With less than two years until the 2024 presidential election, the forever campaign amps up, as politicians on the right side of the aisle focus on fooling enough of the people enough of the time into thinking every perceived issue facing the country — including bank failures and train wrecks — have been caused by “woke.” Worn thin by overuse, the trope can now mean almost anything politically opportunistic: an excuse for draconian rules, discriminatory behavior or, as in trains and banks, a convenient justification for casting blame. Whatever the question, woke is the answer.
The best part is, it’s universally applicable — it can mean anything you want.
As Silicon Valley Bank went under last weekend, Republicans were quick to label the institution as “One of the most woke banks” based on “diversity programs,” its failure chalked up to anything but their own relentless effort to deregulate the banking system after the 2008 collapse, finally signed into law in 2018 by the former president with support from both parties. Weighing in, Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned that, to prevent another, similar crisis, an immediate repeal of the prior administration’s rollback of regulations was necessary: “reversing the Fed’s disastrous initiatives that helped create this mess.”
When a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals went off the rails in Ohio last month, much of the GOP went with it, straining to connect Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to the accident, reminding us Buttigieg is gay as though that was a contributing factor. In a largely incoherent rant about job performance, Don Junior — who’s never actually had one — explained: “Pete has no business in that position, but he’s the guy who had no business running for president … but they let him do that because he was gay, and they checked off a box, but when he didn’t win, but, well, he’s the gay guy, so we’ve got to give him something, let’s make him transportation secretary.”
Even the newly smarmy Mike Pence, desperately seeking to charm the demographic calling for his execution during the Jan. 6 insurrection, dove into the homophobia last week, joking that, when the secretary took paternity leave from his job, “Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports, the air traffic system shut down and airplanes nearly collided on runways … Pete is the only person in human history to have a child, and everyone else gets postpartum depression.” The tone-deaf bonus of using women as the punch line probably enhanced the former veep’s stature with fellow evangelicals.
Conservatives believe positions such as these will propel them into the future, unconcerned that it would also require launching the country into the past, fostering the fear, doubt and confusion around issues that keep their carefully nurtured constituents believing things they don’t fully understand. That’s exactly the way the right wants to keep it. If their undermining public education is even remotely successful, they’ll have that covered as well, keeping MAGA nation and their progeny ignorant enough to ensure multigenerational support for a well-armed, routinely discriminatory, indelibly white, Christian nation.
Never mind that only a small minority of Americans believe the country should be designated “Christian,” or white, or anything else on the conservative wish list. Nearly every position embraced by the radicalized GOP is, in fact, soundly rejected by the majority of voters who believe in reasonable gun regulations, a woman’s right to choose, taxing billionaires, supporting the LGBTQ community, accurately portraying American history, warts and all: in other words, a fairly progressive agenda that flies in the face of the anti-woke messaging championed by Ron DeSantis, among others.
Not even all Republicans share the vision, but that’s immaterial because it sells — especially to those long on fundamentalist religion, short on educational fundamentals and malleable enough to embrace as factual that which is transparently false, designed to manufacture enemies and pump up rage. While some conservatives appear readily willing to man the ramparts in DeSantis’ escalation of the culture war, a new Ipsos poll published in USA Today found 56% of Americans consider “woke” a positive term meaning “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices.”
Of course, the last thing MAGA-world wants is “informed, educated and aware” students, especially on issues of social justice if the Sunshine State is any indication. They’re more interested in creating a national population closely resembling DeSantis’ fever dreams of gagged college professors, incarcerated librarians and free speech defined by what you can’t say, transforming his state into a “Citadel of Freedom.”
The governor’s notion of “Freedom,” according to MSNBC’s Michael A. Cohen, comes with laws limiting classroom discussion of LGBTQ identities; banning different perspectives on race, diversity and history; and represents an agenda “defined largely by pettiness, cruelty and a disturbing disregard for basic democratic norms. If states are the so-called laboratory of American democracy, Florida is the meth lab.”
What’s most ironic about “woke” in all its permutations is that the only place it’s used these days is in conservative circles, depicting it as an existential threat to, well, everything. It’s replaced what was once called “political correctness” and, like PC, it’s been rendered essentially meaningless through mindless repetition by conservatives wielding it as a cultural war club.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.
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