28 Feb The Broke Woke Joke
Perhaps as with most well-intended things, we first noticed it at church. In some parishes and denominations, God’s pronoun was eliminated in the 1980s and men were no longer male, such that “God created everyone in God’s own image.”
Women’s basketball teams continued to play “man to man” defense, but Congressmen became “members of Congress,” chairmen were “chair people” and spokesmen “spokespeople.” Then evolved genders and pronouns generally, and there were many.
Now, Florida has passed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act.* We are not kidding, although the law (which was blocked by a federal court and is on appeal), does sound like the punch line of a joke.
*The acronym stands for Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.
While the world burns, American political thinking, debate, and action have come to this.
Racial, gender, religious, and other forms of discrimination are terrible things that go directly against the fundamental principles of equality and freedom. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are helpful concepts. Sexual assault and harassment are and should be illegal. Humans have unalienable human rights. And prejudice, bullying, and otherwise endangering others’ mental health are simply wrong.
The remainder of this post, nonetheless tells a story of how well-intentioned recognition of rights and wrongs turned into woke, which became a political joke, the underpinnings of which broke down, and now we have overreacting politicians blowing smoke, cloaking the real issues facing America, and stoking anger for political gain.
Grab a Coke, sit back, and let this soak in.
Woke. At its core, the adjective woke started nearly a century ago as a reminder to be awake to racial prejudice and discrimination. That morphed into awareness of additional wrongs like sexism. As the saying today goes, “It was all good.”
Joke. The first time your humble blogger recalls encountering pushback of anything bordering on woke was when his law school classes studied affirmative action, which was unpopular with some. Soon thereafter, the American business community adopted mandatory sensitivity training throughout its workplaces, and certain employees did not enjoy spending their time that way. As mentioned above, language also began to change (almost always for the better), but “political correctness” was a phrase often used derogatorily. During this same timeframe, big corporations and wealthy, middle-aged straight men whose ancestors came from Northern Europe were the only ones who could be insulted with impunity, because such possess white privilege and thus are deemed inherently unoppressable. Still, political correctness did not become a big deal in actual politics.
Soon, though, disputes began growing regarding gay marriage laws, public restroom access, and sports team names. America really started to take notice.
Culture Wars Replace Government Policy Ideas
Broke. So-called “cancel culture” quickly was in full force, characterized first by higher academia, activists, the media, and businesses calling out and trying to stop all hurtful things. Next, the “#MeToo” movement led to high-profile criminal prosecutions and firings. Race-based police misconduct—both real and assumed—led to mass protests, sometimes including athletes kneeling during our national anthem, which in turn led offended citizens to stop watching sports. Simultaneously, small businesses that refused to serve gay couples were sued, which caused outrage.
What really broke the woke divide wide open politically, however, was when families became convinced that children were being indoctrinated in the wrong direction at school. Elementary students reportedly were being told that they could be any gender (or none) that felt right. Children of all ages supposedly were learning critical-race theory and taught to feel white guilt. It was feared that biological boys could go in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms if they considered themselves to be female, and they also could edge out biological girls in athletic competitions.
Somehow, school closures during covid, along with mask and vaccine mandates, all merged with the race, gender, and sexuality concerns, to “trigger” (a woke favorite word) a large and far-ranging gap between the woke and the not woke.
Smoke, Cloak, and Stoke. Politicians are here to bridge such divides, to heal nations, to focus Americans on what is most crucial in our country, and to bring the people together, right? Well, not so much in recent years and as to all things woke.
Opportunists that many of them are, 2020 and 2022 candidates and office holders chose instead to exploit these divisions. Trying to drum up populist support, they latched onto or launched into the above issues to insinuate that their political opponents were responsible for whatever cultural and social problems a citizen perceived. Democrats trumpeted identity politics and accused institutions (and their political supporters) of racism, sexism, and class warfare. Republicans accused Democrats of hating America, loving socialism, and ruining our children.
Politicians blew smoke at every opportunity, then yelled fire. They cloaked their own beliefs while attacking their evil opposition. They stoked anger, pandering to internet hate groups and producing riots, insurrection, and fear.
Now, we have a leading 2024 presidential candidate spearheading Florida’s recently passed Stop W.O.K.E. Act. All sides want to censor their opposition, ban ideas, oust anyone who disagrees, and use government power to prevent what they see as cultural decline.
The woke joke is broke, folks, so how about both sides stop telling it before it chokes America.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.