Published December 21, 2021
San Francisco has had enough. The city’s mayor recently declared that “the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” and she promised to “take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement.”
Her get-tough pledge is, of course, shameless — if only there had been a municipal leader who could have done something before now! — but when wokeness has lost the mayor of San Francisco, it has a public-relations problem.
Following electoral defeats in Virginia, and facing a likely wipeout in next year’s midterm elections, many Democrats are scrambling away from identity politics. From crime to education to the workplace, it poisons everything, and Americans are sick of it.
Thus, we may hope that Scott McConnell is correct in predicting that wokeness “will be rolled back, its practitioners and cultural preferences first widely mocked and then ignored, its victims rehabilitated and in some cases honored.” But we should not be too sure; even if wokeness is politically toxic now, it might nonetheless win in the long run.
Identity politics’ likely resilience was highlighted in a response by Ed West as well as in a Reason article by Greg Lukianoff chronicling how the first wave of political correctness in the 1990s persisted despite its unpopularity. Put simply, identity politics holds power in key institutions, especially in tech, academia, education, the media, and Big Business. While voter anger might spook politicians on issues such as crime, wokeness in all its forms will be hard to root out of its institutional fortresses.
Thus, identity politics will remain as a powerful force in American life even if Democratic politicians avoid and downplay its more unpopular ideas (and they aren’t all giving up yet). Like a weed, snicking the head off wokeness will not kill it. Unless it is actively uprooted, wokeness will continue to embed itself within powerful institutions, just as it was doing before it broke into public view over the last few years.
Thus, defeating wokeness will require more than ballot-box triumphs. The campaign against it will be long and must be sustained at multiple levels of government. To win, the conservative movement will need leaders who will persevere until leftist strongholds are reformed. We will also need bureaucratic knife-fighters who can grind through the trench warfare of administrative law.
Otherwise, wokeness will advance even if Democratic politicians disavow its most destructive ideas. After all, identity politics is now big money, offering jobs, jobs, jobs for the boys (and girls, and non-binary they/them/theirs). There is an entire industry of well-paid diversity, equity, and inclusion experts and consultants.
College administrators are making six figures to push wokeness on campus, and they are not going away just because some Democrats sidle away from critical race theory after losing a few elections. And in the long run, controlling the Ivy League and Silicon Valley may matter more than controlling Congress.
But Congress has a say, if it is willing to act. Wokeness is parasitic, subsisting largely on government time and the taxpayer’s dime. Thus, to defeat identity politics, we must defund it.
The GOP has regularly failed at this, even when government money is going to groups that use it to undermine conservatism and shill for Democrats. This must change, and identity politics must be made into a liability, rather than a status symbol and career enhancer. If wokeness is the job, the position should be eliminated. If wokeness is not part of the job, then those who make it part of the job should be fired.
Defeating Identity Politics with the Law
The legal tools to do this are available because wokeness is racist, misogynist, and religiously bigoted, and therefore frequently in violation of federal civil rights laws. What is needed is the political will and perseverance to excise wokeness from government and from private companies and organizations that depend on the government. Put simply, woke bigots engaged in discrimination shouldn’t be employed by the government or get government contracts.
There are many obvious cases of woke abuse, such as teachers and school administrators organizing racially segregated events and classrooms, or grooming a preteen girl into transgenderism without even telling her parents. In such cases, teachers and administrators should be fired and possibly prosecuted — and the school district should be sued into oblivion. Wokeness is an elite affectation that will struggle in front of a jury of ordinary Americans.
Politically, there is much to do. For instance, Republicans must recognize that wokeness is a national security vulnerability, so they must prioritize cleansing the military of woke apparatchiks who care more about winning diversity plaudits than winning wars.
Likewise, the next Republican president should have the Department of Justice relentlessly pursue legal action against woke violators of civil rights law. The next Republican secretary of rducation should reverse the perversion of civil rights laws that Biden is using to treat racial discrimination as anti-racist and to refuse to protect women against men pretending to be women.
State legislatures should cut university funding for woke initiatives and positions, and they should prohibit the use of ideological “diversity statements” in faculty hiring. Parents should take back control of local school boards and clean house, dumping administrators and teachers who have abandoned excellence and equality for identity and equity.
Conservatives need skilled leadership to accomplish these and other measures against identity politics. At the national level, we should look for a presidential candidate who can run an effective administration, rather than one who excels at annoying the woke on Twitter. In the meantime, there are victories available at the state and local levels. We will not win everywhere — San Francisco may crack down on crime, but it is unlikely to totally abandon wokeness — but we can win in a lot of places.
What is essential is turning the electoral backlash against wokeness into effective action in government. The way to beat wokeness is to defund it, and so we need to choose savvy leaders who will act, rather than just bluster.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Photo: Ian Lamont / Flickr / CC 2.0
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.