Ross Douthat Oozing Stupid, Racist Thoughts About George H.W. Bush All Over NYT
Ross Douthat is getting a lot of heat for his column in today's New York Times (not gonna link it -- wouldn't be prudent). It's as overwrought and stupid as ever but more racist than usual. Douthat wonders if all "the nostalgia flowing since the passing of George H.W. Bush" (told you it was overwrought) is because "we" miss WASPs because "we" feel "that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well." Douthat is very presumptuous in his use of "we." As someone who qualifies as "diverse" and "secular," I don't believe I'm responsible for America's decline ... or not solely, at least.
Based on my Facebook feed, Bush nostalgia seems connected more to Dana Carvey's impersonation of him on "Saturday Night Live," but maybe folks genuinely miss a politician who caved repeatedly to the right wing and famously broke campaign promises. There apparently are no politicians like this anymore. Douthat, of course, is not talking about Bush's actual deeds but his manner. He was the last truly WASP president, if you exclude his son, George W. Bush, which everyone insists on doing. W. Bush attended boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was a cheerleader, before his family name got him into Yale and Harvard. But he has a Texas accent so he's not some elitist like Barack Obama.
What's so good about WASPs and the days when they ruled the earth like boat-shoe wearing dinosaurs? Was it their throwing back gin-and-tonics while snarling at the help at the club? Douthat is kind enough to tell us in words that were clearly not read by human eyes or edited into coherent thoughts.
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.
I guess if you
sometimes transcend the horrors of colonialism, everything else is a-ok. It seems like Douthat is suggesting that WASPs who were really into different cultures somehow understood the "non-American world" better than the descendants or actual members of those cultures. That is advanced-level white supremacy.
Douthat, like most social conservatives, imagines a better world where the culture wars still happened -- the Civil Rights Movement, the women's movement -- but WASPs steered the ship immediately afterward and kept away from the stormy waters of everything about modern culture they detest. Douthat "compliments" Barack Obama by claiming he invokes the "admirable influences" of WASP attitudes and behavior. White supremacy is so ingrained in his thinking, Douthat can't imagine that what makes Michelle Obama and her husband so awesome might have nothing to do with how well they might "imitate" whiteness.
So it's possible to imagine adaptation rather than surrender as a different WASP strategy across the 1960s and 1970s. In such a world the establishment would have still admitted more blacks, Jews, Catholics and Hispanics (and more women) to its ranks … but it would have done so as a self-consciously elite-crafting strategy, rather than under the pseudo-democratic auspices of the SAT and the high school resume and the dubious ideal of "merit."
It's clear here that the establishment is still white men graciously choosing to include in the ranks "more" minorities (and parenthetical women -- just how I like 'em). White men would still rule us all. The self-determination of women and minorities is a horrifying thought to the Douthats, who fear a world without themselves in control. Douthat doesn't comprehend that a WASP-led society that is simultaneously slightly more inclusive would resemble something akin to apartheid South Africa. Remember WASPs dominated a world that excluded pretty much everyone who wasn't a white male. We're not just talking about the Ivy League. Black folks had to get our asses kicked to be served at a lunch counter. The world inevitably changes as more voices are heard. Kirsten Gillibrand expressed this sentiment on Twitter and WASP-enabler Marco Rubio was horrified.
What's strange, beyond Rubio's ability to stand upright without a functioning spinal cord, is that we just had an election last month that ended with the Florida senator's political party becoming even more white and male. This "we're all just Americans" BS is willful ignorance, especially when Republicans are very aware of race and ethnicity. They wouldn't know which polling places to close otherwise.
I doubt I'll find an angry tweet from Rubio about Douthat's column, even though Douthat regularly argues that religion is a key element of the American identity. And not just any ragamuffin religion: He thinks society went wrong when we exchanged "Protestant rigor for a post-Christian Social Gospel and a soft pantheism." (My pantheism ain't soft, buddy.)
To be fair, the historic problem WASPs have with encroaching modernity is not exclusive to social conservatives. It's a serious issue on the left, as well. White folks with white savior complexes aren't accustomed to minorities or women taking up so much space or expressing so many opinions that are their own. If you're not a straight white male, then you might feel just as condescended to by Douthat's liberal counterparts at the Times.
I'm reminded of the annoying and somewhat misogynistic monologue from the recent Aaron Sorkin series "The Newsroom." Sorkin's mouthpiece decries millennials as the "worst generation ever" and dismisses a young woman, based on nothing but her appearance, as a "sorority girl." He then subjects us to middle-aged nostalgia for days when better generations made America the greatest nation in the world. It is impossible to ignore that these supposed greatest generations had fewer, if any, women or minorities in control. What are we to discern from the ongoing not-so-subtle implication that art, culture, and politics were all better off before we got more involved?
Nostalgia, for either of the Bushes or even the Obamas, is never a good thing. It causes us to take our eyes off the road and lose focus on what matters, which is appreciating today and working toward a better tomorrow. As my old friend Prior Walter said, "The world only spins forward."
(I quoted a bunch from Douthat's word diarrhea, so I suppose I am obligated to provide a link, but you can just ignore it like the intro to a show on Netflix.)
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.