristocracy, which was so good and kind and generous and self-sacrificing.

So if some of the elder Bush’s mourners wish we still had a WASP establishment, their desire probably reflects a belated realization that certain of the old establishment’s vices were inherent to any elite, that meritocracy creates its own forms of exclusion — and that the WASPs had virtues that their successors have failed to inherit or revive.

Those virtues included a spirit of noblesse oblige and personal austerity and piety that went beyond the thank-you notes and boat shoes and prep school chapel going — a spirit that trained the most privileged children for service, not just success, that sent men like Bush into combat alongside the sons of farmers and mechanics in the same way that it sent missionaries and diplomats abroad in the service of their churches and their country.

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.

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

Seriously? Noblesse oblige is unironically presented as a virtue? And enacting laws that oppressed the poor and gave them more tax cuts is called personal austerity?

Oh, my. When was the last time we had a wealthy white man running the country…oh, look, right now. No, he means the last time a True White Old Rich Guy, not this nouveau riche pretender, was in charge and leading us “virtuously”. That was in ancient times, way back in 2008, when the son of the guy he’s eulogizing stepped down from the throne. The last time we had a WASP running the country, not counting the crass toad now in control, was a whole ten years ago, and we’ve been missing them because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

Right. I think he meant to use the singular rather than plural — “successor” — because it was one black (i.e., diverse) guy, who actually did a pretty good, if imperfect, job as president, and was definitely superior to either Bush. Yet somehow Douthat wants to imply that Obama “ruled us” neither wisely nor well?

Just the use of the phrase rule us is rather revealing, don’t you think?

Douthat does have some regrets. He thinks the WASPs should have done a better job of training the next generation, maybe, If ethnic balance is important to meritocrats, they should engineer it into the system, raising up a few brown people or Jews to follow in their righteous path and preserve the domain of the upper class. But the bottom line is that we need an aristocracy.

If we would learn from their lost successes in our own era of misrule, reconsidering this idea — that a ruling class should acknowledge itself for what it really is, and act accordingly — might be a fruitful place to start.

The only virtue of an aristocracy is that, because they set themselves apart, it makes it easier to tell who deserves to be put in the tumbrel.

P.S. to Ross and the New York Times: You know that WASP is an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, right? It’s a reference to race, ethnicity, and religion, and that whole column is about saying one race, ethnicity, and religion should be allowed to rule the country. You did notice, didn’t you?


  1. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    I think he meant to use the singular rather than plural — “successor”

    No, he’s not just talking about the Prez, he’s talking about the whole “establishment”.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “meritocracy creates its own forms of exclusion”

    Yeah, of RW morons like DouchHat.
    Would that the NYT practiced more of it, also, too.

  3. monad says

    Oh hey, I remember Douthat, he’s the guy who wrote The Redistribution of Sex after one of the incel attacks. In response some people wrote “I would do anything for love, but I won’t Douthat” which is why he was memorable. Nice to see he’s still on brand, I guess, for someone?

  4. jack lecou says

    Aside from the racism*, I think the best part is that he’s apparently forgotten that those people are still there.

    I mean, as far as I can tell, the “Ivy league white people who know what boat shoes are” set is still pretty well represented in the halls of wealth and power. Over-represented, even.

    He should know this, because three or four columns ago, I’ll bet you’ll find him complaining about “coastal elites” or something. If not, one of his fellow columnists probably was.

    I suspect the real problem for Douthat isn’t that the responsible, sensible, meritocratic elite he’s talking about stopped existing**, it’s just that, for rather obvious reasons, fewer and fewer matching that description are willing to put an “R” on their voter registration forms.

    * Forget Obama – WASP literally specifies not only whiteness, but a rather bizarrely specific and anachronistic kind of whiteness. Italians and Irish people are definitely out. Not to mention French, Scandinavians and Germans (depending on how you interpret “-Saxon” I guess – but someone like Douthat probably still carries a grudge about the Hessians, so who knows). I’m not even sure the Scottish make the cut.

    ** To the extent it ever did, I mean, and wasn’t just a slick PR veneer over the same old rich assholes.

  5. says

    It’s a reference to race, ethnicity, and religion, and that whole column is about saying one race, ethnicity, and religion should be allowed to rule the country. You did notice, didn’t you?

    Someone please explain to me how it is that Democrats are the ones who engage in identity politics? /sarcasm

  6. raven says

    Douthat has always been cosmically stupid.
    The first time I read something by him, it was so stupid I made a note to remember the name.
    The name was…Ross Douthat.

    Oddly enough, he isn’t even a WASP.
    He is Catholic for Cthulhu’s sake.
    The US has a long history of anti-Catholic discrimination that only started fading away in the mid-20th century.
    There were anti-Catholic immigrant riots in the 1800’s that killed dozens or hundreds of people.
    The Mexicans and Hondurans of that century were the Germans and Irish.

  7. thirdmill301 says

    Douthat isn’t wrong that our country is suffering from virtue-free leadership; he’s just completely clueless about what virtue is. Virtue means taking care of the less fortunate. Virtue means treating everybody as you would like to be treated, and treating everyone equally. Virtue means cleaning up after yourself when you make a mess. Virtue means not stealing from future generations by giving them a debt they’ll never be able to pay, and leaving them with a planet that will still be inhabitable. I’m sure there are other virtues, but those will do for a start.

    In addition to that, yeah, I do miss having a president who wasn’t a semi-literate half wit narcissist.

  8. raven says

    What is a WASP anyway and who really cares these days?
    I can pass as a WASP.
    I’m not Anglo Saxon in the least, being from even further northern Europe.
    And an ex-Protestant, now a Pagan.
    1 out of 4 works OK.

  9. whheydt says

    Re: raven @ #6…
    JFK ran into anti-Catholic sentiment when he was running for president. The rumor was that he would be loyal to the Pope, not the Constitution.

  10. whheydt says

    Re; raven @ #8…
    I’m part (a small part) WASP. But half my ancestry came from Denmark (2 grandparents), another chunk from Germany (a great-grandparent), plus some Hugenot French, and a dash of who-knows-what. But also some English (which is possibly Anglo-Irish) from circa 1720.

  11. whheydt says

    Re; jack lecou @ #4…
    It also depends on how you define “Anglo-“. Or as one wag put it, when the Angles moved into Britain the obtuse ones went south and the acute ones went north.

  12. raven says

    ….and that the WASPs had virtues that their successors have failed to inherit or revive.

    What virtues?
    Racism, sexism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and monopoly capitalism that didn’t work very well.
    We dropped those because they were harmful, not because they were virtures.

    Douthat is pretending that the good old days of Ozzie and Harriet existed.
    I’m a Boomer, old enough to have lived through the end of that time.
    They weren’t all that great for most people and we are glad they are gone.

  13. citizenjoe says

    Spot on. I gasped at the word “rule” in the sub-headline, and thought maybe it was written by an editor; but no, the word was used in the text. Ross is apparently comfortable being ruled–or maybe he simply thinks he is among the rulers. Neither should make any moral human comfy.

  14. petesh says

    @8: You are clearly worthy of my polite contempt, given that I am obviously white, definitely Anglo-Saxon and was raised Protestant. (Some advantages are not lost by mere lack of belief.) One is normally far too well-mannered to bring this up, but really, 1 out of 4 is a failing grade. Do try harder.

    By the way, thanks to my risky refusal to have a back-up X chromosome, I am actually 5 out of 5, which is even better.

  15. says

    What virtues?

    You know, the virtues that are “out there” somewhere, which allow virtue ethicists to claim that there are objective morals.

  16. Marissa van Eck says

    Douthat writes some of the most solipsistic, overprivileged, self-serving horseshit I have ever had the displeasure of burning into my retinas. It’s like the cluelessness and the evil are in a constant battle to see which one can outgrow the other. It’s like a double-headed Ouroboros. He’s got his head so far up his ass he’s a walking Klein Bottle.

  17. mnb0 says

    “was definitely superior to either Bush.”
    Amongst others when it comes to killing people using drones, sure.
    Quite telling that you call it just “not perfect”.

  18. pipefighter says

    Wait a second… is he that guy that wrote something about a chunky reese witherspoon and now someone always brings it up whenever he opens his mouth?

  19. nomdeplume says

    In Australia this syndrome is referred to as “born to rule” where the Liberal Party, extremely similar to the Republicans, and increasingly closely linked, have always believed that only they should form government. Incidentally, looking from the outside, it seems curious to me that the US, founded on the basis of getting rid of kings, seems to be increasingly moving down the path of treating the president as a king, and the super rich as aristocracy.

  20. says

    “meritocracy creates its own forms of exclusion” – er, yes? Wouldn’t it be wise to exclude the incompetent from important decision making?

  21. says

    If the justification for this de facto aristocracy is that they’re somehow better than the alternative, then what exactly is wrong with meritocracy?

  22. woozy says

    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

    I don’t care what your politics are but if you do not recognize such a vague nostalgic statement like that as sentimental selective memories of a time just slightly before your memory so that you have no first hand knowledge, then you are a frigging idiot.

    For eff sake, talk to your parents. Or if they are dead (or morons) then read a book written then.

    Kind of reminds me of the time traveler who missed the 80s

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

    “Feckless”. No one remembers “the vision thing”?

    I don’t care what your politics are but for fuck sake be honest in your memories.

  23. unclefrogy says

    I don’t care what your politics are but for fuck sake be honest in your memories.

    he is being honest that is how he remembers it which is all do to the fact that he lives his life in a dream world, seeing only what he wants to see, like so many he is sleep walking how else could you explain trump and the right wing?
    uncle frogy

  24. raven says

    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

    Yeah, that good old days fallacy again.

    Do talk to your parents who grew up and lived through the Great Depression of 1929 to 1940.
    Mine grew up during it and were scarred for life.
    The two World Wars were noteworthy as well.
    Prohibition of alcohol also worked out really well.

  25. says

    Recommended book: The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible, by Otto Bettmann. It’s a wide-ranging takedown of nostalgia for the 19th and early 20th century in the USA, detailing just what was noxiously wretched about most aspects of daily life (even for rich people, but especially for the masses). It’s a collation of contemporary reports, mostly snippets, illustrated with a rich collection of art from the Bettmann Archive.

    The cure for nostalgia, if one exists.

  26. leerudolph says


    Oddly enough, he isn’t even a WASP.

    Earlier today, doing due diligence for a prospective snarky comment elseblog, I checked Douthat’s Wikipedia page. His (nuclear) family converted to Catholicism en masse (well, actually en Connecticut) when he was a teenager. His father’s family appears to have been Southern Baptist (at least in part), and Virginian; his mother’s family is definitely WASP—for instance, her paternal grandfather, Charles Wilbert Snow, was the 75th governor of Connecticut. (He also left home at 14 to be a lobster fisherman for a couple of years. Very manly!)

  27. numerobis says

    Strewth@21: the problem is that in defining who’s competent to rule, the rulers invariably choose themselves and define as not competent to rule, whatever defines the people they rule.

  28. says


    Does “WASP” have a requirement for which kinds of protestants qualify? Because last I checked, the Anglican church IS a Protestant church, and any “taint of evangelism” wouldn’t make it less Protestant, assuming you’re talking about Christian evangelism. That would still be a tradition following from the actions of those who broke away from the Catholic Church during the Renaissance and later.

  29. says

    James Keelaghan’s song Lazarus comes to mind…
    Lazarus come forth
    No need to be afraid
    Press or pundits, Lords or Kings
    Yes you can be remade
    Many ways to resurrect you
    History is our best sport
    You won’t recognize the man you were
    Ah Lazarus come forth
    Lazarus come forth
    We have the PR men
    Brighten up your tarnished image, make you clean again
    You won’t recognize yourself
    What they despise now they’ll now adore
    All this for just one fee
    Ah Lazarus come forth
    Lazarus the price of this rewrite of your misdeeds
    Is that your body dies
    We just deal with commentaries

    Lazarus come forth
    We deal in contradictions
    Symbols we mistake for real
    Private truth and public fiction
    Ways to weave a storyline round you in a martyrs coat
    Paint you brighter than you ever were
    Ah Lazarus come forth
    Lazarus come forth
    It’s part of you we need
    To justify within ourselves the politics of greed
    Knowing that the likes of you could die and still be more
    May our sins be cleansed just as yours were
    Ah Lazarus come forth
    Lazarus come forth
    Lazarus come forth

  30. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    My favorite part isn’t so much the apologia for the powerful. Do I miss a classier brand of elite than Trump? Sure. I can probably grant that plenty of WASPs and similar old school elites made outsized contributions to diplomacy and all sorts of good stuff. (They only did so because of a society that prevented everyone else from having access to a fair share of power, but that’s a different issue).

    No, it’s the shade at the “shallow multiculturalists”. Dude, there is no universe in which the people who happily apologized for Reagan and Bush as they created a racist drug war, said nothing while HIV ravaged inner-city and gay communities, never fought for gay marriage or trans equality, and otherwise pretty well acted precisely as provincial as one would expect. The fact that one can dine with a black ambassador from an African nation isn’t the same as actual tolerance.

    Douthat is free to try to remember the better parts of a culture that has been lost, though if he were honest and not defending disgusting policies today he’d wouldn’t make it such shallow hagiography. But he could avoid gilding the lily by dunking on his opposition with lies.