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The Rise of the Right Wing Woke
Traditionally, the word woke was used to refer to the idea that one is awakened to social injustices, but, in recent years it has become almost like a bit of a slur—associated more with identity politics, virtue signaling, cancel culture, political correctness, posturing, hierarchies based on victimhood status, and a general sense of moral superiority. Those who deemed themselves anti-woke, actively rejected all of that.
The ‘woke’ were seen as using their alleged pursuit of justice as an excuse to justify behaviors like harassment, abuse, and bullying. Because they were the ones on the right side. They knew better. They were the ones in possession of virtue. The means justified the ends. Of course, this more recent phenomenon was pretty much entirely associated with the left.
But it’s important separate out ideology from the behavior, which is really what’s at the root of all of this. And some on the right have begun to embrace their own version of what they themselves might have condemned as the “woke mind virus.” The motives might be different, but the actions are the same.
Their virtues are about protecting American and tradition values, children, families, Christianity, and so on. They, too, claim that they are marginalized or discriminated against in society, and there’s some truth to that, so the actions are in some ways, a pushback against that.
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” seems to be the new approach.
Many on the ‘woke right’ who for some time have spoken against cancel culture, have chosen to embrace a version of their own, boycotting companies that support progressive causes, for example. The overwhelming support for DeSantis’ fight against Disney in Florida is one such illustration. The boycott of Bud Light over the company’s paid promotional social media posts using trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney is another.
Then there’s books.
On the left, most recently we’ve seen the rewriting of certain words and phrases in Roald Dahl titles so they’d be more acceptable by today’s politically correct social standards, as well as the editing of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels to better conform to the demands of 2023’s version of puritanism. The Catcher in the Rye (profanity and teenage rebellion), Orwell’s 1984 (for its critique of socialism), To Kill a Mockingbird (due to racist language), and The Satanic Verses (for its portrayal of Islam and the prophet Muhammad) have all been previous targets and banned from schools. Some of Dr. Seuss’s books were also being pulled from shelves and six will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
On the right, this practice is just as common.
As angry leftists were filming themselves burning copies of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter due to the “racism,” “fatphobia” and the author’s alleged transphobia, a Global Vision Bible Church head pastor took his Christian followers into the woods to burn Harry Potter, Twilight, and other "occultic materials” that offended their sensibilities.
But this is only where the moral crusade begins. There’s been a surge of book bans in schools—particularly those that might feature LGBTQ characters, such as those in My Two Dads and Me, and George, which features a transgender protagonist.
Books like All American Boys and The Hate U Give were also removed from some libraries and schools due to their themes of police brutality and racial injustice. So was Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You for promoting critical race theory and being seen as divisive.
But amongst the books removed in some jurisdictions are also far more mainstream and surprising titles like John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride, a series of sci-fi adventure books for readers ages 10 and up, which were pulled from elementary schools.
Regardless of what one might think of these books in particular, those in favor of removing them will always find a justification, and some will go too far.
Suppressing Freedom of Expression
While many conservatives are adamant supporters of the First Amendment, FIRE, a foundation for individual rights and expression, is currently suing West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler for violating the First Amendment right of college students to hold a charity drag show on campus. The event was meant to raise money for suicide prevention among LGTBQ+ youth. (FIRE, which is a non-partisan organization, also just sued a Michigan school district for ordering students to remove “Let’s Go Brandon” sweatshirts.)
There are also many topics that some want banned from school and college classrooms. Some of these might make sense, especially for certain ages, but critics like The Atlantic’s David French say that the breadth and vagueness of laws is a serious concern.
DeSantis had signed a bill that prohibits even college professors from expressing any view that “espouses, promotes, [or] advances” anything that could make students feel guilty about history—as it might relate to race and gender. Commonly referred to as the ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ it’s actually officially called ‘The Individual Freedom Act,’ which is ironic because while it might have some positive intentions (eg. preventing ‘indoctrination’ or promoting collective guilt), it also no doubt can have a chilling effect on freedom of speech—which is particularly concerning when it comes to interactions with adult students.
The bill seeks to limit the ideals of free inquiry, beliefs, and discourse—ultimately putting a gag on what professors are able to say on certain topics. Without that, there’s no opportunity for these ideas to be debated, examined, amended, or scrutinized.
While colleges as of late have had their issues with the suppression of certain voices, the answer should not be to fight suppression with more suppression.
In 2018, the Republican National Committee sent out cease-and-desist letters to major television networks demanding that they not air an ad from a Democratic group that criticized then President Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics of these actions argued that this was an attempt to stifle political speech and in violation of the First Amendment.
In March 2021, Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed a voting law that made it a crime to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote, and it allowed for the arrest of people who demonstrated within 150 feet of a polling place. Critics argued that these provisions were an attempt to suppress political speech in violation of the First Amendment.
Just as those on the ‘woke left’ put symbols in their bios like rainbow flags, BLM, and pronouns, so do the ‘woke right,’ with words like MAGA, religious affiliations, fake pronouns, “Pepe the Frog” memes, American flags, ‘pure blood,’ All Lives Matter, and so on. Some are meant to satirize and push-back, whereas others are meant to signal group identity.
The ‘woke left’ is often criticized for their embrace of victim culture—the idea that people are encouraged to view themselves as victims of systems, life circumstances, and society, seeking validation and support through their victimhood.
The ‘woke right’ shares this particular sentiment. They often perceive themselves as being under attack by liberal culture, which they see as dismissive of their own values. They also feel discriminated against on college campuses, in the workplace, and so on. Certain media personalities and ‘influencers’ tend to exploit this to their advantage, encouraging both a sense of victimhood and anger.
Some of this is grounded in reality. For example, it is true that some conservatives have been censored on social media platforms, and that some people have been unfairly targeted for expressing conservative views. Much of cultural output, like movies and TV shows, also tend to be liberal leaning. But there’s validity for those claiming victimhood on the left too—there’s discrimination based on things like race, sex, class, and other aspects.
The problem arises when people begin to view their whole existence from this perspective of victimhood, or exaggerate claims. It can lead to helplessness rather than empowerment, and resentment instead of engagement and dialogue geared towards problem-solving. Those who sink deepest into the victimhood black hole often begin to view those who hold different views as their enemies and blame others for their problems—even those who have nothing to do with the troubles they might be facing and could be potential allies instead.
There tends to be a sense of entitlement in victimhood culture. Since harm was done to them, people feel entitled to special treatment—or worse, to do harm to others. Those who do not share the same victim status are often outcast. “You haven’t experienced this, so you have no right to say anything,” is a sentiment often heard spoken in both the “woke left” and “woke right” circles alike.
It is important to recognize and address real injustice. We shouldn’t minimize it, but framing oneself as victim and indulging in that status to the point that it becomes one’s primary identity marker is also the point at which one begins to display the characteristics of the “woke right (or left).”
Although ‘cancel culture’ is often credited as being associated with the woke left, it is increasingly becoming a tool of the right. The right has used cancel culture to attack companies and institutions that it sees as promoting liberal values or stifling conservative voices. For example, conservative commentators have called for boycotts of companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines for speaking out against Georgia's controversial voting law. Nike was boycotted by the right wing due to their support of Colin Kaepernick and his protests against police brutality. In Florida, DeSantis is actively engaged in a battle with Disney.
Aside from the previously mentioned boycotts, it is not uncommon to demand the firing of certain individuals that have not adhered to the proper orthodoxy or expressed a controversial opinion, whether it’s teachers, workers, media personalities, or others. Sometimes they will even turn on their own tribe members, if they do not politically align with a particular group—for example, if they criticize Trump or the ‘patriots’ of Jan 6.
There’s also a tendency among some right wing wokes to see anyone outside their political allegiance as the “enemy” and immediately attack, silence, and exclude them.
Identity politics is the idea that one's identity as a member of a particular group (such as race, gender, or sexuality) shapes one's experiences and perspectives, and that group-based oppression and discrimination must be addressed through collective action. While identity politics has traditionally been associated with the left—and many old school liberals, centrists, and conservatives have rejected that—the woke right embraces its own version of identity politics. It tends to be centered around the idea of defending the rights and interests of straight, white, Christian, traditional, and conservative Americans. Those outside of that are viewed with increased suspicion and resentment.
Echo Chambers and Intolerance
There has been a growing reluctance to engage with those who hold different beliefs and a heightened level of sensitivity at their views being challenged. Just as the left wokes might block those on the right and call them all sorts of names ranging from Nazi, Trumptard, and white supremacist, so do the right wing wokes. Their chosen names are things like libtard, sheeple, fascist, and, well…lately…Nazi. I guess we’ve found some common ground?
They, too, are reluctant to engage with those outside their bubble. They have block lists, will swarm leftist posts who they deem stupid, and mock without mercy.
There’s a segregation in the consumption of media. The left will only read ‘their’ media and the right wokes will only trust theirs (smart people from either side will follow both—at the very least to understand how each thinks).
In many ways, social media has contributed to the presence of echo chambers. Individuals consume that which consumes their existing beliefs, and spread it further. Sensationalist, clickbait, radical takes do best. This creates an us-versus-them mentality and contribute to ideological polarization and intolerance. If you’re not with us, you’re the enemy. If you’re not with us, you’re in the way. Get out of the way, or we’ll push you out.
In many ways, some on the right have become just as “woke” and those on the left that they’ve criticized, adopting tactics that were once associated with progressive activism and social justice. In many ways, it is a reaction to an increasingly polarized landscape and what they perceive to be an attack on them and their values. These “woke tools” have become ideological warfare for both segments of the left and right.
It is important to note that this does not represent the vast majority of the population, and many people from both ideological spectrums do not subscribe to these tactics or ideas. But we will need to foster better discourse in overcome the deep divides that have been built and push back against the intolerance on both ends.
Can you think of more ways of how the woke right has become like the woke left? Leave a comment.
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