History is replete with examples of nations, successful and not-so-successful alike, that abruptly committed suicide.
The ancient polis of Corcyra devoured itself in a bloody conflict as a collective madness took hold of the island city-state during the Peloponnesian War.
The Jacobins in 1793 hijacked the French Revolution and turned a movement toward a constitutional republic into a totalitarian, year-zero effort to destroy the past and ensure equity for all—or else. The Reign of Terror—and eventually Napoleon—followed.
The effort to force war-weary Czarist Russia to reform into a constitutional monarchy ended up being kidnapped by a small but lethal clique of Leninist Bolsheviks. What ensued was the destruction of Russian life—and millions of corpses—over the next 70 years. Ditto Mao Zedong’s various murderous resets culminating in the cannibalistic “Cultural Revolution.” Mao’s final tab was 60-70 million deaths of his fellow Chinese.
French, Russian, and Chinese wokists all toppled statues, canceled out the nonbelievers, wiped away history, tore down monuments, and declared themselves the purest of all generations in their year zero—before getting down to the business of dividing up the spoils and settling scores.
Most of these bloodbaths started out with the supposedly noble idea of delivering social justice, equity, and fairness before they inevitably went deadly and feral. We should be just as worried about our own woke pandemic.
Start with the idea that “wokeness” is an ideology divorced from reality. Nearly all of its premises are complete distortions. Between 2017 and 2020, minorities had made the greatest gains in employment in U.S. history. Women currently represent about 60 percent of all college students.
Recent wage gains for minority middle-class Americans outpaced those of the white working- and middle class. The latter were underrepresented in college enrollments and as graduates—but vastly overrepresented (at twice their percentage of the general population) in the toll of combat dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. Asian-Americans and a dozen other ethnic groups outpace so-called whites in per capita and household income. “White privilege” is usually a sloppy term that applies mostly to the white elites who use it to smear others.
America was in our sixth decade of “affirmative action,” the euphemism of ensuring equity of result by calibrating race and gender—but not class—in hiring and admissions. Proportional representation and disparate impact continued or were even enhanced. But they became increasingly selective as entire fields from the Postal Service to professional sports were somehow exempt from racial set-asides applied to others. Quotas disappeared when the marginalized were “overrepresented” in a field.
The historical reparatory effort of the massive programs born out of the Great Society continued to address the baleful legacy of slavery that had ended over 150 years ago, as well as Southern Jim Crow laws that had largely disappeared 40-50 years ago, and the fumes of such racial toxicity. So, Martin Luther King’s “content of our character” rather than the “color of our skin” was still embraced as the melting-pot ideal of the Civil Rights movement that had fought for integration and full assimilation into American society. Meanwhile, intermarriage has never been more common.
The desperate Left had therefore been forced to invent adjectives and phraseology like “systemic racism” and “microaggression” and “whiteness” given the vast majority of Americans did not feel or express or act out on “racism.”
In other words, wokeness created the mythology that the nonwhite were worse off than ever before—a typical revolutionary fabrication to evoke the sort of hysteria necessary for an otherwise unpopular agenda. But then again, we live in an age where we were assured Hunter Biden’s lost laptop was “Russian disinformation”, the Steele dossier was iron-clad proof of something, and a pangolin or a bat birthed COVID-19.
The wrongful death of George Floyd in police custody—despite his later angelic deification, Floyd was in fact a felon with a history of violence toward women, arrested in the act of passing counterfeit U.S. currency—was the work of a cruel rogue cop and his incompetent enablers. Otherwise, data and statistics did not show that African American males were dying while in police custody in numbers greater than their proportions of those yearly arrested. Nor were they the victims of some pandemic of interracial hate crimes. Indeed, blacks statistically were more likely to commit rare violent interracial crimes than were others, including targeted hate crimes against other ethnic and racial groups.
Another great lie was the propaganda that the woke movement was a grass-roots movement. Yet statue-toppling, vandalism, Trotskyism, and cancel culture remain largely the work of college students, upper-middle class white coastal elites, celebrities, and privileged minorities in the media, academia, law, the corporate world, entertainment, and professional sports.
In a reductionist sense, much of the woke movement became a battle among elites to leverage diversity czars in universities, reparational quotas in administrative hiring and college admissions, and a sort of racialized intramural reseating among first-class passengers on the corporate and government Lido deck.
While wokeists harangued New York and Hollywood for more nonwhites in TV commercials, thousands of young African American males continued to be slaughtered in the inner-cities, as schools in those places resisted reform and remained indifferent to the poor quality of education offered residents. Because the culpable municipal officials—hard-Left diversity mayors, neo-Marxist district attorneys, and “reformist” police chiefs—were themselves woke, no one cared about derelict governance. And so, the killing continues unabated, surrealistically unremarked upon by the wokest.
Class considerations were suppressed, given that the beneficiaries of wokeness were not necessarily previously poor and oppressed. In our racialized madness, billionaires like LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, and Beyonce, multimillionaires like the Obamas and Colin Kaepernick, and moneyed political, corporate, entertainment, military, and sports grandees—play-acted oppression and victimization from their villas and privileged perches, in perfect Marie Antoinette fashion. All they lacked was fake peasant garb and a village at Versailles.
The architects themselves of wokeness mostly cashed in on the supposedly toxic capitalist system that they had so harangued as the ground zero of “systemic racism.” So, BLM cofounder and self-described “cultural Marxist” Patrisse Cullors is now “retired”—and the savvy owner of four new homes, residing in nearly all-white tony Topanga Canyon, with a new $35,000 security gate. How else could she best use her black privilege to direct her multimillion-dollar war against “white privilege”?
Professor Ibram X. Kendi (neé Henry Rogers), whose “antiracist” new industry calls for racism to stop racism and discrimination to end discrimination, now charges his corporate and university clients a reportedly $20,000 penance fee for a phoned-in Zoom chat. (He apparently has no discount rate for the poorer of his clients). Kendi no doubt took Lenin to heart (“Capitalists will sell us the rope to hang them with.”) when he hawks his video indulgences at $333 a minute.
The cultural revolutionary Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates was customarily already one step ahead and has moved on from the woke movement to a multimillion-dollar career writing black-themed comic books or adapting them to the big screen. Barack and Michelle Obama, long ago known for their cinematic creativity, leveraged a $50 million “consulting” movie deal with Netflix, whose founder is best known in California for his efforts to fund the campaign against Larry Elder, including commercials starring . . . Barack Obama.
Wokeness took the Obama-era mantra of diversity and simply shed any pretense that it was not racist. Remember, after 2009 our elites institutionalized the new-old idea that anyone claiming not to be white was suddenly part of a new inclusive oppressed class, one at war with the racial oppressors.
“Diversity” was a clever update of the previously failed Jesse Jackson idea of a victimized rainbow coalition that would aggregate, and force-multiply collective grievances against white male victimizers.
Suddenly, ethnic groups with higher per capita incomes than so-called whites were victims. There were no requisites to being “diverse” other than claiming nonwhite status. Wealthy Punjabi immigrants, Chilean aristocrats, illegal aliens fleeing racist Mexico, Nigerian doctors—anyone rich or poor, resident or citizen, victimized or not—was presto! “diverse” and thereby eligible for reparatory claims in hiring and admissions.
Many liberal whites wished to get in on it and got caught at it—whether Ward Churchill with this entire Native American tribal garb, or, on the cheaper side, Elizabeth Warren with her “high” cheek bones or racial fabulists Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King. After all, if gender is “constructed,” then naturally race, too, could become a construct.
All this is dangerous because we are now logically headed to DNA-categorized ID badges reminiscent of yellow Star of David patches. Here once again Elizabeth Warren had been in the lead—claiming that her boomeranged DNA results showing a tiny drop of Native American lineage were thus proof that she was an indigenous victim after all—and so in her troubled mind truly had been deserving as the first Native American law professor at Harvard. Given this nonsense, one would think a distracted America has no real debt and is in possession of a secure border, a thriving economy, a brilliantly educated youth, and only friends abroad.
Why is Wokeism Deadly?
Wokeism is a lethal distraction. As General Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday lectured the nation on the various nefarious strains of white rage, whiteness, and white supremacy, the Taliban was systematically gobbling up Afghanistan. Meanwhile their boss in the White House quoted his woke military experts in order to lie there was no danger of a general collapse. No general objected. Apparently, Biden even phoned the Afghan president in a sordid attempt to leverage him likewise to lie that all was well. The ubiquitous Alexander Vindman was not listening in this time around.
In a traditional Islamic society, what were woke Americans doing bragging about gender studies programs at an Afghan university, flying pride flags at the U.S. embassy, and encouraging honorific George Floyd street murals? All that is usually the haughty cultural imperialism of would-be winners, not the virtue signaling of a defeated and humiliated diplomatic and military cohort fleeing toward the exits.
Think of this for a second: as the U.S. bureaucracy invested trillions in Afghanistan to virtue-signal against supposed George-Floyd type racism, its media appendages said nothing back home as the black candidate for the California governorship was the target of an egg-throwing woman wearing a gorilla mask. What a grotesque reminder that empires flounder abroad as they rot at home.
So these distractions never sleep, even amid the greatest defeat and loss of global deterrence in U.S. military history since Vietnam. True ideologues that they are, even our defeated on the battlefield are unfazed in their wokeist creed.
As Kabul suffered its end of days, our bemedaled wokists were still lecturing the country about the gender ratios of the Afghan refugees on U.S. flights out, the culturally sensitive food awaiting them, and a new idea of a soft Taliban—or the notion that the medieval gangsters who had defeated the Pentagon were not really all that bad, but more likely “partners” in a shared agenda of seeing us skedaddle by August 31. Will they say that in six months?
Woke indemnity blinds us to racism and classism. Gavin Newsom, of French Laundry repute, is the epitome of a white-male mediocrity leveraging his rich family friends to elevate himself by quid pro quo favoritism. Joe Biden has voiced the most racist rants of any presidential candidate or president in the last 50 years (just recently he referred to his own senior black official as “boy”). Both bought woke insurance that inoculates them against their hypocrisy—or perhaps further fuels their own class and racial biases with an efficacy rate much more impressive than COVID vaccinations.
The creation of the blanket term “whiteness” is racist to the core. It imputes to anyone considered not sufficiently pigmented some sort of conspiratorial evil, regardless of individual character, beliefs, family history, or ideological outlook. It is incoherent since it blames the United States, and everything in it, for whiteness, and then demands that the nonwhite south of the equator from Africa to Asia be given instant access to this supposedly failed white contaminated miasma. Scarier still for the wokist, whiteness is just the new face of the old racist “blackness,” in which racists imputed to individual blacks supposedly collective pathologies in order to justify discrimination against a single individual.
Once the neo-Confederate idea of color triumphs, then there is no logical reason why “blackness,” “brownness,” “yellowness,” “redness” and every sort of pigmentary category should not be used to condemn individuals for their supposed membership in a taboo racial tribe, massaged and negatively stereotyped for contemporary advantage. We are headed back to 1840 not ahead to 2040.
If Something Can’t Go On Forever, It Will Stop
Finally, wokeism is unsustainable. We are already seeing large numbers of the supposedly “nonwhite” pushback against the wokeist trajectory, knowing that such a racialist monster may soon devour them, too. Drawing artificial racial Mason-Dixon lines inside millions of multiracial families, after the initial grifting subsides, will only incur anger at those who drew them. When Confederates embraced the one-drop, one-sixteenth rule, there was unanimous later agreement that it was not just abjectly racist, but lunatic; when the woke borrow such racial distillery it too will eventually be rejected as the crackpot hatred that it is.
There are probably some 100 million white males of the lower- and middle classes. Most feel little if any identity with the woke upper-middle class and wealthy bicoastal white male elite of some 20-30 million. If anything, a trucker from Boise has more in common with a Mexican-American sheriff in Modesto than he does with a woke techie in Menlo Park.
So, what is truly evil is the current woke trademark of loud privileged whites who scapegoat the losers in the globalist game as racist (or in the Obama-Hillary Clinton-Biden patois of “clingers,” “deplorables,” “irredeemables,” “dregs,” “chumps”), mostly out of elite condescension, virtue-signaling guilt, and pathetic contextualizing their own privilege by projecting their unearned status onto supposedly distant cultural losers.
There will be a substantial political correction to the madness, mostly because without one there is no longer a confident America abroad that advances and protects the interest of a free world challenged by nightmarish Chinese Communism.
Such racist selectivity would destroy a meritocratic and productive free market economy at home that fuels the Left’s massive government redistribution.
The victory of woke would guarantee that as Americans went full pre-modern and pre-civilizational, we would look in the mirror, straining to redefine and recategorize ourselves, and then search out which particular tribal band offers us the best protection from the roving mobs—and each other.
Even the Chinese apparat could not invent a more evil, more macabre way to destroy the United States.
About Victor Davis Hanson
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.