The United States was founded by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and became the political, economic, and military leader of the free world under their guidance. The conscience, industry, practicality, antisensualism, and sense of civic responsibility that characterizes the classic WASP became definably American characteristics. When immigrants entered the melting pot, they were to come out looking something like the WASPs who had invited them in.
Needless to say, something went wrong. It started with the WASPs themselves. At first, the revolt against (or transformation of) WASP values was thin-blooded—Henry Adams's anomie, Emerson's hyper-individualism, Woodrow Wilson's progressivism. But by the 1960's, 70's, and 80's, in Brookhiser's words:
Defections from the general culture were occurring at a great rate. In each case the cause of flight, the bad past the defectors wanted to leave behind, as desperately as immigrants wanted to leave Odessa or Cork, was the world of the WASP. The enemy of every wayward impulse—of black pride, mother tongues, pot, frisbees, matriarchy, fisting, the Southern way of life, whatever—was conscience, industry, success, and all the rest: the way of the WASP.
The conscience that had been the driving moral force behind WASPs had—with a nice shove from Emerson—become solipsism. The industry, self-denial, and practical-mindedness...