Another reason to celebrate: The implosion of ‘woke,’ identity politics
The 2020 election should have been a blowout of epic proportions. But thanks, in no small part, to a vocal minority of left-wing activists, razor-thin margins separated President-elect Biden from the continuation of Donald Trump’s presidency. Somehow, Democrats even managed to lose seats in the House.
If there is a silver lining to this agonizingly close election, it is that the left’s divisive experiment in “woke” politics crashed and burned at the ballot box. If Democrats know what’s good for them, they will realign their messaging and priorities accordingly.
While the activists and politicians pushing “woke” and identity politics – which divide Americans by race, gender and sexual orientation – are not as successful in polarizing the country as Trump, they are giving Donald a run for what little money he may still have.
It is difficult to overstate the alienation that this crowd of fringe left-wingers engenders. These are people who have no qualms tarring the all-important voting bloc of Obama-Trump swing voters (let alone 70-plus million Americans) as “racists.”
They are the vocal cohort of Twitter-dwellers who claim that America – the most successful multicultural, pluralistic melting pot in human history – is wracked by systemic oppression and that white supremacy pervades its every institution. It’s the crowd that fantasizes about smashing the “patriarchy” while proclaiming that “men are trash.”
The 2020 election exposed the abject failure of this divisive ideology. Amid relentless “woke” accusations of white supremacy and racism, Donald Trump garnered the largest share of Asian, Black and Latino votes of any Republican presidential candidate in 60 years. Support for Trump among Black women (and LGBT voters) doubled.
To be sure, the simultaneous end of the Trump presidency and “woke,” identity politics is a glorious conclusion to the worst year in recent memory. But Democrats must heed its lessons.
For one, the backlash to the illiberal Left helped install Trump in the White House in the first place. At the same time, Trump’s worst impulses swelled the ranks of the identity politics crowd, consummating a toxic, symbiotic relationship. For their part, some conservative media outlets amplified the far-left’s absurdities — with enormous success.
Beyond Trump’s strong electoral performance, voters in deep-blue California spurned “woke” overreach at the ballot box. The defeat of Proposition 16, which would have reinstated race and sex as considerations in government hiring and in university admissions, imparts two important lessons.
First, the “woke,” identity politics crowd does not have nearly the power or influence that conservative media outlets often insist it does. Second, its divisive ideas are political losers — even in a hyper-liberal majority-minority state such as California.
After the defeat of Prop 16 and the near-reelection of Donald Trump, far-left activists must engage in a healthy dose of self-criticism. But instead of obsessing over race and racist attitudes – which, contrary to the “woke” raison d’être, are by some measures at their lowest levels in American history – they must consider how the continuation of their alienating ideology sets the stage for a far more dangerous demagogue than Trump.
To be sure, there is a long, despicable history of racism in America. From slavery to the grotesque lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, pockets of bigotry, intolerance and bias still exist in the United States. They are an ugly stain on this country.
But the notion that every institution in America – from corporations to universities – is a racist extension of white supremacy is not supported by the facts.
In capitalist countries, the ultimate source of power is money. If white supremacy pervades every aspect of society then, by definition, white Americans would earn more money – and, thus, more power – than non-white Americans. But that is not the case, as, on average, Asian-Americans out-earn white Americans.
The identity politics crowd must also explain how some non-white women significantly out-earn white men — even though women typically earn 20 percent less than men due to systemic factors other than discrimination.
Indeed, these realities are not the stuff of white supremacy or an oppressive patriarchy.
Moreover, despite the heated rhetoric surrounding the gender wage gap, young, single women earn more than their male counterparts. This should come as no surprise: While women generally choose academic disciplines that pay lower wages, they are better educated than men.
Only when women begin having children do their wages decline relative to men — a function not of systemic discrimination by an oppressive patriarchy, but of working fewer hours and switching to lower-paying, family-friendly jobs. Even the most progressive countries in the world boast a wage gap identical to that of the United States.
Perhaps more importantly, relative to their respective populations, women of all races outnumber white men on American college campuses — a remarkable fact conveniently overlooked by “woke” ideologues.
Ultimately, the desperation of parts of white, blue-collar America demolishes “woke” ideology. After all, if white supremacy permeated American society, how could this occur?
The implosion of identity politics must prompt a fundamental realignment of the Democratic Party’s priorities. Liberals must abandon the alienating rhetoric of their far-left flank and place a laser-like focus on reversing the catastrophic effects of five decades of “shareholder primacy.” This toxic economic philosophy, embraced by many Republicans and some Democrats beginning in the 1970s, has robbed millions of Americans – regardless of race or gender – of $50 trillion through stagnating wages, dwindling jobs and the systematic decimation of unions.
Instead of dividing America, Democrats must right the economic wrongs of the last half century. Not only will such a realignment lead to success at the ballot box, it will cure the underlying cause of the extreme inequality and political polarization afflicting America.
It’s still the economy, stupid.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.