Public service, stewardship, restraint: these were among the watchwords of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite, a group nearly synonymous with the American ruling class from the late nineteenth century through roughly the late Sixties. Compare these ideals with the ruthless exhibitionism and unabashed nihilism of today’s elites, and one can see how a temptation might arise to feel nostalgic for old-fashioned WASP supremacy. But is it really wise to hearken back to the days of boat shoes and blue bloodlines? What was the nature of WASP power, and to what ends did they really wield it? Doug Henwood pursues these and similar questions in the November issue of Harper’s Magazine, in an essay that explores the rise and fall of WASP leadership and its often disastrous contributions to American life, from the popularization of eugenics to the document that initiated the permanent war economy.
In this episode, host Violet Lucca speaks with Doug Henwood—former publisher of the Left Business Observer and current host of KPFA, Berkeley’s Behind the News—about the WASPs’ legacy of polite brutality, the decay revealed in Washington by the failure to rein in Trump, and the opening this could create for challenges from the left.