How Woke Might End

The intolerance of the hard-left will go out of fashion soon enough.

Identity politics is not as bad as insurrection and it’s not as bad as undermining faith in our entire electoral system by telling lies about it. So, let me stipulate upfront that the transgressions of the hard-left are not nearly as bad as the mortal sins of the hard-right.

But that doesn’t mean that we should overlook or excuse them either. While the hard-right literally tried to nullify a free and fair election through the use of force, the hard-left is enforcing a soft totalitarianism and undermining the basic values of liberal democracy by claiming that those values are just speed bumps on the road to social justice.

So, while we have to find ways to fend off and defuse the Trump-induced paranoia that is gripping too much of the country, we also need to find ways to reduce the influence of hard-left orthodoxy. One way is to just confront it head on; to simply say out loud that we don’t have to accept views that are clearly ridiculous and offensive. I’ve done that quite often.

But I’m just a self-employed writer, pretty much beyond the reach of the woke cancel mobs. I have a luxury to speak out that people who are still in the game don’t. (It’s good that others, who are also somewhat protected but also seek to hold on to their influence and have a whole lot more of it than I do, like Barack Obama and James Carville, are also talking about this.)

New York Times columnist David Brooks offered his own take on how woke will end and it doesn’t require any individual courage, just the normal workings of the free market. First off, Brooks makes the crucial distinction between the substance of the passion for a more fair society and the contortions the elite left will go through to one-up one another on their wokeness. He sees the awful, and sometimes inscrutable, language of identity politics as a sort of secret code that separates truly elite social activists from the rest. If you understand “intersectionality” you’re in. It’s an olympics of virtue signaling.

Brooks’ theory is that all this will be coopted by corporate marketeers just as the movements of the late 1960’s were. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” And perfect harmony, as it turned out, went better with Coke. He believes that wokeness will get washed out in popular culture and commerce and so become much less virulent, even harmless. His view is that we can make real, substantive progress toward a better, more fair society while we also defang the threat to free speech, the presumption of innocence and other liberal values that come from elite woke culture.

After all, the anti-war and social justice movements of the ’60’s won the day. Today’s America would be unrecognizable in 1971 when Coke tried to teach the world to sing — and those changes were mostly for the better.

The revolution became all about a lightly caffeinated soft drink.

I like Brooks’ theory, but let me offer a couple of others. The insurrectionists were, generally speaking, older as are most Trump voters. The woke left is primarily young people. So, the long-run threat to liberal values might be even more significant coming from them.

On the other hand, the thing about young people is that they change. As they move off college campuses and into jobs and mortgages and child-rearing, they tend to become more practical, if not more conservative. Life’s priorities change. All of a sudden, security and stability matter. Law and order matter. Taxes and basic services matter. In short, I have hope that the kids will grow out of it.

Another thing about young people is that they get older and are replaced by a fresh set of young people. That new group always decides, at some point, that their predecessors were wrong, uncool and morally bankrupt. So, I think it’s a fair bet that there will be, say within the next decade, a renaissance in respect for classic liberal values, and a backlash against today’s woke intolerance. The new intellectual fashion will be liberalism and free speech. I’m pretty sure you can take this to the bank.

All of which is to say that I’m feeling more or less optimistic. Violent insurrectionists and hard-right conspiracy mongers are generationally challenged. They may burn out before they die out, but they will eventually do the latter for sure.

And hard-left intolerant wokesters will grow out of it, see their ideas commoditized, and see themselves replaced and rejected by the next generation.

I’m reasonably confident that the enduring laws of the free market, American democratic institutions and youthful rebellion will save us in the end.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “How Woke Might End

  1. I think your spot on about the young Woke folks. Ronald Reagan got elected twice in landslide by some of the same people who a dozen years earlier were protesting and not trusting anyone over 30.

    When you got a job, mortgage, and kids to feed, protesting and changing the world is by and large not the highest priority.

    I also suspect it will runs it course. Like most things do.


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