There are a lot of problems in Washington, D.C these days, but not many solutions to them. Inefficiency, an allergy to cooperation, and stiff resistance to pragmatism have all ground the federal government to a stand-still. But one op-ed contributor to the Wall Street Journal knows what the real problem is: not enough rich, white men.
In Saturday’s paper and online, author Joseph Epstein mourns the collapse of what he describes as the “genuine ruling class, drawn from what came to be known as the WASP establishment,” (WASP, the commonly-held acronym for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Instead, he argues, we are living in a meritocracy, governed not by an elite subset of the uppermost crust of society but rather by a group of people who overcame some kind of adversity and achieved success thanks to their own merits, not based on what family they were born into. This, according to Epstein, is a tragedy.
Epstein’s embrace of white privilege (or is it power?) is almost too transparent, resembling something closer to satire than to outright racism. And yet he gives no reason to believe that he isn’t completely serious when he argues that modern day “corruption, scandal and incompetence” are hallmarks exclusive to this new era of non-white rule. Or when he memorializes the virtues of keeping those not born into the “WASPocracy” away from the halls of power. Or when he faults the leadership of the country’s top colleges for its role in ending white rule by “lessening the number of legacies automatically admitted, and using racial preferences to encourage the enrollment of blacks.”
Instead, Epstein argues, we should return to an era of WASP rule. Why? Because rich, white men born into rich, white christian families would never lead the country astray:
A financier I know who grew up under the WASP standard not long ago told me that he thought that the subprime real estate collapse and the continuing hedge-fund scandals have been brought on directly by men and women who are little more than “greedy pigs” (his words) without a shred of character or concern for their clients or country. Naturally, he added, they all have master’s degrees from the putatively best business schools in the nation.
Thus far in their history, meritocrats, those earnest good students, appear to be about little more than getting on, getting ahead and (above all) getting their own. The WASP leadership, for all that may be said in criticism of it, was better than that.
Epstein’s contempt for minorities — namely, that they don’t belong anywhere near positions of authority — isn’t reserved simply for race. Back in the 1970s, Epstein penned a story for Harper’s Magazine in which he expressed his desire to “wish homosexuality off the face of this earth.” He added, of his four sons, “nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual.” Those comments led to sit-ins and protests outside of Harper’s offices, and Epstein has never apologized (and in fact dismissed his critics, some 30 years later, as simply incapable of understanding his own “textured thought”).
Perhaps that explains why Epstein reserves so little space (50 of his 2200+ word essay) to the shortcomings of WASP rule: he simply doesn’t care that many of the leaders from his idyllic “WASPocracy” looked the other way on issues of racism, homophobia, poverty and inequality when they were in power.
And while the U.S. Senate — historically the wealthier and less diverse of the two chambers — may not be sufficiently white for Epstein’s liking (only 95 percent of U.S. Senators are caucasian), they still do a very good job of tending to the needs of their fellow rich people instead of the needs of middle class and low-income families.