Why I Don’t Miss the WASPs

In his criminally under-read memoir, President and former supreme commander of the United States Army Ulysses S. Grant describes his ancestry as follows.

My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.

Mathew Grant, the founder of the branch in America, of which I am a descendant, reached Dorchester, Massachusetts, in May, 1630. In 1635 he moved to what is now Windsor, Connecticut, and was the surveyor for that colony for more than forty years. He was also, for many years of the time, town clerk. He was a married man when he arrived at Dorchester, but his children were all born in this country. His eldest son, Samuel, took lands on the east side of the Connecticut River, opposite Windsor, which have been held and occupied by descendants of his to this day.

I am of the eighth generation from Mathew Grant, and seventh from Samuel. Mathew Grant’s first wife died a few years after their settlement in Windsor, and he soon after married the widow Rockwell, who, with her first husband, had been fellow-passengers with him and his first wife, on the ship Mary and John, from Dorchester, England, in 1630. Mrs. Rockwell had several children by her first marriage, and others by her second. By intermarriage, two or three generations later, I am descended from both the wives of Mathew Grant.


Ulysses S. Grant, in other words, in spite of his humble background in Ohio,  was what would be known today as a WASP, a “white Anglo Saxon Protestant,” which in 1885 meant “not Irish and not Catholic.” What’s more, Grant very much wanted us to know this, even though he would have found the term itself rather silly. It’s not that Grant was an anti-Irish or anti-Catholic bigot. Quite the contrary, twenty years before he had led an army of Irish and German immigrants to victory against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, probably the greatest WASP army that has ever existed, an army that was almost entirely Anglo Saxon, almost entirely Protestant, and entirely devoted to slavery and white supremacy. Grant wanted to set the record straight, not only for himself, but for the original English settlers of Massachusetts.  They had built the foundations for a great, industrial, multi-cultural nation that would some day dominate the world. Grant, Sherman, Lincoln, all descendants of New England Puritans, had saved democracy.

The problem is they hadn’t.

The election that followed Grant’s second term in office was the most divisive election in American history. In 1876, the contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, a dull Republican, politician from Ohio, and Democrat Samuel Tilden from New York, who ran on a platform so openly white supremacist that it makes Donald Trump look like a liberal, ended up in a tie. For a brief, tense moment, it almost looked like there might be another civil war. But the capitalist ruling elite of the North and Midwest and the old planter aristocracy of the south came to an arrangement. The Republicans would get the White House. The Democrats would get to restore white supremacy in the South. The old, liberal Republican Party of Lincoln, Grant, Frederick Douglas and John C. Fremont was dead. The pro-business, right wing “libertarian” party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had been born.

While the openly white supremacist Republican Party of Donald Trump and the Tea Party would not come into existence until Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 1972, the foundations had already been laid. Not only had Republican heroes of the United States Civil War heroes like William Armstrong Custer and Phillip Sheridan already been waging a genocidal war of conquest against the Plains Indians for decades, by 1885 new groups of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, people the old WASP elite would end up hating far more than they hated Irish Catholics, were already arriving in vast numbers. Implicit in the new alliance of the old southern planter class and the northern capitalist elite was the idea that the masses of new immigrants, people with names like “Rogouski,” would have no part at all in American democracy. It wouldn’t exactly be chattel slavery, but it would be a strictly regulated, brutally hierarchal society ruled by a small elite. As liberal economist Doug Henwood quotes Cold War intellectual George Kennan, dictatorship was good.

“I believe in dictatorship, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat, like a well-brought up child, should be seen and not heard. It should be properly clothed and fed and sheltered, but not crowned with a moral halo, and above all not allowed to have anything to do with government.”


Why Henwood, who, like me, is both a socialist and  an ethnic white from New Jersey — “I arrived at Yale in 1971 from a thoroughly mediocre suburb in New Jersey, the second-generation hybrid of Irish and Italian stock riding the postwar boom” — would feel some nostalgia for the old WASP ruling class is no mystery. They let him into Yale. They invited him to their parties in the Hamptons. They made him feel like he was “one of the good ones.” Why Henwood, who probably also considers himself a Marxist, completely erases the Civil War, the election of 1876, and the economic alliance of the old Virginia planter class with New York’s and Chicago’s capitalists to keep the South a union free, cheap labor, semi-colonial resource colony is a bit more confusing. For Doug Henwood, the WASP imperial elite that would eventually give us George W. Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney, George Schulz, James Baker, William Colby and E. Howard Hunt is an almost purely northern phenomenon, born in the prep-schools of New England and in the Ivy League. He ignores Woodrow Wilson’s roots in Virginia. He never mentions that Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull was a Kentuckian who kept portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the wall of his office at the State Department. He not only believes that George W. Bush’s move to Texas and embrace of evangelical Protestantism is a denial , rather than an affirmation of his WASP ancestry, but that the old WASP elite is completely innocent of the destruction of Iraq.

Clinton was succeeded by a product of the WASP elite, George W. Bush, who ostentatiously rejected it in favor of a Texas persona invented in part with the assistance of Karl Rove, though his father himself did a bit of reinvention with a move to Midland, Texas, in 1951. (Amusingly, G. W. won his second victory against John Kerry, another elite product—it was the first campaign in U.S. history in which both leading candidates were Bonesmen—who, though a veteran and an accomplished athlete, was perceived as a wuss next to the draft-dodging failed college baseball player.) His presidency was a disaster of multiple dimensions, featuring the massively destructive invasion of Iraq and ending in the worst financial crisis in eighty years. Throughout his administration, one wondered where the grown-ups, in the sense of an old-style ruling class, were to rein in the madness—none of it made any sense even on the most orthodox of terms—but there were none.


Where Henwood does get the history right is in his description of how the old WASP imperial elite was eventually transformed into a multicultural imperial elite. The alliance between the old Southern planter aristocracy with the New England Protestant ruling class would eventually become the WASP/Evangelical/Zionist neoconservative meritocracy that gave us the Project for a New American Century and the “war on terror” under George W. Bush. The exclusion of the vast majority of Americans from any participation in American foreign policy — millions of people in 2003 marched against the invasion of Iraq but they were completely ignored by the government and the media– gave us the destructive legacy of 9/11 conspiracy theories, antisemitism and the alt-right. The delusional idea that Donald Trump is somehow an opponent of the “deep state” is reinforced by the snobbish belief among respectable liberals that he’s somehow not a real member of the WASP ruling class. On the contrary, he defines it. The American WASP ruling class has always been vulgar, money grubbing, violent, and without ethical principles. Trump is its inevitable end point.

What is genuinely new is how American foreign policy has not only evolved beyond the coherent vision of the old WASP ruling class, the CIA and the Council of Foreign Relations, but also beyond the Evangelical/Zionist Project for a New American Century. That’s where the alt-right and the Neo-Nazis who support Donald Trump really get it wrong. Sure there are “wars for Israel” but there’s no war between Trump and the “deep state.” These days there are wars for just about anybody who can put up enough money. American foreign policy is for sale to the highest bidder. Sure the Israel Lobby was able to purchase an anti-BDS resolution in Congress but anybody else, Saudi royal, Gulf State prince, Ukrainian Nazi, Venezuelan Gusano, anybody with enough gold can do the same thing. Recall how only two years ago, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, “Prince Bone Saw,” was able to purchase the entire American corporate media for his public relations tour.

MBS comes to Washington with the rhetoric of a domestic reformer, but under his arm he clutches the shopping-list of a war-monger that includes the acquisition of nuclear reactors. He bought huge amounts of arms in Britain and now comes to meet with President Donald Trump, who is likely to sell him dual-use capability nuclear-reactors which will give him an ego-boost as the loyal U.S. ally in the region.


If for Doug Henwood the story of the old WASP ruling is personal, then for me, in some minuscule way, the story of the white Venezuelan ruling class removed from power by Hugo Chavez is equally personal. They got me kicked off Twitter. But I suppose I should count my blessings. They were able to buy the arrest of the journalist Max Blumenthal, himself the son a member of the Washington ruling elite, on trumped up charges.

The Grayzone report explains that the false charge of “simple assault” originated during an event on May 8, when Blumenthal participated in an effort to deliver food and supplies to the peace activists inside the embassy. “The charge was manufactured by a Venezuelan opposition member who was among those laying siege to the embassy in a sustained bid to starve out the activists inside,” the report stated.

Blumenthal said, “I was not party to any violent actions around the Venezuelan embassy. This ginned-up claim of simple assault is simply false.”

Blumenthal was arrested a few hours after the Grayzone published an article on how the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was funding the salaries of Guaidó’s team as they lobbied the American government.


Don’t expect any comment from so-called opponent of the “deep state” Donald Trump.


  1. John Thurloe · · Reply

    Two generations from the soil. All these milords ancestors were scrapping cow shit off their boots not so far back. When they hit paydirt in the inevitable racket regime it’s time to obscure things by having pompous jayhawks make up some mythological crap about their past. At least in the Good Old English Days it was posted off to Brutus from Troy. And then it’s back to obscurity they will go too. Think how many high and mighty we hardly remember now? The ‘academic’ wing of the racketeers.

    This is a very good critical analysis. I will read it again more slowly. But who is this, what, ‘Henwood’ fart? Doesn’t even register on my scale of Parties to Be Taking Note Of. My copy of Grant’s memoirs is so underlined and dog-eared that I will just go read it again for the pleasure of it.

    You got kicked off of Twitter, eh? Bronze that sucker as a testimonial. Start a club of all those good enough to be so targeted. Maybe a Facebook division. I’m serious. Lassoo those dogies in and splash it about. Here, regular folk, are the best. Who pissed off the milords.

    1. Those Venezuelan fascists were sending me hate mail right up until the coup in Bolivia.


      The term WASP wasn’t used until the 1950s. It’s hard to imagine anybody calling Lincoln or Grant WASPS, yet that’s exactly what they were.

      The term WASP was invented when Southern and Eastern European immigrants like the Italian American Henwood were being assimilated into the mainstream and more importantly when they were giving up their socialist and anarchist immigrant ideals.

      It was an aspirational conservative identity.

      Then of course in the 1970s we got something worse, right-wing ethnic white “authenticity.” Reagan seduced the Irish into the Republican Party with the abortion issue. The Jews got Israel. The Italians got the film industry and the cultural clout to frame Eastern and Southern European immigration around the mafia/capitalist anti-hero.

      De Niro actually gets into some of it with his (not particularly good) film The Good Shepherd, where he paints the CIA as nothing but the WASP mafia. But that film flopped. The Sopranos on the other hand was a massive success. Every preppy on Wall Street wanted to be a Tony Soprano like Alpha Male.

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