“Woke” has evolved into a racial epithet.

Moderate Republicans are in a panic.  Who can blame them?  The Republican Party has sold out to a vindictive and narcissistic man-child.  Republican politicians who object are targeted by the MAGA mob.  Never-Trump Republicans remain conservative to the core; but they see Trump as a threat to American-style democracy. So they’re in a bind.

Our two-party system leaves dissident politicians with three options.  They can retire from politics (as many Republican officials have done); they can stand and fight (ala Lynne Cheney); or they can decamp to the opposition.

A surprising number of Never-Trump Republicans have selected the third option.

Washington Post columnist Max Boot has abandoned his usual a-pox-on-both-their-houses conservatism. 

I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats — as I have done in every election since 2016 — until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.

On the same day Boot’s column appeared, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman made a similar declaration in a joint op-ed in the New York Times.

Rational Republicans are losing the party civil war. And the only near-term way to battle pro-Trump extremists is for all of us to team up on key races and overarching political goals with our longtime political opponents: the Democrats.

These GOP defectors aren’t just alarmed by Trump’s ongoing war against democracy; the real horror is the fact that 60% of Republicans have signed off on the Big Lie. 

Ross Douthat, a conservative Christian columnist at the NYT, hasn’t formally gone over to the Democratic dark side, but his recent advice to Democrats suggests that he sees the blue team as America’s only hope.   

But there’s catch.  Of course there is!

Since the rise of Trump, Democrats have been moving leftward.  This is partly an equal and opposite reaction to Trumpism.  Not surprisingly, Never-Trump conservatives think this is a bad idea.  They haven’t undergone an ideological conversion.  Their reasons for making nice to Democrats are strictly pragmatic.

A bargain is one the table.  Democrats, ship-jumping Republicans say, must nominate centrist candidates and back modest legislation.  Moreover, in races where Democrats have no real chance of winning, liberal voters must throw their support behind moderate Republicans.

In short, they are proposing a return to the good old days when moderates within both major parties compromised to get things done.  Only now, the goal is to fight autocracy.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein is celebrating the moderation of David Shor, a former Democratic numbers cruncher. According to Shor:

The Democratic Party was trapped in an echo chamber of Twitter activists and woke staff members. It had lost touch with the working-class voters of all races that it needs to win elections, and even progressive institutions dedicated to data analysis were refusing to face the hard facts of public opinion and electoral geography.

Douthat agrees. Democrats won the presidency in 2020, he says, because Joe Biden presented a pragmatic alternative to the “Great Awokening” sweeping through liberal America.  Only by fielding “unwoke” candidates, Douthat declares, can Democrats prevail in the conservative heartland.

Can America be saved by meet-me-in-the-middle centrism?

For instance, would the Texas counties that gave Trump 80-90% of their votes in 2020 come to their senses if the Democrats offered a moderate alternative?  Joe Biden was a moderate alternative and he was crushed in Red America.

Have you noticed how often sneering references to “woke” liberalism pop up in centrist analysis.  When “woke” emerged in the early days of the Black Lives Matter revolution, it was a call to Black America to wake up and smell the coffee.  To be “woke” was to understand how the legacy of racism, so obvious in the days of enslavement and Jim Crow, is flourishing in contemporary America.  To be woke was to know your own history.  To be woke was to see through the banality of mainstream political discourse.  To be woke was to demand nothing short of justice.

People like Klein and Douthat are giving “woke” a very different connotation.  Unwittingly, they have adopted the conservative misappropriation of the word.  They are saying “woke” with a sneer.  Conservatives are highly adept at redefining reality.  The still-unfolding flap over critical race theory (CRT) is a case in point.  This isn’t about one theory of history among many.  It’s about believing what historians are telling us about our past.

You may have noticed that Black activists stopped using the term “woke” a long time ago.  The word had fallen into the wrong hands. The only people using “woke” now are conservative talk show hosts and pragmatic white liberals who have been cowed by the unabashed bigotry of white America.  

“Woke” has become a racist trope that should be abandoned.  White identity politics has ruled the roost from the early days of the Republic.  The MAGA revolution leaves little doubt that few white Americans are ready to give it up. 

So, we have a simple choice.  Will we take our marching orders from the victims of white identity politics or from its champions? 

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3 thoughts on ““Woke” has evolved into a racial epithet.

  1. I’d like to better understand your standpoint.
    Do you believe that disparities between blacks and whites are (almost) entirely due to discrimination and prejudices taking place here and now?
    Based on all my research, I believe that a very large part of these disparities is due to the fact that US blacks are extremely poorer than US whites as a result of historical racism (slavery, segregation …) and since all poor people are screwed by the harshness of American capitalism, blacks are disproportionately affected by it.
    Are you open to that explanation or do you think it is completely wrong?

  2. It is difficult to differentiate between historic discrimination and present discrimination. A solid majority of white Americans voted for Trump. This suggests that racism isn’t a thing of the past.

  3. If you listen to Black America, this question has been answered: no, solving economic inequality will not solve issues of racism that they experience. This is why Black Anerican voted in overwhelming numbers for Hillary over Bernie in 2016 and backed Biden over Sanders in 2020.
    While some of the issues they face ARE economic, many are not, and a lot of Black activists specifically decry the focus on “income inequality” at the expense of “identity politics” as centering whiteness and the needs of young white America over everyone else.

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