The GOP has Become the Party of Old, White, Anti-Woke Geezers Shaking their Cane at the Modern World
Every time I hear FL Gov. Ron DeSantis go on one of his anti-woke diatribes I'm reminded of older folks ranting about the "long-haired hippies" of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 70s. They believed that those in my generation, mostly boomers today, were leading the country to "hell in a handbasket," with our desire to address social justice issues and conduct an honest appraisal of US foreign policy.
And, after listening to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders's response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, it's becoming pretty clear that the GOP believes their anti-woke scare tactics will win them the presidency in 2024. Huckabee Sanders, DeSantis, and the majority of Republicans are trying to convince us that America must defeat "wokeism," an amorphous term that they use to describe almost any progressive idea, including green energy initiatives, critical race theory, police reform, corporate equity training, and almost anything having to do with LGBT rights. Perhaps the best definition of woke is just anything that makes older, straight, white, conservatives uncomfortable.
Political scientists recognize the anti-woke movement as generational politics, an attempt to scare the bejesus out of the old folks with the new ideas and values of younger generations. Politicians have used the strategy for decades because it works; older individuals tend to be more conservative on cultural issues and vote in twice the percentage as young people. Richard Nixon realized that hippies weren't going to get anyone elected and that older white voters were terrified by the progressive movements of the day.
Today's anti-woke movement started with attacks on the teaching of Critical Race Theory [CRT] in public schools, and seventeen states have now imposed restrictions according to Education Week. But as it became clear that CRT wasn't actually taught in K-12 schools, Republicans like Gov. DeSantis in Florida were forced to broaden their aim to limit what teachers could say about the nation's unfortunate history of race relations generally.
The Hill: "The law, known as the “Stop Woke Act,” where woke is used as an acronym for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees,” was designed to combat “woke indoctrination” in Florida businesses and schools by prohibiting instruction that could make some parties feel they bear “personal responsibility” for historic wrongdoings because of their race, sex or national origin."
Apparently, Republicans believe schoolchildren are experiencing sleepless nights after learning that white men haven't always been kind to indigenous people, blacks, women, gays, Asians, and Hispanics. They don't seem to grasp that we teach history so we won't repeat the painful lessons of the past. And historians today aren't willing to sacrifice accuracy for some misguided attempt to promote patriotism with a sanitized version of events.
Schools remain ground zero in the GOP's woke culture wars with Donald Trump jumping into the fray recently and the topic has expanded to include gender as well as race.
Washington Post: “When Donald Trump hit the campaign trail for the first time this year, he vowed to cut federal funding to schools promoting ‘left-wing’ ideas about gender and race. ...
“In that moment, Trump was leaning into the issues animating the conservative base most fervently — and his aides took note of the enthusiastic response he received on his trip. With schools at the center of GOP complaints about the way Americans discuss race and gender, the debate over these topics is expected to be a focal point of the 2024 presidential primary, according to party activists and strategists.”
And, former Vice President, Mike Pence is headed to Iowa this week for a campaign-style event "centered around parental rights, public education curriculum, and gender.”
Republican attacks on woke culture now include broad initiatives to ban library books around the country led by Christian conservatives. While they say their efforts are meant to eliminate indecent or pornographic material from school libraries, the reality is quite different.
New York Times: "The materials the groups object to are often described in policies and legislation as sensitive, inappropriate or pornographic. In practice, the books most frequently targeted for removal have been by or about Black or L.G.B.T.Q. people, according to the American Library Association."
Some examples of the books these groups have targeted include "Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and several young adult novels with L.G.B.T.Q. characters, like Adam Silvera’s “More Happy Than Not.” In reality, these groups what to eliminate books that treat marginalized groups with dignity and understanding.
While schools have remained a woke battleground, the GOP has widened its focus recently to include drag shows which are quite popular with younger Americans. The idea that young people are going to "drag brunches" instead of church on Sunday mornings seems to infuriate many conservatives.
The Bulwark: "Protests targeting drag queens have sprouted up all across America, surging in the latter part of last year, according to analysis from Counting Crowds. In the two months since a deadly attack on a drag show in Colorado Springs, a gay New York City council member’s apartment building was breached by protesters; a Unitarian-Universalist church in Ohio canceled an event due to protests by militia members; armed activists gathered outside a theater in San Antonio; a Massachusetts library story time featuring a drag queen dressed as a princess was interrupted by adult males shouting profanities; and in Cookeville, Tennessee, a group of masked men carrying a Nazi flag threatened attendees of a drag brunch."
This "drag panic" is a hot topic in conservative state legislatures that already have their hands full with banning abortions, expanding access to guns, and making it harder to vote.
WGBH.org: "Just a few weeks into 2023, legislators in other states have filed strikingly similar proposals to those in Tennessee and North Dakota. They've popped up in Texas, West Virginia, Nebraska and South Carolina, to name a few. Many of the bills are also broad in scope and would effectively restrict drag show performances."
And, just when you think that the anti-woke nonsense can't get any more ludicrous, a Republican state legislator in Montana introduced a bill to ban the teaching of "scientific theories." State Sen. Daniel Emrich of Great Falls, introduced legislation that would ban the teaching of "scientific theory" in public schools. The bill says that the state board of public education "may not include in content area standards any standard requiring curriculum or instruction in a topic that is not scientific fact." Obviously, Emrich missed class the day that his science teacher explained that theories are one of the building blocks of the scientific method. Studying science without theories is akin to studying English without verbs.
Fortunately, as the Montana legislature began debate on the bill, it became apparent that most everyone in the state understands that Emrich and his supporters are looking for a new way to ban theories that conservatives dislike such as evolutionary theory, the big bang theory, and the theories that demonstrate that greenhouse gases are the cause of climate change.
No one knows how far down the rabbit hole these folks intend to take us, but it's a good bet that as the Republican primaries approach this Fall, that anti-wokeness is going to be at the center of their debate and it's going to get very, very, weird.