Van Ens: Debunking the great, white American myth (column)
Flying Canadian geese form a wedge that is shaped like a giant “V.” The lead goose breaks strong headwinds for following geese flying in formation. Geese have figured out it’s easier to fly by sticking together.
Conservative whites in the U.S. learn from geese flying in formation. Strong headwinds caused by massive societal change buffet white citizens. Membership in white Protestant churches keeps shrinking. Minorities are growing.
According to recent census projections, Caucasian Americans — who have wielded enormous political clout throughout the history of the United States — will be in the minority in 2045. Dianne Pinderhughes, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, explains why conservative white Christians vow to keep intact their status amid demographic changes that undercut their strength. They endorse President Trump because he reclaims America’s greatness by preserving its white identity.
“He’s trying to convince white people that the way to keep their long-term status is to keep out people of color, keep out immigrants, and keep blacks down, and they’ll [whites] feel better off by doing so,” Pinderhughes told the Washington Post. “It’s not all whites, but it’s a significant enough to be recognized by other Republicans, who decide to stay quiet about it”
Citizens protecting white identity trace their roots to Anglo-Saxons who ages ago settled England. This Anglo-Saxon heritage prevails in U.S. history because it has been linked with “white” and “Protestant,” forming the acronym WASP: White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
Thomas Jefferson admired this Anglo-Saxon super-race, its heritage sprung from fantasy more than historical fact. Lore describing flaxen-haired, fair-skinned people blessed with noble character and love for freedom is woven in the fabric of English history.
William the Conqueror and his Norman army of Scandinavian half-breeds and swarthy dark-skinned French invaded England in 1066 A.D. Embellished tales tell how Anglo-Saxons preserved their pure bloodlines by not intermarrying inferior Normans.
Thomas Jefferson portrayed this Anglo-Saxon identity on his rejected model of the United States seal. Like Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson wanted Moses and Pharaoh on the seal’s frontside, reminding colonists of their escape from England’s wilderness into America’s “Promised Land” of liberty.
John Adams reported that Jefferson featured on the seal’s backside “Hengist and Horsa, Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.”
Does this WASP myth of racial supremacy sound familiar?
“We are determined to take our country back,” David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said in Charlottesville in August 2017. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we gotta do” (The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, Jon Meacham, Random House 2018, p. 5).
Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Manhattan’s Union Theological Seminary, reveals how President Trump preserves the myth of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. “Recovery of America’s ‘greatness’ was associated with the country ridding itself of non-white immigrants, whose very presence — according to Trump — has sent the nation spiraling into social disarray and moral decadence,” observes Professor Douglas.
“To bolster this prescription for American greatness, Trump trafficked in disparaging misrepresentations of Mexican immigrants as rapists and of African-American communities as dangerous enclaves of criminality. His vision for ‘greatness’ therefore resonates with those who longed for an Anglo-Saxon/white America. In this way, Trump’s campaign served as a clarion call to ‘take back the country’ from those detrimental to America’s exceptional identity, namely nonwhite people” (Sojourners magazine, “How Evangelicals Became White,” April 2018, p. 21).
Contrary to Trump’s white supremacist speculation, immigrants from many nations other than northern European forged our nation’s identity. This trait has built our country’s strength.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (http://www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.