“What went wrong is this stupid wokeness,” longtime Democratic strategist James Carville pointedly said of the 2021 elections. That, he posited, explains why progressive initiatives, candidates, and causes went down to defeat in dark blue states and cities across the country. The Democratic Party’s activist class, Carville added, should “go to a woke detox center or something.”
Among a variety of other prescriptions, this was the consensus view among political observers outside of the institutions that remain uncaptured by “wokeness.” It was not to last. Those hostage institutions—chief among them, media, academia, and youth-led organizations—swiftly mounted a counterattack.
One of the philosophy’s premier proponents, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, insisted that anyone “seriously” using the term “woke” as a pejorative is revealing how out of touch they are. Slate’s Joel Anderson insisted that the deployment of the term was tantamount to using a “racial slur.” New York Times columnist Charles Blow urged the left to give no ground to the right and the quisling moderates in their midst because “wokeness indicts the status quo,” and the status quo is awful.
This ideological counteroffensive was soon joined by a more ostensibly objective defense of progressivism’s reconceptualization of social and racial power dynamics. The primary aim of this seemingly dispassionate pincer was to convince Democrats that “wokeness” is somehow both righteously transformative and of little concern to most Americans.
According to a poll conducted by Yahoo News/YouGov, controversial race-related curricula just doesn’t rate as an issue among most voters. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents believe the constellation of race-conscious concepts that make up “critical race theory” is being taught locally. Most American adults have never even heard of CRT. And only 5 percent of parents think schools will be a top issue for them in next year’s midterm elections. “With numbers like those,” Yahoo’s Andrew Romano wrote, “a broad ‘parents’ rights’ backlash is, at this point, unlikely.”
That assumption conflicts with a simultaneous effort to convince Democrats that the “parents’ rights backlash” that very much did materialize in Virginia was entirely illegitimate. “Loudoun County tried to address racism and promote diversity within its schools,” the New York Times reported. “Then it found itself on Fox News.” The district, we were told in a reported dispatch, was guilty of nothing more than hiring consultants to “train teachers about bias.” Its objectives were only to “hire more teachers of color,” and to banish antiquated symbols of the state’s racist past. This wasn’t objectionable until a well-funded Republican effort to scandalize the public stirred to life.
As the district’s former superintendent, Eric Williams, wrote in an email later obtained by reporters, however, “some of the principles related to race as a social contract and the sharing of stories of racism, racialized oppression” and “our use of instructional resources on the Social Justice standards do align with the ideology of CRT.” The emphasis is his own. That’s an important distinction—one that parents recognize all too well. You’re not going to find intersectionality theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw or white-privilege self-help guru Robin DiAngelo on the syllabus. You will find their ideas informing the pedagogy in schools, and that translates into instructional mandates on teachers.
“Many of the people who said CRT was important were likely going to vote for Youngkin no matter what and latched on to CRT as an explanation,” Vox’s Zach Beauchamp wrote. Indeed, this cultural issue likely resonated less than pocketbook concerns. But to the extent that race-centric curricula produced any enthusiasm at all, that enthusiasm favored its opponents. “When Republicans talk about a parental backlash against CRT, they’re not talking about all parents,” Slate’s William Saletan wrote. “They’re talking about white parents.” In other words, the majority of the most affected demographic. Correct. That’s how elections are won.
If the leftwing political consultants and activists who promised to devote themselves to the rehabilitation of race-centric instruction are to be believed, all this cheerleading is having the intended effect. Democratic Strategist Jesse Ferguson told Business Insider that his party needs to make the case for CRT “relentlessly” ahead of 2022. “Republicans are willing to let white supremacists write curricula,” he added. Longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake added that the party’s members on “strong terrain” when they talk about “teaching the truth” in schools. By which she means, teaching the history of institutional racial discrimination in America.
This is an increasingly prevalent way of sidestepping what parents find objectionable about the new ideology: the sorting of children by skin color into matrices of oppression, the archiving and policing of “microaggressions” on and off school grounds, the promotion of “whiteness studies” explicitly designed to head off racial aggression in whites before it manifests “between the ages of two and four.”
All this talk is betrayed by the party’s increasingly public discomfort with the behavior of their most indoctrinated allies. “The kids are not alright,” Alex Thompson’s Wednesday dispatch in Politico begins ominously. What follows is a tale of ideological conflict involving competing racial hierarchies within the College Democrats of America (a 500-chapter strong organization affiliated with the Democratic Party) that at least some Democrats describe as “hyper-woke kids trying to play politics in a way that’s off-putting to many voters.” Fractiousness, outright racial antagonism, and impenetrable insularity have so overtaken this institution that the Democratic National Committee is considering “disaffiliating with the national collegiate organization altogether.”
That would suggest professional Democrats haven’t entirely lost their self-preservation instinct amid this intimidation campaign. But they are under immense internal pressure to run headlong into a buzzsaw. The party in power is on the defensive, and their ostensible allies—political professionals who know better—insist that all Democrats must do to regain their footing is to explain why the racial obsessives in their midst are right, and anyone who disagrees with them is a troglodyte. That didn’t work in Texas. It didn’t work in Virginia. It’s not going to work in 2022.
The Democratic activist class insists that their party should keep doing what it’s been doing while expecting different results. There’s a word that describes this kind of behavior. We’ll see if anyone in the party is inclined to crack a dictionary before next November.