When Common Sense Became “Woke”

In a recent column, Paul Krugman traced the growing anti-environmentalism of the GOP. He noted that, in the 1990s, self-identified Republicans and Democrats weren’t that far apart in their environmental views, but that since 2008 or so, Republicans have become much less supportive of environmental initiatives. After considering several possible reasons for that devolution (“follow the money” among them), he concluded that

What has happened, I’d argue, is that environmental policy has been caught up in the culture war — which is, in turn, largely driven by issues of race and ethnicity. This, I suspect, is why the partisan divide on the environment widened so much after America elected its first Black president.

One especially notable aspect of The Times’s investigative report on state treasurers’ punishing corporations seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions is the way these officials condemn such corporations as “woke.”

Wokeness normally means talking about racial and social justice. On the right — which is increasingly defined by attempts to limit the rights of Americans who aren’t straight white Christians — it has become a term of abuse. Teaching students about the role of racism in American history is bad because it’s woke. But so, apparently, are many other things, like Cracker Barrel offering meatless sausage and being concerned about climate change.

If this seems crazy, it’s because it is. Evidently, a substantial percentage of the American population is certifiably looney-tunes…

One of the most compelling explanations for that insanity was recently offered by Tom Nichols in the Atlantic. Nichols was opining about  political violence, or the possibility of another civil war. As he noted, however,  the actual Civil War was “about something.” Unlike today’s culture wars.

Compared with the bizarre ideas and half-baked wackiness that now infest American political life, the arguments between the North and the South look like a deep treatise on government.

Nichols writes that the “soldiers” fighting “wokeness” talk about “liberty” and “freedom,” but those are really just code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments, and generalized paranoia.

What makes this situation worse is that there is no remedy for it. When people are driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalized sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything. Winning elections, burning effigies, even shooting at other citizens does not soothe their anger but instead deepens the spiritual and moral void that haunts them.

Donald Trump is central to this fraying of public sanity, because he has done one thing for such people that no one else could do: He has made their lives interesting. He has made them feel important. He has taken their itching frustrations about the unfairness of life and created a morality play around them, and cast himself as the central character. Trump, to his supporters, is the avenging angel who is going to lay waste to the “elites,” the smarty-pantses and do-gooders, the godless and the smug, the satisfied and the comfortable.

In other words, Trump is leading the battle against “woke” folks. You know, people who have the nerve to suggest that conclusions should be based upon verifiable evidence, that many if not most of the issues we face are complicated, and that knowledge and expertise are desirable and not simply an elitist construct devised to make less educated people feel inferior.

It”s “woke” to admit that racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia still exist; “woke” to recognize that climate change is real and that it threatens our future; “woke” to criticize the “Big Lie;” “woke” to argue that women are entitled to agency over their own lives and bodies…

To those on the political Right, to be “woke” doesn’t simply describe people who have awakened to obvious realities and begun trying to ameliorate inequities. To the True Believers, the Christian Nationalists, “woke” is today’s “mark of the beast.” 

So here we are.

“Wokeness”  no longer means you’ve reached certain conclusions about contemporary society based on research, observation and  common sense. It’s morphed. It has become a label to be applied to one’s mortal enemies–and a threat to be defeated at all costs. 

 It is simply not possible for rational folks to reason with the True Believers. The old adage is right–you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into. 

Welcome to the all-encompassing culture war.


  1. Our best hope for now is to defeat the crazy at the polls while we still can.. Vote Blue

  2. “ It is simply not possible for rational folks to reason with the True Believers. The old adage is right–you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into. ”.

    So, how do we sane people overcome the self-centered craziness that trump unleashed in those racist white nationalists as their anger and hatred grows? I believe it can only be accomplished by their fellow republicans. They are the only ones that can shut down the craziness.

  3. OMG, I am so sick of Trump, his supporters and their media. With the search warrant making the news, by 45 himself, it’s 24/7 coverage of that buffoon. I don’t want to see his face, hear his voice or hear “news” about his latest truth social tweets! I was hoping that he would disappear like Bush and Cheney. But nooooo, we continue to suffer all over the world because of his big stupid mouth. His “base” are ruining the country and now the cancer has spread abroad. Can we please for the love of Pete, (not you Pete, it’s an expression I use) end the madness that he has delivered? Please. Stop talking about him. Banish those beliefs and nonsense once and for all.

    /sorry, everywhere I turn it’s trump trump trump…rant over.

  4. The term “woke” takes me back to Charles Manson preaching “come to the now” to his Family; of course he meant come to HIS “now” which turned them loose on their drug, sex and crime sprees which led to those horrific murders. Not unlike Trump’s rally rants which has succeeded in creating a race war far better – rather far worse – than Manson hoped to accomplish. The Trump Republicans, too many of them sitting in government and running for office this November, are living Trump’s “now” and want the rest of us come under their control.

    patmcc is frighteningly correct in her comment to “defeat the crazy at the polls while we can”; with emphasis on “while we can”. This November 8th will make or break America; there will be no turning back to democracy once it is gone and we will join Hitler’s Germany, Putin’s Russia, Kim Jon Un’s North Korea with the accepted religion leaning heavily toward the Taliban. Trump’s pact with the Afghanistan government was a deliberate move, knowing they would flee the horrors of the Taliban rather than fight them. Republicans blame President Biden for Trump’s give-away of the Afghani people to the Taliban and are hoping they can return him to the White House to do the same with American people. We must not lose sight of our own common sense that “Trump is leading the battle against “woke” folks.” Like it or not we are all part of this “battle for the soul of America” so aptly named by President Biden.

    “Welcome to the all-encompassing culture war.”

  5. It’s by design, ALG. His main goal is the attention he thinks he richly deserves. Keeping the pot stirred keeps his name and face in every story in every newspaper, every TV station and cable network. He and his minions have it right where they want it. It’s the scariest thing we have faced in a very long time. We aren’t working our way out of it; so far, the hole we are in is getting deeper with each news cycle and each passing day. He loves it,

  6. Speaking of the environment… The real environment… The environment that tries to sustain our lives and our life styles….

    The drainage of the Colorado River is drying up. The Arizona agriculture industry is at risk of dying altogether. The Imperial Valley in California – from where you Hoosiers get your winter vegetables – will also go dry. Then, there’s Lake Meade. The water level in Lake Meade will drop below minimum by next spring. That means NO ELECTRICAL GENERATION FOR ALL OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, ARIZONA AND NEVADA. Las Vegas will go dark. L.A.? Well, dark has several meanings there. I wonder what all those frothing politicians will do and say when they are reading by candlelight.

    Oh. The other thing… Read Tim Miller’s new book, “Why We Did It”. In concert with today’s blog references about those in need of some sort of recognition, have a look at what happened when some of those people started working for Republicans and the Trump administration. That “significant” population of these poor people lacking any skill will come into light as to what damage they can do.

  7. Quit just blaming right-wing media – it wasn’t them that sued to see the search warrant; it was AP, the Post, the Times…Why? Trump means headlines and clicks…They love him in their own, capitalist way….

  8. SteveD, like patmcc I have lived with the confusion of the androgynous nickname of Pat my whole life. When I was in college in 1972, I attended a women’s rally in Bloomington IN with a female friend and signed my name to a petition. A year or two later I received a piece of mail welcoming me as a member of the National Organization of Women. I found it pretty amusing at the time despite the insufferable amount of mockery I got from my family and friends when I stupidly told the story.

    I found motivation in the humiliation and when I got a future mailing from them I sent them a check to renew my membership and did so for quite a few years after that. But after several moves they lost track of me. My namesake is my Aunt Patricia, who is now in her 90’s and is still a force of nature. She won the Ft. Wayne Women’s Amateur Golf championship six times and she was the first woman (and only woman that time) to tee off at the annual Ft. Wayne Mad Anthony’s Pro-Am golf tournament. There’s no question if she’d been in her golf prime a few years later she would have toured on the LPGA.

    So, am I woke? You bet. Woke as f^&k and proud of it.

    But, just to be sure we’re clear, I always sign off with:


  9. Regarding media coverage of 45, how many times must the man bite the dog, before it becomes a non event? I think we’ve all had enough.

  10. SteveD; thank you for that correction, I had no way of knowing gender.

    patmcc; my sincere apology.

  11. I had to turn off the Sunday morning pundit programs today after non-stop repetition of TFG’s name, including the fact that the pundits’ guests and they themselves continue to call him “President tRump”. Instead of acknowledging his criminal behavior in continuously mishandling any documents pertaining to his office WHILE he was in office and did so after he was defeated, his supporters have continued to be apologists and provocateurs for political gain. He violated the law multiple times. He may be a former office holder but he should be treated like anyone else would be under the rule of law he so often touts for his own cover. Bottom line, he broke the laws regarding his oath of office. He is not the victim but the perp.

    Enough of his narcissistic nonsense and the media’s penchant for money-grabbing headlines to draw the rubes to the con. If I had a dollar for every time his name was mentioned this morning, I could buy ticket to anyplace else where he isn’t a constant irritant.

  12. I’m sure that we are all familiar with the phrase “Correlation does not mean Causation”. The reason that everything on the right seems so nuts, is that they don’t realize the correlation does not mean causation. So that anything thing that correlates with something they don’t l ike can be bad thing because it is causing that thing that they don’t like.

  13. Trump is just an excuse for the affluent Democrats to shit on the less affluent. It’s interesting the commentariat of this forum never admonishes their contemporaries 9of the Republican side) for supporting Republicans and Trump.

    That’s very revealing.

  14. Lester had it in a nutshell. CNN, MSNBC etc. etc. created Trump – couldn’t let him go. Gave him so much airtime nobody else got a look in and they are still doing it. They could tout the good things being done by this administration – but as usual Trump dominates because it’s good for ratings. And rating is money. It’s always about money. Lord knows I would like Fox and their cohorts to be buried but they aren’t the only ones fanning the flames here, albeit in a different way.

  15. “Woke” is not an English word.

    It was African-American slang first, then slang for for being aware of racism, and now slang to being alert to any number of injustices.

    That’s important because when right-wingers use “woke” as a derogatory term, they are both expressing disgust at progressive attitudes AND subtly expressing their racism (subtly for them, anyway).

    We should always confront them with this whenever they use it.

  16. I’m so sick and tired of hearing about Trump that I don’t read articles that have his name in the headline anymore. Surely he is not the only thing going on in the world.

  17. I’m a dabbler in pre-WWI European history, especially Russa. I am reading a book about Stalin. It seems that one thing the Tsars and the Bolsheviks agreed on was to keep the population ignorant. That left them prone to following the leader, whoever it might be. The 1,000-year tsarist regime fell in a week in 1917. It took the bolsheviks about 6 years to gain complete control, because some of the aristocracy were still willing to fight, but they offered little inspiration to the masses. The soviet government provided universal education, but it was STEM and propaganda.
    Although Stalin was a ruthless dictator and mass murderer, he had the people convinced he was on their side. They worshipped him. Many still do.
    Now we have DeSantis replacing teachers with soldiers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a former Navy man. I have a lot of respect for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. They bring a lot of experience and perspective to the table, and I would welcome them as guest lecturers anywhere. If they actually study education, they could be excellent teachers. Discipline and order are essential parts of learning. However, the military, especially at the lower enlisted level, have to replace a questioning mindset with the need to follow orders. There’s no room for democracy in battle. So think about it: Tsars = Stalin = DeSantis

  18. Pangea: Trump is not an excuse; he’s a symbol. The only thing you suggested that I agree with is that we “woke” folks need to focus at least as much on Trump’s officers and foot soldiers as we do on Trump himself. By himself, he can’t overthrow the country (as became evident in 2021). But with the help of his minions (at every level), who hope to profit from the destruction of the republic and its replacement by an autocracy, he very well might get it done. But the reason we tend to focus on Trump is because he is a sterling symbol. Those who love him love what he symbolizes; those who despise him despise what he symbolizes (which is certainly not “the less affluent”). Those in the 99% of Americans who aren’t yet “woke” need to awaken to the reality of what Trump and those who aspire to serve him in his new regime are really after: not the uplift of those who feel oppressed and aggrieved by the prospect of their equality to historically oppressed groups, but raw power over *everyone* in that 99%. They may be happy to blindly bend the knee to both the symbol (Trump) and what those who enable him are after (unrestrained power and the riches that accompany it), but the rest of us aren’t.

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