Recently, former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard publicly announced her departure from the Democratic party. She lamented that instead of creating a government “by the people and for the people,” Democrats are led by elitists who serve themselves. She also remarked on how Democrats have attacked essential freedoms and have pushed the country to the brink of nuclear war.
What makes Gabbard’s speech significant is not so much her decision to move away from her own party—though, as Ben Domenech observes, she deserves a great deal of credit for this—but how it highlights many of the key concerns for most Americans on both sides of the political divide, few of which are explicitly partisan.
The one sticking point, however, may be her mention of wokeness, claiming that the Democrats are “now under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness.” For those on the Right, this seems accurate; but for those on the Left, this is downright baffling. At most, they will cite this term as a conservative dog-whistle that lets the world know that she’s adopted their language and thinking. Beyond that, the term simply doesn’t have much meaning.
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Except that this charge of wokeness may be the most important point of her speech—and, as Evita Duffy writes, the speech has many important points. In order to understand the decline of the Democrats from that of a party devoted to representing the working man and marginalized groups to a party superficially committed to fighting bigotry, climate change, and fascism, one needs to understand the nature and influence of wokeness. Only then can it be defeated.
Originally, the term “woke” came into vogue a few years ago among progressives. People, usually activists, would tell one another to “stay woke,” meaning to be aware of the injustices happening in the world. A truly woke individual would be one who resisted complacency and took action against all kinds of oppression.
As progressives increasingly associated all injustice with all strands of conservatism, often at the cost of denying basic rights to freedom and safety, wokeness began to have a negative connotation. Today, wokeness implies intolerant leftist ideology in an individual or collective, usually expressed in a hypocritical manner. However, the term has become so overused by conservatives that it’s difficult to know what makes a person or group woke. This causes many on the Left, like Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, to dismiss the criticism altogether and continue shamelessly promoting wokeness in her organization.
In and of itself, wokeness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The idea of rectifying instances of abuse or reforming corrupt systems is something all people of goodwill share. No one should rest easy when people are victims of hateful behavior.
Unfortunately, because wokeness runs more on feelings than ideas, it has quickly devolved into a whole system of virtue signaling intended to make people feel good rather than do good. Woke people are often busier putting out signs and flags to show their support for victimized groups than they are actually helping those people. And like a virus—or “woke mind virus” as Elon Musk calls it—it spreads quickly, with everyone wanting to join whatever is “the current thing.”
Eventually, such awareness campaigns become internalized by a large number of people and begin to change how society functions. Values become mandates, speech is policed, narratives are pushed, and dissent is criminalized—all so the woke can feel better. Logic quickly goes by the wayside as woke progressives adopt bad ideas that sound good but make problems worse. Thus, behind every major challenge in the U.S.—immigration, energy production, inflation, nuclear conflict, etc.—is wokeness, a mindset that wants to look progressive and fair about an issue without actually doing the things necessary to fix it.
Wokeness also ruins the culture, which is where the criticism usually comes up. In the ongoing effort to spread wokeness, so many stories, reports, and commentaries have become blatant propaganda. Racial and sexual diversity are forced on everything no matter how unnatural it may be. Narratives of overturning systems of oppression, vanquishing the bigot, and extolling the victim become universal. Complexity and nuance are dropped in favor of simple moral binaries that feature flawless protagonists, irredeemable antagonists, and escapist plots filled with holes. The result is predictable, mindless “content” meant to be quickly consumed, not thought about or judged—it’s no coincidence that a platform like TikTok has become so popular in recent years.
Due to the prevalence of wokeness as well as its lack of logic, it can often feel futile trying to fight against it. Fortunately, there are two main lines of attack which can effect change: politics and culture. In terms of politics, this means supporting “based” politicians and policies that oppose wokeness (that is, they oppose basing action in leftist sentiment untethered to reality). In this regard, conservatives have an advantage since the Left has been captured by wokeism and really believes that perception trumps reality. As Peter Van Buren explains, conservatives can simply engage in real action and take back the country while the Left angrily waits for their virtual utopia to become reality.
Fighting wokeness in the culture will take more time, but it can be done. Audiences who oppose wokeness need to become more discerning in their consumption of media and art and reject the propaganda. That means taking a critical view of the stories they read and watch and asking the important question: “What’s the point of this?” If the point is to promote a leftist narrative, then they should give it up. If the point is to tell a good story, they should consider what makes it good. Once upon a time, professional critics would write essays about this, but now this task falls to normal people and writers for conservative publications.
The central point of both approaches is the application of reason. At its core, wokeness is irrational and emotional. To fight this with ever more stupidity and feeling will only worsen the issue. What’s needed now are people willing to use their brains, temper their feelings, and quietly retake control of civilization and themselves.
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