For at least three or four years now, I have, together with my closest colleagues, been recognized as something of an authority of the ideology most of us just refer to now as “Wokeness.” Spanning that time, certainly at least as far back as early 2018, I have frequently faced the challenging question of “how did this Woke stuff escape the university and go mainstream?” While we were doing the Grievance Studies Affair, in fact, we ended up in an epic argument about the issue that led to us giving a kind of quirky name to the difficulty we had in answering this question. We called it “crossing the Tim Pool Gap.”
This challenge in communications gained this name for us in February of 2018, when Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose, Mike Nayna, Tim Pool, and I all met at Peter’s house, rather by chance, to have a discussion about this exact topic. In a heated discussion that went on for hours, we hit a major impasse in which we could not satisfactorily convince Tim of our thesis, and neither could Tim convince us of his. Tim argued that activists, especially in media, were the primary agents of change in Wokifying everything. We insisted that, while this may be, there was a significant university component as well and, further, that it was the root of the activist mentality. “Ideas like ‘hegemonic masculinity’ didn’t come out of the sky! They came out of academia!” I still remember Peter yelling in frustration. The thing is, Tim wasn’t wrong, and neither were we (there’s something like a revolving door of bad ideas between these groups, who all fancy themselves activists in the same causes). We were so alarmed and frustrated by our inability to communicate the university-to-culture pipeline (or lab leak, as it might better be understood) that we referred to this challenging comms problem ever after as a search for a way to bridge the Tim Pool Gap, or “TPGap,” in our private communications.
This is a question that deserves an answer though, because when something this pernicious takes hold of the core of a culture, we have a duty to understand how it was able to do so, so that, whether our culture stands or falls by it, future societies will not so easily be threatened. As indicated by the existence of the Tim Pool Gap, though, the answer to that question is complex and probably deserves a book’s length to get anything better than a very cursory treatment. Certainly, the roles played by the Internet (thus democratization of information), social media (thus decentralization of publishing and broadcasting), and other infrastructural changes are significant. They are also beyond my scope, and I recommend the reader consult Martin Gurri’s admirable book The Revolt of the Public, if not works by Marshall McLuhan and even the postmodernist Jean Baudrillard, for insights in that regard. So too have intentional agents who funded or promoted Wokeness as a tool for facilitating their own agendas or for waging political warfare by turning the West simultaneously stupid and wholly against itself. That said, media and academia also both played a role, as we argued, and I would refer readers to Tim Pool’s analysis of the former and Helen Pluckrose’s analysis of the latter—though until someone (I know, I’m someone…) takes on the bear of Critical Pedagogy in sufficient detail, that latter domain will remain a bit mysterious. I will touch on that aspect here, but I will only touch.
In this essay, I hope to outline a few factors that I think offer a partial analysis of how this societal virus escaped the university lab. I don’t really mean to be so narrow, though, as to insist that the university is the only relevant “lab” or to imply that the media and activists were merely vectors, as we shall see. Reaching back even into the 1960s, radical leftist thinkers, notably including the very famous Herbert Marcuse, were writing that a fusion between the radical outsiders, racial minorities, and leftist intelligentsia (itself a loaded and important term) were to form the vanguard movement to change Western culture from within and prepare the way for what has ultimately become the Woke movement and whatever horrors might follow it, if it is not put to a stop.
Rather than detailing the various structural components that made possible the ascendancy and temporary grasp of power that Wokeness has achieved, I want to outline something like a timeline of when and how it managed to thrust itself upon us, where it was never particularly welcome. Thus, simplifying in the extreme, I hope to shed some light on four (or five, depending on how you count them, not on what two and two equal) phenomena have led to the rapid mainstreaming of the Critical Social Justice, or “Woke,” ideology in Western society over the course of the last decade and a half. I hope to tell the story of how susceptibility to this catastrophic ideology played out through a small number of key events that moved Wokeness from fringe to center stage (hopefully very temporarily). I offer this with the hope that it will help us backtrack psychologically and socially and take a step back from the ledge before its too late, and also to give some account so that others in other times and places may be able to see these manipulations before they become a full-blown civilizational threat.
Preparing the Soil
Insofar as I’ll talk about the relevance of Critical Pedagogy to the mainstreaming of Wokeness, I will say this: had the soil not been properly prepared and tilled for the ideology to take root, it probably wouldn’t have. Ideas like Critical Theory, especially in its contemporary manifestations, which are grossly anti-intellectual and, in fact, not only stupid but also insults to hard-won truths about human dignity, do not take root in healthy societies filled with healthy minds and healthy relationships. People, frankly, have better sense until they’ve been manipulated into a position of susceptibility to its backwards frame of analysis.
The responsibility for preparing a culture for such an infiltration falls on all the players mentioned above, plus on the general complacency of neoconservatives and astonishing greed of neoliberal players throughout, but it lands significantly on the shoulders of the Critical Pedagogists. Behind that fancy term, these are activist “reformers” of education who sought to bring Critical Theory into the theory of education, thus our society’s schools, thus our children’s heads. This, believe it or not, has been a successful push that has been proceeding in the West since the 1970s and that has been generally victorious since the very early 1980s. That means that Critical Theory activists have had significant access to the subversion of the minds of our nations’ youth for almost forty years with almost unmitigated access probably for at least the last twenty of those and the ability to run a full-court press over the last ten.
It’s tempting to call this shift in educational priorities toward the neo-Marxist an “indoctrination,” but it would be more accurate to call it a “reprogramming,” or, with children, merely a “programming.” The goal of Critical Pedagogy in general isn’t to educate students but rather to induce in them a so-called “critical consciousness,” which is to say that it aims to shape their minds to interpret the world in “systemic” thought processed through Critical Theory. This process has much less to do with installing some doctrine or dogma into the minds of the students by force and enforced ignorance and much more to do with teaching them a particular—and particularly bad—way to think, claim to know, and, crucially, to act with respect to anything and everything they might encounter in their lives. Critical Theory demands social activism by definition, after all, so Critical Pedagogy is designed to train students to become generally uninformed, uninformable, incurious complainer-activists in the mold of Critical Theory.
This programming and reprogramming of an entire generation or two has mostly succeeded. While most students in America, perhaps until recently, would not have been identifiable as little critically conscious proto-Red Guards, the cynical and self-hating line of Critical thought—an uninformed yet profoundly radical skepticism not just of what we might know but of why our society is even organized the way that it is, even to the level of basic shared assumptions of right and wrong—wormed its way in some degree into the thought processes of virtually everybody currently under the age of forty, unless they’re traditionally conservative.
The proof of this is in the pudding. The Millennials are, in this respect, largely a lost generation (unless they start bootstrapping themselves into a different frame that better realizes the power of responsibility and freedom to speak), as are at least half of the so-called Zoomers. This is a tragedy even without its being dangerous, and it has mostly to do with so-called education “reformers” ruining their educational milieu with crackpot theories about self-esteem and asking Critical questions about their own civilization (all done against a backdrop of not-so-called neoliberal corporatists screwing them over enough to make Critical Theory far more relatable in their lives). As a result, not only is it highly likely that most Millennials and Zoomers you meet will think at least in some part in this toxic “Critical” way, which mustn’t be confused for critical thinking, as proof that Critical Pedagogy tilled the soil for the Woke ideology (and planted most of its seeds), there’s also the wholesale bending of the university to the ideology that has to be appreciated for what it represents.
It turned out to be a naive assumption on our part back in 2018 that the process of Wokification emanated from universities that, in housing and nurturing Theory, then must have taken it up and stared indoctrinating students in it (or, as above, reprogramming them). “They teach! They teach lawyers! They teach journalists! They teach teachers!” I remember repeating at the time. “How would Wokeness not get out into society if they teach everyone who enters its professional class?!” I still think we had a point, but this analysis is far too simplistic and cannot explain an crucial fact that undermines its credibility almost totally: it gets the Wokification of the university backwards.
Whatever was going on in some fringe classrooms in the humanities and occasionally social sciences departments in those schools, they had only a little effect in directly changing the institutional and administrative direction of our centers of higher learning. How do we know? Besides the fact that, at least until quite recently, fewer than 2% of university graduates left with any sort of “Studies” degree, the administrators have told us so. Their self-defensive claim about the Wokification of institutions of academia is that these changes were institutionalzed after being demanded from below, from the students coming into the schools and wanting “safe spaces,” “homes,” and all manner of protections from the slings and arrows of rather cushy middle- and upper-middle-class life.
This claim mostly checks out, even though there were certainly some activists in their administrative ranks. Generation Snowflake had the administrations by the balls because academia had, following the federal underwriting of student loans, foolishly entered into an unsustainable student-services arms race that, even by the late 1990s, was forcing those once-venerable institutions into a business model that had to attract (with gyms, fancy dorms, and movie theaters on campus, for example) and keep (by never failing them or letting them feel unwelcome or even uncomfortable) students at virtually any cost. A whining minority of Snowflakes in any given institution, by the early 2010s, didn’t just represent a moral provocation to university administrators, but also a credible financial threat under the weight of all those new mortgages and student-services administrators hired to help keep them happy.
So, the Critical Pedagogists were able to till the soil in the primary and especially secondary education arenas for a couple of decades, which resulted in our society sending these disproportionately Critical, self-esteem-obsessed, entitled little monsters (half of whom, at least, had no business going in the first place—another catastrophic civilization-threatening lie we still attempt to maintain) off to colleges that would be willing to do anything to keep them happy. Puppies and crayons? Bubbles? A special room because a conservative-leaning Democrat is speaking in a hall across campus? No problem! Just don’t drop out (and take your gravy-train tuition dollars you’re saddling yourself with crushing debt (and more anxiety) to pretend to have with you)!
For those who had been reprogrammed, even if a rather tiny but terrified and vocal minority, remaking college into a safe-space that taught the only view of the world they found morally tolerable became an increasing priority, and the universities were no longer in any position to withstand those demands. Inch by inch, these already progressive institutions sought to coddle the least consolable until they became, in the oft-repeated words of my colleague Peter Boghossian, “indoctrination mills” in leftist ideologies, particularly the emerging Wokeness of Theory. More accurately, Critical Pedagogy wormed its way into many required courses for all majors while the administrative architecture of the institution enforced a cultural expectation of deference to Wokeness and coddling to the Woke.
This background phenomenon was not merely how the societal soil was tilled to promulgate and accept Critical Theory analyses of the crucial events of the last dozen years or so. It was—as we had hoped to persuade Tim Pool—also the programming bed for the new crops of little professionals who would either work to remake society around them, just as they had done college, or who, seeing themselves as elites with their fancy degrees, would do anything to stay in the good graces of a society that has to think in a particular way to be considered Respectable (more accurately: not Deplorable). That is, universities were training the new generation of professionals, particularly in education and media, that Tim was pointing to as the primary disease vector of the Woke pandemic we’re now engulfed in. Unfortunately, our analysis was too shallow, relying largely on the idea that something as technical and academic as “critical constructivism” (which is the right name for the operating system of the Woke ideology) must have wholly academic origins.
I’ll leave this issue here—it being rightly the subject of several chapters’ treatment in a proper analysis of the broader phenomenon of the Woke bid to take over society—and turn to several societal-scale phenomena that led to the widespread adoption of some Woke ideology, if not full reprogramming in many cases, outside of the academic setting. Suffice it to say that my view on the role the university played, beyond just in incubating and nurturing this demon where it should have been uniquely equipped at several points to have aborted its development, is one of having tilled the earth so that when the events and phenomena I now describe unfolded, conditions were right both to push (through “educated” activists) and to receive the ideology in ever greater numbers in the Western mainstream, especially on the left, but also on the country-club right, which has never had the chops to stand up to anything that looks like it came out of the once highly esteemed halls of the Ivy Leagues, to which, not knowing what time it is between cocktail parties and dinners, they dearly hope to send their precious children.
Barack Obama, Our First Black President
It’s easy—which is to say facile—to say that President Obama, being something like a light Critical Race Theorist and perhaps a Fabian Socialist himself, brought divisive Wokeness into our society directly. At the governmental and policy level, in some regards, this is true—one need only think about the Title IX “reforms” he initiated under the infamous words “Dear Colleague” to get a sense of it. When I name the 44th President of the United States as a central cause in the mainstreaming of Wokeness, however, I don’t mean to bring up what Obama did, however significant that may have been. Politics shapes culture in some ways, but typically more by reaction than by leadership; the river between politics and culture mostly flows the other way. Honoring that fact, I therefore want to talk about the phenomena of Obama’s election and presidency in the cultural realm. OJ Simpson’s preposterous trial notwithstanding, the election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States in November of 2008 marked, to me, the first major cultural phenomenon that began the mainstreaming of Critical Theories (especially Critical Race Theory) in the West, for a variety of reasons.
To understand how the election of Barack Obama—as a cultural phenomenon, again—would lead toward the mainstreaming of Critical Race Theory requires understanding a little about how Critical Race Theory thinks about the world and does its activism. We also have to reckon with what really did happen after the election of America’s first president who happens to be black. (This, I promise, will tie a few strings together for you.)
We have to lie to ourselves from our lofty position in the 2020s to deny that an outburst of racism followed the election of Barack Obama in 2008. I lived in the Southeast at the time, and I saw it and heard it myself: “It’s called the White House for a reason” being a milder ejaculation of racist ignorance at the time. This happened. It was an ugly spot on our cultural fabric that hadn’t yet come out, even as late in the game as 45 years after Dr. King inspired us not to judge one another by the color of skin. Conservatives can say whatever they want about the content of Obama’s character, as the Fabian Socialist remark I made above certainly may corroborate, but it would be difficult for them to explain a proclamation like I just quoted as a condemnation of anyone’s character without considerable racist assumptions being baked into the claim.
How widespread was this kind of attitude? Well, living in the Southeast, I can tell you that it wasn’t exactly common but couldn’t rightly be called rare either, at least not around here. It was, for all its ugliness, typically expressed in hushed tones or private settings, as you might expect in the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Eight (or Nine, or Ten), but this is where the worldview of Critical Race Theory bears most significantly. Critical Race Theory holds that racism is the “ordinary state of affairs” in society and that the apparent reduction in racism that we have seen since, say, the Civil Rights Era, in fact has been the mere adoption of a comely mask that hides racism more successfully than was required of “polite” society in earlier times. Respectability, to Critical Race Theorists, is a mask worn by racists—a mask that sometimes slips. Barack Obama’s election, to the Critical Race Theorists, caused that mask to slide down a few inches, and not only did they push a narrative of the exposed face of racism rather vigorously, they were able to do so with a bit of we-told-you-so authority that persuaded many, especially in Obama’s progressive and left-liberal fan base (which was large and energized).
I still need to circle back—if you’ll allow the phrase—to the fact that I don’t actually know, even from my perch in the Southeast, how widespread and rampant this latent racist sentiment that the Critical Race Theorists capitalized upon really was, though. Why? Because Tim Pool had a point. The activist media, which we thought was merely corporate at the time, seized upon this narrative and amplified it, likely to many, many times its true scope and certainly well beyond its true depth and significance. They also, I can more confidently attest, pushed it beyond its temporal bounds, for, like any ejaculation, it didn’t last long. By the time the reactionaries got over their post-racist refractory period, a lot of older racism fell asleep, and we really did enjoy a much less racist vibe than before Obama was elected. It bears mentioning that this defies the Critical Race Theory analysis of the situation, but, as it’s all about propaganda and narratives, none of this matters to the people who took it up.
Thus, the narrative that conservatives were a bunch of racist hicks who hated the very idea of a president who happens to be black was leveraged very effectively in left-leaning circles to denigrate virtually all conservative objection and all conservative thought as reactionary. No one I’m aware of noticed that this copied a move well-tested by Lenin and perfected by Mao, but even if they had, no one would have believed them because, obviously, such a thing couldn’t happen here and conservatives are, in addition to being racist hicks, histrionic snowflakes who can’t stand not getting their way or being called mean names (because, says Theory, they fit). Most conservatives, who expressed absolutely no racist sentiment but who did raise significant questions about Mr. Obama’s content of character as, perhaps, a Fabian Socialist and progressive activist, were tarred very successfully by this accusation, which found occasion to be amplified and expanded into the ethos of the counter-movement (the Tea Party, for example) every time it arose. Indeed, it became hegemonic in left-leaning circles during this time to merely dismiss and reject anything connected in any way to a “conservative” source. That’s a big part of how Wokeness came in despite the accurate objections of conservatives who actually could see the writing on the wall.
This growing “reactionary” movement gave so-called “liberals” (who were rapidly growing less and less liberal as they were slowly being reprogrammed toward the Critical and radicalized against all things conservative) plenty to work with too. Perhaps most notably, the left picked up a lot of Critical ammunition in the Birther conspiracy that maintained that Barack Obama was not born in the United States at all and was therefore not eligible to have been its president. This idea, which was pushed most visibly by Mr. Obama’s unlikely successor, was readily turned into an expression of racism and xenophobia by an activist left and its operatives in the media—even if such motivations were nowhere near the minds of the people pushing the issue. This mindreading, though, is the superpower of Critical Theory. Critical Theorists obviously know everyone else’s bad intentions better than anyone, including those who deny them (as a means of self-preservation) and who are unaware of them (who suffer some form of willful ignorance or false consciousness). Slowly, the worldview underlying Wokeness crept through the left half of the Western world, even if hardly a word of the actual ideology was spoken outside of any strictly academic circle.
Now, this isn’t all about conservatives. Obama’s presidency cut the other way too, particularly in his second term. By 2013, I was noticing a very strange (to me at the time) trend in my progressive leftist circles: they hated Obama. Most, by 2013, were beginning to call him names like “neocon,” “closet Republican,” and “conservative.” 2013! Give that date a moment to sink in. It’s passe now—standard Wokery—but to identify Barack Obama as conservative in 2013 was a more worrying trend than I realized, and I was worried about it even then.
Why were they mad at Obama? He failed them. He wasn’t progressive enough. They were upset with his failures to be more aggressive with progressive policies and, very much in particular, his failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, as he had said he would. They were incensed by his neoliberal policies, particularly in the realms of foreign policy and war-making. For the progressive left in 2013, Obama’s globalist and neoliberal tendencies became their own pressure toward what would emerge as the Woke ideology a few years later. That ideology already explained that their hoped-for progressive change-agent as just another shill to a rapacious imperialist neoliberal establishment (the left-wing populists among them are, in fact, kind of right about this).
Critical Theory, which would already have been held in high esteem in progressive leftist circles anyway, has for decades provided the explanation for these Obaman failures of progressive utopianism, and so the radicalization of the putatively “dirtbag left” accelerated through the early 2010s with rage not just at the Republicans, whom they hate beyond great hate on principle, but also at Obama himself. Eventually, this became the full-blast energy for the Bernie Sanders campaign against Obama’s would-be neoliberal successor, Hillary Clinton. Of course, it should also be noted that Critical Race Theorists addressed the phenomenon of late-stage Obama by leveling accusations that our white supremacist society hampered his ability to be a radical capital-B politically Black changemaker by forcing him to “act white.” The Woke ratchet only turns in one direction: further left and further away from sanity.
Black lives matter and Black Lives Matter
In 2013, the teenager Trayvon Martin, who happens to be black, was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, under what appeared (there’s that activist media again) to be shady circumstances. Zimmerman was eventually acquitted under a defense that he had been defending himself, but long before this, soon after Martin’s death, a hashtag arose: #blacklivesmatter. This was meant to be an awareness campaign about the kind of violence that seems to—and probably does—disproportionately visit people and youths who happen to be black, and it had grassroots origins. Chances are, though, you never heard the phrase “black lives matter” in 2013, maybe unless you were a progressive who was also mad at President Obama. That would take another year and half.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, who also happens to be black, was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, allegedly, and incorrectly, with his hands up asking the officer not to shoot him. “Hands up, don’t shoot” set the country on fire, and within the midst of the conflagration, an organization, not just the grassroots movement it portrayed itself to be, arose proclaiming, now with appropriate capital letters, “Black Lives Matter,” because it was now capital-B politically Black in orientation. Throughout late 2014 into 2015, BLM took over cities, blocks, and streets, blocking highways, even to destinations like airports and hospitals. They demanded to be heard. Black Lives Matter! All Lives Don’t Matter! That ignores what, though few could name it at the time, Critical Race Theory teaches us about capital-B politically Black lives. BLM was heard, though, like they wanted. It was a huge, divisive thing, just like it was intended to be. Less heard, however, were organizers on the ground who had been involved in the nascent grassroots organization mentioning that copious amounts of Astroturf had been laid where their movement once stood.
The curious history of Black Lives Matter isn’t my point, however, and it’s only tangentially relevant to recognizing that as a cultural phenomenon, BLM was enormously significant in spreading the views of Critical Race Theory into society. Now, a real Critical Race Theory term was rising to prominence in society. Though third-wave feminist activism, especially on college campuses and in heaps of histrionic leftist think-pieces had already mainstreamed the idea of “privilege,” qua male privilege, BLM successfully launched the idea of white privilege into the mainstream.
This idea, white privilege, is pure Critical Race Theory. It was first described by a radical activist-scholar named Peggy McIntosh, who happens to be firmly upper-middle-class and white, in 1989, lifting the idea from the earlier concept of white-skin privilege, a favorite of the Weatherman Underground terrorist organization that preceded her.
“Check your privilege” became the haute phrase of 2015 as a result of the culture war that broke out around the heavily Astroturfed capital-B politically Black Lives Matter movement and a rare moment of apparent vindication for campus-aged feminists. Privilege, though, while touching some ugly real truths about our country-club elites in society that might really need addressing, is the late neo-Marxist term for the line of stratification in society across which “class” conflict rages. That is, “privileged” means “bourgeoisie” in contemporary neo-Marxism. In other words, with the mainstreaming of the concept of “privilege” in the mid 2010s, Critical Theory mainstreamed further as well, even if the only word of the ideology people grokked was that diabolical p-word. Wokeness was becoming part of our common societal frame of interpretation.
Eventually, the furor around Black Lives Matter largely died out, but not before attempting to fully co-opt the left-wing populist campaign of Bernie Sanders in 2016, much to his confusion. Attacked from his neo-Marxist flank as insufficiently progressive and cheated by his neoliberal right in the establishment Democrats, Bernie’s campaign was ultimately defeated, and the establishment Democrats identified a new ally in their bid to consolidate their power. Woke capitalism, which would do much in the coming years to mainstream Wokeness, was being formed in that crucible.
BLM obviously didn’t end or go away in 2016, however, and that’s why I don’t know if it’s better to call Black Lives Matter one or two cultural phenomena that were integral to mainstreaming Critical Theories, particularly Critical Race Theory, in Western society. The most significant phenomenon of this sort was the activism of Black Lives Matter that followed the death of George Floyd at the end of May 2020, which was fully encouraged by the activist media, Woke Capital, and the now co-opted (or co-opting) establishment Democrats. Truly, Black Lives Matter activism in 2020 is what brought Wokeness to full ascension in Western society, and it is the most obvious touchpoint for most people, who may think that it arose almost out of the ashes of a police precinct in Minneapolis not quite a year ago instead of being the endpoint of a century-long project that was already well in the process of emerging victorious long before George Floyd ever tasted (probably Chinese) fentanyl.
But Donald Trump
For reasons that are difficult to articulate while being taken seriously by people who still refuse to hear it, the most significant phenomenon for mainstreaming Wokeness in the West was the combined campaign, election, and presidency of Donald John Trump, who would have, if he could have, made America great again. Contrary not to popular, but to allowable, opinion, however, and perhaps against my better sense in saying so in such a plain fashion, this wasn’t President Trump’s fault. Tim Pool had this part right. On the ground social-change activists together with the activist (“Fake News”) media, academics, and established elites bear far more responsibility for the rise of Wokeness under Trump than does Trump himself, as do the legions of everyday country-clubbers (formerly including myself) who fell prey to an induced psychological disorder of the severest kind known as Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Remember, by the time that Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, we had had 35 years of successful ground-tilling by education, academia, and its professional-class graduates. We also saw a warm reception under the reaction to the election of his political antipode and nemesis in 2008 and reelection in 2012, and a solid year had passed in which Black Lives Matter and other activists mainstreamed the idea that a central organizing principle of society is some new kind of “privilege.” This new concept of privilege has less to do with money and is primarily borne by access to “unearned advantage” in “systemic power dynamics” like “racism,” “sexism,” “misogyny,” “homophobia,” “ableism,” and “transphobia,” all of which Critical Theory associates with a broader evil it calls “fascism,” by which it means something roughly like “a functioning liberal society in which conservatives have rights.” That is, by the time Trump began his (at the time) shocking (now: hilarious and eye-opening) run through the Republican primaries, left-wing and capital-R Respectable American society had imbibed an awful lot of Wokeness and entrenched themselves in a sea of capital-R Respectable norms of fakepolitik upon which Wokeness operates as an immune-suppressing ideological viral agent. Trump’s genius was in disrupting all of this (remember when Marco Rubio tried to make fun of Trump’s genitals, not understanding that only Deplorables and not Respectables can do such a thing?), and they punished us all with a huge psyops that opened the door wide to Wokeness in the attempt to punish him for it.
How did Never-Trump capital-R Respectable society, squishy liberals, and the hardened leftists pulling their leashes respond to this brash, uncouth outsider daring to run for president while being liked for doing so? They mainstreamed Critical Theory, many inadvertently (useful idiots are useful because they’re idiots). They called him racist, for everything. Clutching their own secretly kinky pearls, they called him sexist and accused him of misogyny. The branded him xenophobic, often, in conservative circles, for having the spine to stand up for precisely the sorts of immigration policies they claimed to favor for themselves. They said he hated gays and trans people, despite all evidence. They lied to falsely portray him as mocking a disabled reporter for his disability, which wasn’t how that really went down. They called him a fascist and compared him to Adolf Hitler. They did all this, but far more than this, they leaned right into Wokeness by directing most of their ire at the Great Orange Scapegoat onto his supporters.
A prevailing narrative of the Trump era from the Respectable class was that Trump held up a mirror to our society and, as Hillary Clinton put it (to her well-deserved detriment), revealed that it’s filled with Deplorables. Trump’s popularity with these American Dalit must be explained, however. We must have an answer to the burning question—which is unanswerable from within the Matrix as a result of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem—of what his popularity must reveal about the hidden (read: masked) character of his Deplorable supporters and a society that allows them. Of these diverse millions, they said not only that they were the worst of everything America had failed to live up to but also the long-awaited answer to the question of how the Nazis came to power in Germany. Mitt Romney could have been reading from a script written by Herbert Marcuse until he was, for a time, brought to apparent heel in one of the most humiliating pictures that haunted the internet in 2016. More than that, though, they were identified as white.
The central thesis of Critical Race Theory, I’ll remind you, is that society is systemically racist and that racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society, though many people deny or hide it. Further, white people uniquely benefit from this state of affairs and have no motivation to challenge it, though they do have reasons both to deny it and to hide it (intentionally and unintentionally, as they say). Critical Race Theory is that which is said to expose this presupposition upon the world (as though that’s possible, even in principle—a presupposition, by definition, cannot have evidence in its favor). The capital-R Respectables who are in no way to be mistaken for—shudder—Deplorables enabled the Woke activists to mainstream their ideology by disagreeing with it only superficially while reiterating its core thesis. These are what some Marxists refer to as a “controlled opposition” or “sham opposition,” then, when, indeed, they could be bothered to oppose abuses of the “MAGA cultists” at all.
Support for Trump by his Basket of Deplorables was, more than anything in American history, held up as absolute proof that the Critical Race Theorists and other Wokies were right. If Trump was racist (and, per everyone whose opinion mattered, he was), his supporters must also at the least be content with racism, which upholds and maintains systemic racism. If Trump was sexist (and, so Acceptable Opinion declared, he was), his whole base is complicit in upholding systemic sexism. So on it went with ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and fascism (the bugbear of the true neo-Marxists of fifty years ago): Trump is these by Respectable Decree, so the system that supports him must be as well. Appreciate that this represents the mostly self-identifying elites of American society (most of whom have worthless degrees and a couple of quasi-famous friends as their only elite credentials) lending support to the central thesis of Wokeness and Critical Theory: American (and Western) society is, in itself, corrupt beyond repair. How can you know? It produces Deplorables whose Deplorable Attitudes upholds Systemic Deplorability that has no place in our society.
It’s tempting at this point to sit back and say, “holy shit, Johnson, Trump caused Wokeness.” That, however, is the result of the entire capital-R Respectable class being captured by Respectability itself, which had been corrupted. In effect, the capital-R Respectables had joined that motley crew of radical outsiders and capital-R-M Racial Minorities that Herbert Marcuse cobbled together into a political action bloc in the 1960s. What did they share in common? A highly exploitable pathological desire to be capital-R Respected by the leftist intelligentsia that Marcuse set up to round out and empower the bloc in intellectual society. This, I suppose, is as good a time as any to remind the reader that Lenin considered the “intelligentsia” to be those people who were, in one way or another, “intelligent” enough to be a part of the cause in their rigorous adherence to all the proper opinions as spelled out by the radicals pulling their leashes. What was the mission of this counter-hegemonic bloc the capital-R Respectables were sucking up to (thus being led around by)? It was doing its damnedest to become the setters of a counter-hegemonic culture that would despoil the West from within—especially the activist Jokers in the corporate media. But, we heard, Fox News had become de facto state media under the Tangerine Tyrant.
To actually take the time to listen to Trump (he gave actual speeches and press conferences that were full-length, not just CNN-clipped soundbites) is to dispel the ridiculous notion that Trump caused Wokeness at once. The Iron Law of Woke Projection strikes again! Most people, especially most capital-R Respectables, have never actually heard Trump. The only Trump the capital-R Respectables and squishy uninformed “liberals” ever heard was a propagandist creation of capital-R Respectable society and the corporate press. Orange Man was a character designed to foist upon the public the idea that Trump, a person outside their agenda and control, was, in fact, a monster who could only be supported by a population that is at least half monstrous themselves. Orange Man was a Fake News Media and capital-R Respectable intelligentsia creation leveraged to install as taken-for-granted true that society itself is an anachronistic hellscape of oppressive systemic power dynamics maintained by horrible reactionaries who found in Trump a strongman and would-be despot that threatens the very seat of capital-D Democracy. People have to hashtag-Resist. We need, the narrative led millions to believe, a full-on cultural revolution to stop Trump. Good thing they used the Critical Pedagogy-corrupted schools over the last decade or so to make all those Red Guards!
So, I wouldn’t say Trump caused Wokeness to mainstream or even that the phenomenon of Trump caused it to mainstream so much as I would say that the spectacle created around Trump, as a cultural phenomenon, mainstreamed Wokeness more than any other factor so far discussed (with the obvious caveat to be addressed momentarily). Further, I’d say that it Wokeness was mainstreamed by the squishy “liberals” and capital-R Respectable class—being used as the useful idiots they are by the harder activists pulling their leashes—in order to utilize Trump (more accurately: “but Trump!”) as the rationale for a complete rethink of American society and Western Civilization, which we can now Build Back Better than ever before. Just in time for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, eh? Good thing we all saved capital-D Democracy, just barely!
That caveat is, of course, that the George Floyd riots—the BLM and Antifa Riots, more fairly—were the precipitating event, not Trump or anything directly to do with him, that actually triggered the Woke Cultural Revolution in the West. Wokeness, which had been slowly mainstreaming for a decade, seized the cultural throne of the West when George Floyd died. In that sense, while I’ve used the metaphor of tilling the earth up to this point, it would perhaps be more resonant to replace it with one of pouring gasoline all over the structure of Western society. The corruption of education by Critical Pedagogy spread some fuel and handed gas cans to a generation. Those students-turned activists looked upon the phenomena of the Barack Obama presidency and early Black Lives Matter activism and began to soak the ground. The corporate press and capital-R Respectables used the same, and then especially the Great Orange Scare, as pretext for saturating all of Western Civilization with enough accelerant to try to burn the whole damn thing down.
The death of George Floyd—no matter the circumstances—dropped the match.
On May 25, 2020, Western civilization was set ablaze with the Woke ideology, which was offered as the explanation and remedy (through the usual, thus thoughtless, Marxian-utopian alchemical magick) to a completely misdiagnosed societal sickness. With the death of George Floyd, a switch was flipped, and Wokeness spread like wildfire through a society that had unmade its ability to withstand its rapid spread. The natural resistance had been dismissed as Deplorable, part of the problem Wokeness arose to solve. The rest of the resistance remained too capital-R Respectable (which is an exquisite blend of clueless, feckless, and self-interested) to mount a defense. Carrying a lance of ethnocommunism into the fray in a fist clenched around real historic injustices, Wokeness rode into and over much of Western Civilization upon a pale horse named “Mostly Peaceful” none would withstand. CNN danced while Minneapolis burned.
So, while this isn’t the whole story, and while it ignores important components like the rise of the Internet, social media, rivers of 501(c)(4) gold, and opportunistic exploitation by the various enemies of the West, hopefully this explanation sheds some light upon how it has come to pass that one of the least commendable and, frankly, dumbest ideologies in the history of mankind has managed to present a legitimate threat of laying low one of humanity’s greatest and, on the whole, most beneficent societies. Where it is my hope that an analysis like this may cover some of the distance to saving my own civilization, and perhaps my own skin with it, may it at least serve as a first step toward a robust warning for others that might fare better should it arrive upon their shores.
In closing, if you want my advice as simply as it can be put: don’t put too many of your society’s eggs in too bourgie a basket. The Respectables can’t withstand the Criticism. Somebody “important” might think something bad of them.
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Author: James Lindsay
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