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The GOP’s misguided ‘woke police’

FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, “individual freedom,” also dubbed the “Stop Woke” bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022. As Republicans and Democrats fight for control of Congress this fall, a growing collection of conservative political action groups is targeting its efforts closer to home: at local school boards. DeSantis endorsed a slate of school board candidates, putting his weight behind conservatives who share his opposition to lessons on sexuality and what he deems critical race theory. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, File)

“Woke” is the most popular four-letter word in the conservative culture wars these days. Republicans appropriated it from the African American community, where it describes someone aware of racial injustice. However, conservatives describe “wokeism” as a “mind virus,” an “intolerant and moralizing ideology,” and even a “cruel and dangerous cult.”

The GOP is betting it’s politically smart to mock progressive policies that confront problems like racism, poverty, environmental ruin and climate change.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely candidate for president in 2024, has positioned himself as the leader of a war against wokeism. Sounding Churchillian during a speech in Pittsburg, he intoned, “We must fight the woke in our schools. We must fight the woke in our businesses. We must fight the woke in government agencies. We can never ever surrender to woke ideology. And I’ll tell you this, the state of Florida is where woke goes to die.”

When pressed to define what DeSantis means by “woke,” the governor’s general counsel reportedly answered it’s “the belief that there are systemic injustices in America and the need to address them.” DeSantis reportedly doesn’t believe there are systemic injustices in the U.S., his attorney said.

That would be news to Martin Luther King Jr. if he were alive. King believed strongly that racism and poverty were systemic problems deeply rooted in American society. Overcoming racism without getting to its roots would be like “integrating into a burning house,” he said.

John Allen, a former president of Brookings, wrote in 2020, “Unaddressed systemic racism is, in my mind, the most important issue in the United States today. And it has been so since before the founding of our nation. That is our legacy as Americans, and in many ways, the most hateful remnants of slavery persist in the U.S. today in the form of systemic racism baked into nearly every aspect of our society and who we are as a people.”

A Gallup poll last year found “most Americans believe Black people today have been affected by the history of slavery,” and 62 percent think the U.S. government should reduce slavery’s impacts. The American people’s concerns about race relations have increased in all major racial and ethnic groups since 2014, Gallup reports.

Racism affects Americans of color generally. Densho is a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to the memory of how Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps during World War II. Recent violence against Asians in the United States demonstrates why, as Densho says, “We need to be able to talk about the systemic nature of racism and xenophobia, in the hope that future generations will have the tools they need to overcome it. That’s why the ongoing attacks on Critical Race Theory (CRT) are especially concerning to us.”

“If we have any hope of learning from our past,” Densho’s website says, “we need to talk more about our country’s racist history. Not less.”

However, the “woke police” don’t want children to know the white majority in America is capable of bad as well as good. Since January 2021, “42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Seventeen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues,” according to Education Week.

But the war on woke is not confined to racism.

DeSantis and Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott are prominent in a related movement to ban state business with and investments in companies that adopt ESG policies — in other words, commitments to improve the environment, society, and governance in the U.S.

But anti-wokeists are swimming against a powerful current when they fight ESG. PcW, one of the world’s most prestigious accounting firms, has documented a global revolution in which asset and wealth managers worldwide are turning to ESG investments.

PcW’s findings rebuff the myth that ESG policies lead to lower profits and investment returns. It reports that 60 percent of investors say ESG policies produce higher yields than non-ESG equivalents. Three-fourths of institutional investors believe ESG is now part of their fiduciary duty. More than 80 percent of institutional investors in the United States plan to increase their ESG allocations by 2024 PcW says — apparently regardless of who is in charge of state and national governments. States like Texas and Florida will have to weigh their opposition to ESG against investors’ rapidly growing support for woke policies.

They’ll also swim against strong public support for climate action in the United States. An AP-NORC poll found last fall that 62 percent of American adults want the government to do more about climate change, including 79 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans.

Victor Davis Hanson, a fellow at the Hoover Institute, demonstrates the apparent hyperbolic and misleading narrative woke police use in attempt to discredit progressive policies. Hanson writes that “green wokeists … want to force Americans to buy high-priced alternative sources of wind- and solar-generated power and battery-powered cars.” As a result, “millions of Americans are colder and less mobile this winter, paying far more to heat their homes and to drive to work.”

In reality, renewable energy was “significantly undercutting fossil fuels as the world’s cheapest energy source” as far back as 2020. Wind and solar power are the fastest-growing sources of new electricity in the U.S. today. And when we count federal tax credits and all costs over a car’s lifetime, an electric vehicle (EV) owner saves $4,380 compared to the owner of a gas-fueled vehicle, according to Car and Driver. High gas prices mean nothing to an EV driver.

This winter’s energy costs aren’t due to woke government policies. Instead, they prove yet again how vulnerable we are when fossil fuels power our lives.

It’s clearly better to be awake to these problems and aware of their solutions rather than pretending they don’t exist. That’s the proper meaning of woke. Do Republicans really think it’s an insult?

William S. Becker is co-editor and a contributor to “Democracy Unchained: How to Rebuild Government for the People,” a collection of more than 30 essays by American thought leaders. Becker is a former U.S. Department of Energy central regional director who administered energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies programs, and he also served as special assistant to the department’s assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Becker is also executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a nonpartisan initiative founded in 2007 that works with national thought leaders to develop recommendations for the White House as well as House and Senate committees on climate and energy policies. The project is not affiliated with the White House.

Tags climate ESG GOP John Allen Republican Ron DeSantis William S. Becker woek wokism

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