The right has declared a war on wokeness, and they have cast the woke elite as the generals of this opposing force. “Wokeness”, like “cancel culture” and “critical race theory”, is ill-defined and used as a vague catch-all for things the right does not like. In part, this war on wokeness has been manufactured by the right’s elite. In part, the war arises from grievances held by the base. There is even a real foundation to this war—at least on the part of the Americans that can be lumped together as blue-collar folks. I will be focusing on this matter and will try to define the groups and harms as clearly and truthfully as possible.
Put very roughly, the United States has two broad categories of blue-collar folks. There are what are called the traditional blue-collar workers, such as those who work in manufacturing, employees of plumbing businesses, truck drivers and so on. There are also the blue-collar elites; these are people who own small businesses, who are successful self-employed electricians, middle managers at blue-collar industries and similar folk. As with any class, there are degrees in each of these categories. For example, a successful self-employed plumber could be considered a blue-collar elite, but they would be lower on the economic class structure than a businessperson who owns and operates a profitable plumbing business they built up from their one-person business. Someone who simply bought a plumbing company with their inheritance would most likely be a white-collar elite.
The woke, broadly speaking, can be seen as folks on the left who embrace liberal values. While this aspect of the definition is contentious, the woke can be seen as focusing mostly on social issues relating to such factors as race and sexuality and being less (or not at all) concerned about general economic issues. Put crudely, the woke can be seen as breaking away from concerns about the lower economic classes in general and focusing on specific oppressed groups. The woke elite are what David Brooks calls the Bobos; this is the ruling class of the left that has largely abandoned the working class left of the past. There are, of course, degrees in these classes. A poor college student working at McDonalds to pay their tuition who blogs and tweets in support of BLM could be seen as woke, but not elite. Stephen Colbert can be seen as an example of a top tier woke elite. To be honest, one could try to cast me as a lowest tier woke elite—although my commitment to class issues would seem to keep me in the traditional left. As noted above, there is the problem of what counts as being in the woke class—and the right’s “definition” is so vague as to be useless in a rigorous discussion. To be fair, they do not intend this usage: “woke” is a political term and is kept intentionally vague. But the right does have terms to capture those who are concerned with broad economic issues—they are called “socialists”, “communists” and “Marxists.” As would be expected, these terms are usually not used rigorously, correctly, or consistently. A person could be condemned as being “woke” for allegedly ignoring the plight of workers while simultaneously being blasted for being a “socialist” who supports the workers on matters such as unions, benefits, and wages. But back to the woke elite and blue-collar folks.
As noted above, the elite of the right blast the woke elite for abandoning the blue collars in favor of their woke ideology. The blue-collar workers believe, correctly, that their situation has gotten worse—especially relative to their parents and grand-parents. The blue-collar elites, though well off economically, see themselves as victims: they are excluded, mocked, or simply ignored by the woke elite. They are not wrong about this. I will begin with the workers.
Trump and his fellows have appealed to the perception of white, blue-collar workers that the woke elites have abandoned them in favor of their woke ideology. There are also those who accept racist explanations for their woes. For example, there is the idea that minorities are stealing jobs from white workers (with the aid of the woke elites). These workers are not wrong in their view they are being hurt, but their explanations tend to be mistaken. So, let us look at the woke elite and race.
The woke elite and right elite are both fighting to stay at the top of the hierarchy, but they do differ in some of their methods. But there are similarities. The woke elite, by definition, profess to be anti-racist (or at least not racist). But they generally benefit from racism in two ways. First, the white woke elite benefited from past racism and benefit from current racism in the usual ways—though they profess to condemn these things. Second, racism gives them a battleground with their opposing elite on the right. The elite of the right have, for the most part, use racism as a tool to maintain the social hierarchy that benefits them. For example, they use racism to divide the working class against each other. The woke left can be sincere in this fight, but they also benefit from keeping the fight focused on such matters as race to distract from concerns about class.
Both the work elite and right elite are careful to avoid engaging on class issues; this is because they agree on the economic class structure (them on the top, everyone else beneath them) and do not want to disrupt that. A key difference, as noted above, is race. For the right, race is both a tool to maintain the existing hierarchy and a key part of the hierarchy. While the woke elite benefit from racism, they are like elites prior to the construction of race: their hierarchy is not built on race and racism is not one of their tools. While professing a kinder, gentler view of economics, they do all they can to lock in their position and thus lock out others. One example is education: the woke elites jealously protect their significant control over who has access to elite universities. The infamous college admission scandal laid bare how the elites attempt to control this access. A second example is the concentration of the woke elite in a few cities. This has hyper concentrated wealth with a range of negative effects. This includes harms to the cities that would seem to benefit from this, such as a skyrocketing cost of living. A third example, which is what the right (ironically) focuses on is that the woke elite have transformed the Democrats from a party with some meaningful commitment to workers into a party that has abandoned them in meaningful ways. It has also had a similar impact on the American left in general. There are, of course, some who have remained strongly committed to workers, such as Bernie Sanders. But the blue-collar workers are right to recognize the woke elite as their enemies—but not for the reasons the right gives. It is not the anti-racism of the woke that hurts workers, but their commitment to maintaining the economic social order. The woke elite are committed to maintaining the existing social order, they just do not use racism as a tool in doing so—they have other tools that work very well. And, if they embraced racism, they would just be elites of the right.
The right is correct to call out the woke elites for abandoning the workers—but they only offer lies, racism, sexism, and such. They have no desire to meaningfully improve conditions for the workers—the “woke” Bezos and anti-woke Ted Cruz are both vehemently anti-worker. The difference is that Cruz sees racism as a critical tool and Bezos (probably) does not—he has other tools that get the job done. As such, blue collar workers need a third party—one that will fight for them and not for the woke elite or the right elite.
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