I am not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I do not aspire to be a WASP. I have never wanted to be a WASP. I have been subjected to anti-Catholic bigotry nearly all of my life, largely by WASPs, since I knew that there was such a thing as anti-Catholic bigotry, just about the same time as I learned about anti-Semitism. I think that the wave of nostalgia about WASPs is foolish, ill-considered, and uninformed.
Fareed Zakharia’s latest column in the Washington Post is pretty typical of the lot:
The death of George H.W. Bush has occasioned a fair amount of nostalgia for the old American establishment, of which Bush was undoubtedly a prominent member. It has also provoked a heated debate among commentators about that establishment, whose membership was determined largely by bloodlines and connections. You had to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to ascend to almost any position of power in the United States until the early 1960s. Surely, there is nothing good to say about a system that was so discriminatory toward everyone else?
That’s a lie. Yes, you had to be a WASP to be elected president until 1960 and even then the Catholic elected was the son of the richest man in the world at that time. But that points to the real problem: the altar at which all too many Americans worship is Mammon.
Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court from 1836 to 1864, was a Maryland Catholic. There have been Catholic Congressional representatives and U. S. senators as long as there has been a Congress.
And that highlights another basic misconception. The overwhelming power and importance of the federal government is a 20th century phenomenon and, indeed, a late 20th century phenomenon. Prior to that the real power and influence was at the state and local level and there have always been non-WASPs in positions of influence in state and local governments.
Yes, George Washington and George H. W. Bush were WASPs. So were Benedict Arnold and Nathan Bedford Forrest. So is Donald Trump.