If Not Woke, Then What?

You may have noticed my subtle criticism of woke policy and politics. I’ve referred to woke as “garbage.” Some could regard this as a gentle signal that I may disapprove of it.

I’m also a believer in David Shor’s theory of popularism. That is the complex political strategy of finding out what voters want and then being for that.

But here’s the thing. If you follow popularism too closely you might conclude that Democrats should just shut up about race, given that their positions (or at least their perceived positions) are so very unpopular outside of the Middlebury College faculty lounge.

But that’s not what I’m saying. Democrats can’t ignore race because Republicans, and their media allies in places like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, won’t let them. They’ll just keep defining Critical Race Theory as a scourge that is responsible for everything from your kid’s substandard reading scores to risk of stroke and blood clots in people who have AFib, not caused by a heart valve problem. And then they’ll say that all Democrats are for it.

To fight back I think Democrats can do two things.

First, they need to clearly disavow CRT. They’re just not going to get away with the current party line, which is to say that it’s not being taught in public schools and it’s just some obscure grad school seminar topic. They can’t get away with it because it’s simply not true. Some of the concepts and language of CRT are everywhere, including in a lot of schools.

Everybody who works hard needs to be able to make it in America.

Sure, people may be fuzzy about just what their kids are being taught, but they hear this stuff in the media and quite possibly from their own HR departments, and they don’t like what they hear. They’ve never thought of themselves as racists and they don’t appreciate being called one now. (And no, sorry, they’re never going to read anything by Robin D’Angelo.) Of course, they’re going to react fiercely against this stuff as any falsely accused person would. If Democrats don’t separate themselves from CRT, then little else matters. They’ll get creamed in the next election.

But once Democrats make it clear what they’re against, they’ve got to fill the void with what they’re for. They’ve got to offer a narrative that is better than the race-baiting Fox News caricature or the deeply unpopular cult of woke.

I suggest going back to basics, which is to say restating the classic American creed, which goes something like this.

One. We’re all created equal, which means that everybody gets a fair shot at the American Dream, however you want to define that. Life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness. Nobody should be barred from working toward those goals because of the color or their skin or anything else that isn’t relevant.

Two. Nobody’s guaranteed anything. You have to work toward your goals. But it’s simply unfair that people who work hard don’t get rewarded.

Three. In some ways, we’re all the same. The idea that we’re not the same is the key reason that woke is such a disaster. Woke defines some of us as oppressors and some of us as victims and it has got nothing to do what we’ve done as individuals. That ignores the fact that it’s natural for people to want to support people like themselves. The genius of the American creed is that it defines people not by superfluous things like skin color, but by fundamental things like willingness to work hard and a shared belief in liberal values.

This is what changed to make gay marriage possible. After awhile, so many people had come out as gay that everybody knew somebody who was. They were their neighbors, coworkers, fellow volunteers. They worked hard and they were helpful neighbors. And so Americans’ fundamental sense of fairness kicked in. Why shouldn’t my gay friends and coworkers be treated with the same respect I get? Once that took hold, the barriers fell fast.

This is a fundamental argument. Woke wants us to reject everything about America that Americans hold dear. That will never fly. Instead, we should be holding our own feet to the fire. We say we’re for equality, that everybody should have an equal chance if they work hard? Well, let’s make that real for everybody regardless of race, gender or anything else that isn’t about personal merit.

Yes. Yes. Yes. I hear what you’re saying. There are, in fact, some true, rotten to the core racists out there. More than I used to think. But I still believe that the vast majority of Americans are good people who want to be fair. Most of us have better angels in our nature. Democrats should appeal to that.

Welcome to the 264th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

3 thoughts on “If Not Woke, Then What?

  1. FIRST, I must commend your fortitude,(or temerity) in addressing this humorless and decidedly vindictive segment of the political spectrum. You do so in true “John Handcock” tradition, using your name and face, while I merely use an insulting political observation as a “commenting handle”. You ARE the better man.

    Well, welcome to the diverse, all-inclusive world of the “racists”, (meaning anyone who speaks out against woke dogma). I wonder how long it will take for your common sense columns like this to be labeled as “racist dog whistles”.

    Sidebar— A “racist dog whistle”, by definition, would only be discernible to racists. Ironically, it seems to be the “woke” who are uniquely able to hear these whistles, identify them, and bring them to the attention of the rest of us.

    The myth of “systemic racism” in America is a bill of goods that should find no buyers. Systemic racism could not be concealed. It would be apparent to all. We wouldn’t need the services of “intellectuals” finding racism in anything and everything they see. This is not to say that RACISTS don’t exist, of course they do. So what? Is there an anti-social behavior that is NOT represented by some group on the fringe? They do not define our country or our society. An individual could be the “Grand Empirical Lizard” of the klan 5 days of the week and president of the “Nazi Club” on weekends, and it would give him power over no one’s life. For Progressives to create straw armies of “white supremacists” and “fascists” only serves to give a legitimacy and relevance to undeserving crackpots.

    America is no longer a racist country, I have watched the transition over the course of my life. I saw the marches,the dogs and fire hoses, the bombings and murders, Black Panthers, and race riots, et al.. For the youth of today to attempt to conflate their being “triggered” by “micro-aggressions” with the struggles of their grandparents to eat at a lunch counter or vote in an election is pure hubris. For every person who claims that because of racism, they CAN’T, there are two persons quietly DOING.

    The vast majority of Americans, across the political spectrum, agree with what you have written here,(other than Fox News and WSJ creating the race issues). “Wokeness” will destroy our nation if it is not stopped soon. The Left and the Right should be like two parents Christmas shopping. One fills the cart with all the needs and wants of the family and friends, the other watches the mounting costs and seeks to pare down the list where possible. Compromises are made and everyone benefits. Wokeness is an unwelcome third party, overly critical, impossible to please, and unwilling to negotiate. Kinda like the Grinch, (if the Grinch were an unstable despot who hates all those he can’t control).


  2. Nice fact-based Reality acknowledging post, p******rts!

    “For every person who claims that because of racism, they CAN’T, there are two persons quietly DOING.”

    Success comes in CANS; failure comes in CAN’TS


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