June 6, 2023

Trump Is Wrong About ‘Woke’

His newfound disdain for the term “woke” has everything to do with his contest with Ron DeSantis for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

Donald Trump hasn’t been known for his scrupulously correct use of language, but now wants to police the use of “woke.”

“I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear, ‘woke, woke, woke,’” he said the other day. “It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.”

Of course, Trump wasn’t volunteering his equivalent of an elementary rule of usage from Strunk & White at random. His newfound disdain for the term “woke” has everything to do with his contest with Ron DeSantis for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

The former president’s by-any-means-necessary approach to fighting DeSantis means that he doesn’t care if he’s adopting the arguments of the other side as long as he’s taking a dig at the Florida governor; it’s his version of what people who are woke — to use the offending word — call “allyship.”

Trump recently talked up disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo by way of arguing that the Empire State’s response to the coronavirus was better than Florida’s. Cuomo expressed his appreciation. Now, Trump is embracing the left’s contention that conservatives are throwing around the term “woke” as a catchall insult without knowing what it means.

Contra Trump and the progressives who agree with him on this point, “woke” is a useful term for social justice excesses and everything associated with them. If the word didn’t exist, it — or something very similar — would have to be invented.

As it happens, it was invented long ago, and not by the right. The term dates to the first half of the 20th century when it was used by African Americans to describe how they should be aware of threats from white people — “Stay woke.” The word gained new prominence with the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in 2014, when it became an online trope. The publication Vox notes that “the idea of staying aware of or ‘woke’ to the inequities of the American justice system was a heady one.”

Then, as often occurs in American political and social life, it got repurposed. Conservatives took the word over and began applying it to cultural radicalism largely around issues of race and gender.

Is it used promiscuously? Sure. Does DeSantis say it too much when describing his fights in Florida? Maybe — there’s always a fine line between good branding and overkill. But there’s no doubt that wokeness is a real thing.

We see it, for instance, in elaborate pronoun policies, in the dumbing down of standards in the name of equity, and in the assumption that every institution in American life is racist. “Woke” has replaced “political correctness” as a term, but the concepts aren’t the same. P.C. tended to denote a hypersensitivity to alleged offensiveness, whereas woke gets to something that goes much deeper — a critique of American life as fundamentally racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic.

The concepts of “white privilege” and “white supremacy,” so prevalent on the left, are central to this worldview, and the remedy is an outcomes-based focus on so-called “equity.”

As we saw in the debate over critical race theory, as soon as the right adopts a term that has purchase, the left denies that the underlying phenomenon exists. There have been numerous reports in the press about how no one can define “woke,” while left-wing commentators and academics have been saying the use of the term is, of course, itself racist.

Whenever the term “woke” goes out of style, whatever replaces it will be found similarly lacking.

The word and what it denotes are going to stay at the center of the GOP debate, though, because Republican voters are rightly alarmed by the cultural direction of the country. In the absence of a better word, “woke” is unavoidable — so unavoidable, in fact, that Trump used it describe the military on the same day he knocked it as nebulous and overused.

He knows what the word means, and so does everyone else.

© 2023 by King Features Syndicate

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