Woke Revolutionaries Versus Americanists
Some words of advice for Jim Banks's new anti-woke caucus.
Indiana congressman Jim Banks recently announced the formation of an anti-woke caucus. Good. Banks is acknowledging, for the first time at a congressional level, the danger of woke tyranny. National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism were the challenges for prior generations of Americans. “Wokeism” is the challenge of our generation. We have reason to believe that Banks intends to put anti-wokeism at the center of Republican politics, which today has no center.
America is in the middle of a Cold Civil War between woke revolutionaries—who believe America is and has always been systemically racist (evil), so that it must be deconstructed, de-legitimized (i.e., destroyed)—and those who believe that America is good, that its principles are the greatest antidote to racism ever created, and that preserving America and its principles is the highest and most urgent political calling. Let’s call these patriots “Americanists.”
The Need for a Rhetorical Strategy
What should the anti-woke caucus do? Banks rightly says that the first order of business is for the caucus to learn in detail about the woke regime and how it has taken control of major American institutions at every level. And next? The temptation will be to draw up a policy agenda. But before devising a policy strategy, we think it is necessary to provide the moral justification for one.
In any political conflict, the side that seizes the moral high ground is the ultimate victor. The art of seizing the moral high ground—i.e., of persuasion—belongs to the discipline of rhetorical strategy. If there is one thing we hope caucus members will take away from this essay, it is the importance of moral argument and rhetoric.
Often a politician responds to existing “public sentiment,” as Lincoln called it. But when politics becomes especially confusing, when the public is not thinking as clearly as it might, the statesman must give shape to public sentiment. He must sculpt unformed opinions and refine inchoate ones.
Glenn Ellmers, in a recent essay, made this point well. He was writing about Governor Ron DeSantis, but he just as well could have been writing about all Republicans, virtually all of whom fail to appreciate the importance of providing a moral justification for their actions through effective rhetoric. Ellmers writes:
DeSantis’s other problem—to exaggerate for the sake of argument—is that he’s all action and no talk. (This is not necessarily worse than Trump’s opposite vice.) That might sound like another strange criticism, but this is something that has always been true in politics: rhetoric matters. After all, to the degree that elections still have some efficacy, voters have to be persuaded, and that means words are as important as deeds. You can’t merely do the right thing, you have to explain it. DeSantis gives speeches, of course, and they are good as far as they go. But they need to be great. He needs to appreciate that even the most momentous results sometimes don’t speak for themselves. Consider Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Indeed, Lincoln, in large part, won the Civil War by the power of his rhetoric. The kind of speeches Ellmers calls for are inspirational and eternal. We need a rhetoric that rises to the level of our crisis. It needs to be Lincolnian, Churchillian—a powerful strategic weapon in the immediate war, and an inspiration for times to come.
The public is increasingly aware of the horrors of woke tyranny; it sees, and is repelled by, many pieces of the woke regime. But it is very hard to see the entire puzzle. A successful rhetoric will put the pieces together and build the public sentiment necessary to fuel a victorious counter-revolution. It will give a reasoned account of the woke regime—its principles, tactics, adherents, and aims. And it will give a reasoned account of the American regime, why it is worthy of the last full measure of devotion, and what must be done to save it.
We Are in a War
First and foremost, the public must understand that America is at war. It must be made clear that the woke revolutionaries wish not to reform America along the lines of, say, the New Deal or Great Society but ultimately want to destroy the American way of life. The woke revolutionaries do not hide their objective; indeed they flaunt it. They keep telling us their actions are designed to “fundamentally transform” the American way of life.
Citizens desperately need to hear their elected leaders saying in public that the American way of life, the American regime, cannot possibly coexist with the woke regime, because the two regimes have utterly irreconcilable understandings of what constitutes a just society. This is what makes it a war.
For the American regime, a just society is one in which free men and women pursue happiness according to their abilities and according to nature. Such a society is one where merit is central—where the society recognizes the natural differences in the interests and abilities among various groups. In such a society, groups—men and women and subcultures—will be represented differently in various areas of American life.
For the woke regime, on the other hand, a just society is one where the regime imposes identity group quotas based on victimhood rankings. Such a regime makes war on nature and merit, and thus on America. The goal of the woke regime is what the woke revolutionaries perversely call “equity,” by which they mean statistical equality of result for all preferred ethnic and gender groups in all aspects of life. Thus, if black Americans represent 13% of the population, then, as a historically marginalized group, they should constitute 13% of all surgeons, lawyers, airline pilots, elected officials, military officers, and, for that matter, incarcerated prisoners. The same logic of ethnic-gender group representation applies to other, continuously expanding, “marginalized” groups such as women, Latinos, LGBTQ + persons and the like.
The American regime (or the merit regime) and the woke group-quota regime are mutually exclusive. You can’t offer admission to college, medical school, law school, flight training, combat arms (or anything else) according to racial and gender group quotas, while at the same time making decisions according to merit. With one voice, caucus members should consistently frame the debate this way: “the merit regime vs. the group quota regime” (or simply, merit vs. group quotas).
A free society will never furnish equality of results. An attempt to produce them requires coercion. Since nature can never be vanquished, coercion must continually be ramped up. We can already observe this coercion (e.g., censorship, canceling, employment discrimination, and partisan double standards in law) where the woke regime is most entrenched—in the universities, Big Tech, the media, and government at all levels.
Explaining to Americans what exactly the woke regime is can be a challenge; the regime is slippery and amorphous. Normally, a totalitarian regime means the government controls all aspects of public and private life. The 20th century witnessed the hard totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Communism. Today, the woke regime can best be understood as a soft totalitarianism that seeks to marginalize, intimidate, and silence its opponents through censorship, coercion, media propaganda, intelligence agency operations, the manipulation of election laws, and the declarations of unelected bureaucrats and judges.
The 21st century woke regime consists of a loose confederation of institutions: education, media, entertainment, businesses, Democratic politicians, the criminal justice system, and more. There is no overarching organization. But understanding and explaining, as well as possible, how that regime operates will be necessary to winning the war.
The Big Lie
Having identified the composition of the regime and its goal (equality of result for racial, ethnic, and gender groups), the caucus must explain how the woke revolutionaries are going about reaching that goal. Their first critical step is making Americans deeply ashamed of themselves and their past, thereby making them inclined to trade in the merit regime for the group quota regime. This requires a big lie. Every totalitarian regime, hard or soft, has one. The woke regime’s big lie is that America is systemically racist and about to be overrun by racists, a.k.a. Republican voters.
Caucus members and other Americanists should call this the “Big Lie.” When addressing the woke revolutionaries, they should dismiss it without apology or qualification. But the Americanists should forget about trying to convince the woke revolutionaries. It cannot be done, and that is because the entire woke project is built on supposed racism. Take that away and the project collapses. Woke revolutionaries will therefore insist on the existence of this racism in the teeth of all evidence and argument, transposing it to unseen and unconscious regions when it is proven not to exist elsewhere.
Yet although it is fruitless, and ultimately self-defeating, to try to convince the woke revolutionaries, it is necessary to stiffen the spines of those on the Right. One reason the race card has such a powerful effect is that many on the Right think the woke revolutionaries have a point. This uncertain Right, like the entire Left, suffers from white guilt. We must get over it.
Caucus members must explain to the Right, and to the open-minded middle, that the phony white guilt of the elite is destroying the rest of us, whatever our color. Further, the false charge of “systemic racism” is not presented by woke revolutionaries in good faith but used as a weapon to de-legitimize America’s principles, history, culture, and way of life.
The caucus needs to make the case strongly that America is not systemically racist—except to the extent that wokeism has succeeded in establishing its racist program as a system—and second, that traditional “red neck” racism is low on the list of what should concern black Americans. That said, humans being what they are, it seems highly unlikely we shall ever eliminate racism altogether. So there will always be racial incidents, real or imagined, that the woke revolutionaries can exploit. The Americanists must not rise to the bait. In a war you concede nothing.
Americanists need to explain that the central problem facing the nation is not racism but the trumped-up charges of racism that hound us from morning to night. The goal of the Americanists should be, as David Azerrad has pointed out, “not to solve the race problem but to prevent it from crushing the country.”
But nothing can replace a powerful, credible, passionate leader. Perhaps Banks himself is that man. At present, there is no one—political or otherwise—who is leading the anti-woke movement, though Governor Ron DeSantis has indicated a predilection. Among non-politicians, Tucker Carlson is unrivalled in speaking truth to woke power. Someone must create a movement.
A Defense of the Nation State
Caucus members also need to make a spirited defense of the nation-state (a sovereign political community in which citizens share traditions, customs, language, and values such as patriotism). The woke revolutionaries must destroy the nation-state if they are to destroy the American way of life and replace it with the woke way of life. Reliance on transnational institutions, climate change, open borders, and energy dependence are among the ways the woke revolutionaries seek to destroy the American nation-state.
The woke revolutionaries tell us that the Right’s commitment to the nation-state, like any policy of the Right, is racist and tyrannical. They identify anything that strengthens the nation-state—for example, patriotism, closed boarders, or assimilation—as akin to “nationalism” or even “fascism.”
Caucus members must explain that without the nation, and the homogeneity it requires, people will be unable to govern themselves. Without the nation-state there will be no democracy, no “We the People.” There will be only “us” and “them.” And people do not sacrifice for “them.”
Outside of a nation there can also be no agreement on the rules for living together (laws and customs). One side will break the rules because it does not believe in them, and then the other side will break them in self-defense. Neither side will accept election losses. When trust has broken down, so does the rule of law. We see plenty of this already. The anti-woke caucus must explain, again and again, that there can be no democracy and no freedom without the shared culture of the American nation-state.
Donald Trump, unlike any other Republican, embraced the term “nationalist” at a rally: “You know, they have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a ‘nationalist’…. And I say, ‘Really? We’re not supposed to use that word,’” Trump continued. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. OK? I’m a nationalist.” Trump did not care about being called a “racist” any more than he cared about being called a “nationalist.” In this respect, caucus members should take their lead from Trump.
Attacking the nation-state means attacking the very idea of citizenship. The woke revolutionaries tell us that “illegal” immigration is justified because all people are, in effect, already American citizens. “Don’t worry about too many immigrants,” say the woke revolutionaries; after all, “diversity is our greatest strength.” This is nonsense. No nation, not even America, can withstand unlimited diversity. Every nation requires a certain degree of homogeneity if it is to be free. And second, although our universal creed makes anyone a potential citizen, it is only those who are committed to assimilating into our culture and our understanding of right and wrong (including our laws) who can be citizens.
To the extent we do allow immigrants, “[We] must,” as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Americanize them in every way.” The progressive Louis Brandeis was more specific: “the adoption of our language, manners and customs is only a small part of the process. To become Americanized the change wrought must be fundamental.” The immigrant “must possess the national consciousness of an American.” In contrast to earlier progressives, in 2021 the Biden Administration officially denounced the principle of assimilating immigrants.
“Americanization” has a bad name. But like the word “nationalism,” anti-woke caucus members should resurrect it and embrace it with pride.
Seeing Soft Totalitarianism
Woke revolutionaries believe America should be rebuilt from the ground up, whatever the cost. The anti-woke caucus members must repeatedly point out that it is just this—attempts to build from the ground up—that has brought us the most horrific, blood-letting regimes of the 20th century. It is a virtual truism that the road to utopia terminates in Hell.
Caucus members need to bone up on totalitarian regimes and be able to describe the characteristics of such a regime, drawing parallels to the current, woke regime which, while softer, shares many characteristics with the harder variety. They must help citizens see things through the lens of soft totalitarianism. For example, they must help citizens see that open borders are intended, at least in part, to destroy the American way of life.
One aspect of all totalitarian regimes is, as we all know by now, censorship and media propaganda. Citizens must not be able to hear what the regime does not want them to hear, and that, of course, is anything that challenges their lies. Censorship and propaganda take many forms: humiliation, intimidation, de-platforming, firing, blacklisting, gaslighting, and so on. A personal example: A teleprompter operator for a speech one of us was giving did not show up to work on the second day because he thought that working for a conservative outfit would make it difficult for him to get work elsewhere. Thousands and thousands of these freedom-crushing instances of censorship occur every day, undetectable by the general public.
Name and Nomenclature
There is one last but very important bit of advice. Come up with a name for the enemy and an associated nomenclature. We don’t see how you can beat an enemy you cannot name.
We offer the following for the caucus’s consideration, most of which we have already introduced. The enemy is the “woke regime.” The word “regime” is important, because it suggests an all-out, comprehensive assault on the American way of life. The ideology of the woke regime is “wokeism,” which is a totalizing ideology like National Socialism or Communism. Card-carrying members of the woke regime are “woke revolutionaries” while go-along Democrats, which is most of them, are “collaborationists.” Those on the Right who do not actively resist the woke regime are “accommodationists.” Those who do actively resist are “Americanists.”
Why “Americanists” vs. “woke revolutionaries” and not, say, “conservatives” vs. “progressives”? These latter names suggest we are in a normal policy dispute within the traditional context of American politics, in which both sides accept the legitimacy of the American regime. We are not in such a context. We are not living in the bygone world of Reagan vs. Mondale. We are in a war.
Defenders of the American regime include many people who are not political conservatives: people who simply love America, are patriotic, and reject the woke agenda. Since wokeism is an attempt to destroy the American way of life, the most logical term for those who wish to save it is “Americanists.”
An objection might be raised: there is more than wokeism that ails the country today. Consider radical feminism, socialism, climate change, transgenderism: these, say the skeptics, are independent of wokeism. One can certainly think about things this way, but we would consider this a strategic error. To the extent we can, we need a unified theory that captures as much of the war effort against our regime as possible. The attack on America should be understood within a single, coherent conceptual framework. We believe wokeism serves this purpose.
Thus, for example:
The rewriting of American history as the story of oppression; a Ford Foundation grant to promote DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion);
a Washington Post article complaining that too many statues in our Capitol commemorate “enslavers,” including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison;
the deliberate weakening of the American oil and gas industry, and, hence, the end of our energy independence in the name of climate change;
promoting the intrusion of men into women’s sports, and teaching our children that there are many “genders” rather than two sexes;
the deliberate refusal to protect America’s southern border while at the same time enabling millions of illegal aliens to enter and remain in our country;
the refusal of woke prosecutors to enforce long-standing laws against criminals;
universal child care to facilitate the utopian final goal of absolute gender group outcome equality in every institution in society;
manipulating election laws so as to keep the woke elite in power;
socialism which seeks income equality;
the attacks on values like excellence and merit as a supposed stalking horse of white supremacy:
All these phenomena and more are of a piece. They work in one way or another to promote equality of results for groups. They either are aimed at securing the power necessary to promote the woke agenda, destroying the American way of life, or directly implementing group quotas.
We pray for the success of the anti-woke caucus. Its task is daunting, but all noble things are. And what could be more noble than, as a friend of ours is fond of saying, “to save the nation that has brought more freedom and more prosperity to more people than any other country in the history of mankind.” As in times before, the future of freedom everywhere depends on our example.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.