Going for Broke on Anti-woke
Having abandoned much of its conservative platform, the GOP has grown increasingly dependent on issues of little political substance.
The other day I saw a headline for a new app service being marketed to conservatives. It’s called “Woke Alerts,” and it text-messages subscribers to let them know which product-brands have taken political positions that are potentially offensive to people on the right.
Naturally, I thought it was a joke — perhaps something from the satirical website, The Onion. But no, it was real. The company behind it is called Consumers' Research, and they’ve already flagged Anheuser-Busch and Jack Daniels over separate “woke” infractions.
“We are launching Woke Alerts to help consumers make better-informed decisions about where to spend their money,” the company’s executive director, Will Hild, told Axios. “We believe companies should focus on their customers and not woke politicians and progressive activists."
Consumers' Research launched a six-figure digital-ad campaign last week, in addition to getting a number of media-conservatives to draw attention to their service, and my guess is that “Woke Alerts” has probably already raked in a good amount of money.
As a capitalist, that’s cool with me. I’m all for innovators and investors in the private sector identifying a market, targeting it, and making a buck off it.
As a conservative, I’m more conflicted. The idea of people — purportedly on my side of the ideological divide — genuinely viewing a “woke alert” system as a valuable service kind of bums me out. I know, I know… a lot of stuff with today’s Right bums me out, and in the grand scheme of things, this safe-space snow-flakery — the kind that many righties (including me) mocked liberals for (before embracing it themselves) — is relatively harmless.
What irritates me more is that this is a symptom (and one more reminder) of what little ideological foundation exists on the political right. Anti-wokeness is about all that’s left.
Less than a decade ago, what broadly united the right wasn’t purely attitudinal. There was more than just resentment and loyalty to a personality cult. There were structured ideas and basic conservative principles that served as guidance. They helped Republicans form coherent arguments and shape policy positions. They offered voters a substantive alternative to the often shallow ideas and destructive policies of the Democratic party.
These days, you’ll still occasionally hear a Republican politician reference some of those ideas and principles, but mostly in throw-away lines, and almost always once their party no longer has the majorities to actually implement them. And because the rhetoric is so selectively and hypocritically employed, it’s virtually impossible to take any of it seriously.
The sad reality is that the GOP can no longer credibly claim to stand for conservative tenets like limited government and fiscal responsibility, not after a breathtaking $7.8 trillion was added to the national debt under the last Republican president (most of it during a period of record tax revenue, and half of it while Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate). There’s also that nagging matter of entitlement reform, which — despite our country’s programs quickly going insolvent — Republicans abandoned all positioning on in 2016. Like the Democrats, they have no plans to revisit it. In fact, SuperPACs for the only two 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls registering double-digits in the polls are currently portraying each other’s candidate as being a push-granny-over-the-cliff kind of guy on Social Security.
Is there a law and order party anymore? I sure don’t think so, not after many years of Democrats reflexively siding against cops at the outset of any racially-sensitive law-enforcement controversy, and not while a Republican politician who tried to circumvent the U.S. Constitution to stay in public office remains the party’s 2024 front-runner (while his loyal defenders mock and insult Capitol police officers who were beaten in his name).
Hawkish, Reaganesque, peace-through-strength foreign policy? This one’s a little more nuanced. While Trump and Biden tag-teamed the horrendous, totally irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan (for which Biden is ultimately to blame), Democrats have been more supportive than Republicans in helping Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion. That’s not to say there’s a party consensus on the conflict. Some Republican leaders (including some current presidential contenders) have been quite strong in their support for Ukraine. But most of the shallow, anti-war, Code-Pink-style demagoguery many of us righties remember well from the Iraq War is now coming from media-conservatives and Republicans (including some of the GOP’s biggest stars). They’re even busy right now lionizing the idiot who leaked classified material on Ukraine (to impress his gamer friends) as a whistle-blowing patriot.
Even the pro-life movement within the Republican party has been knocked back on its heels. The long dreamed of repeal of Roe v. Wade has created a political upheaval that has left the GOP flatfooted on the issue. Despite receiving fair warning from the unfortunate Alito leak, many Republican leaders clearly weren’t prepared to deal politically with (or even effectively talk about) a post-Roe reality. Donald Trump even felt comfortable blaming pro-lifers, who previously supported him in droves (and probably still do), for blowing last year’s midterms for Republicans.
The abandonment of conservative principles has left the Republican party in intellectual and ideological disarray.
What today’s GOP is very good at, however, and what indeed sets the party far apart from the left, is complaining about “woke” stuff. They’ve pretty much cornered the market on anti-wokeness, which Republican campaigns, much of the right-wing media, and companies like Consumers' Research have successfully monetized.
And though we don’t hear Republicans putting forth many political solutions to wokeness (beyond Ron DeSantis trying to slay Mickey Mouse), it’s at least an ideologically identifiable gripe — a gripe that I think even strikes a chord with most Americans. So, politically, I suppose there could be some value to it.
A big problem with relying so much on anti-wokeness, however, is that Republican leaders and media-conservatives have grown increasingly encouraged to label anything their base doesn’t like as “woke,” similarly to how a lot of progressives frame things they don’t like as “racist.” In other words, it comes with a shelf-life, and will eventually be dismissed as background noise.
And then what? Republicans are having a hard enough time winning elections as it is.
MAGA-devotees are quite fond of saying, “The old Republican Party is gone, and it is never coming back.” In fact, that’s a direct quote from Donald Trump just a few days ago.
While I’m not sold on the “never” framing, I fully concede that the “old” GOP — which was more conservative, principled, and coherent (and won a lot more elections) than the current one — is indeed gone. Heck, that’s the reason I left it.
But I’m hoping for the party to one day stop self-mutilating, and accept treatment from a tried and true injection of conservative principles. The GOP by no means has to look exactly like it used to, but it would have to look much different than it does today.
It would perhaps help to keep in mind that conservative policies and sane, competent leadership are far more popular with general electorates than today's MAGA-establishment. We’ve seen compelling evidence of that with Glenn Youngkin in Virginia and Brian Kemp in Georgia — Republicans who strayed from MAGA-orthodoxy to win statewide elections in states that voted for Biden in the last presidential election.
Contrast their political records and demeanor with those of the election-denying kooks who lost important, winnable seats in last year’s midterms. They may have been sufficiently anti-woke, but what did that get them or the party?
A summer morning, a long time ago, I’m eating a bowl of Wheaties with a picture of Bruce Jenner running with a javelin on its box. His Olympic achievement was impressive. Dressing up like Audrey Hepburn is not an achievement. This morning, all these years latter, I still respect Jenner - and eat Wheaties. As for “Audrey,” no - as for Bud Lite, a sympathetic no, too. Given the plethora of positive role models available, Bud rummaged the attic to find a costumed irritant to promote its brand. If I ever see a picture of that man-swimmer who usurped women’s swimming competitions on the box cover of Wheaties, I’ll not buy it....