Conventional wisdom has always said that liberals focus on identity while conservatives are wholly concerned with “real” issues, such as the economy and jobs.
And indeed, one party has introduced scores of new state laws that reshape the way race is taught in schools, the rights of transgender children and their families, and reproductive rights.
Particularly since Democrat Joe Biden was elected president, conservative politicians and media personalities have focused on “woke” politics. Though they can rarely describe what they really mean, the attack is usually invoked whenever issues important to marginalized people are brought up.
Though the poll respondents think liberals are too judgmental, the Republican Party, devoid of any real policies or plans, wants to lean into the culture war even more as the midterm elections approach. They haven’t hesitated to turn nearly every major issue, from the coronavirus pandemic to the war in Ukraine, into a topic that they can inject their grievance politics into. Over the weekend, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) told a group of supporters in his home state that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a “thug” and is “pushing woke ideologies” in Ukraine.
And it’s not just rhetoric. At least 36 states have introduced or passed laws that restrict what teachers can say about race and U.S. history. Also in the pipeline are laws that target pregnant people — more laws that restrict abortion rights were passed last year than in any other year prior. By March 2021, Republican state legislators had already set a record for the most legislation filed in one year that targeted transgender Americans.
The Democrats need to stop stoking divisive cultural debates? GOP legislatures have been bloodthirsty in their quest to remake the United States into a white Christian’s ideal world. There would be no abortions, only forced births; gay and trans people would eradicated, and Black people would finally accept their place in the racial hierarchy.
And let’s be clear about what “cultural war issues” really are. They’re not throwaway talking points that only identity-politics-obsessed liberals care about.
Republicans’ right-wing agenda is clearly designed to silence, belittle, and even exterminate the population that they consider undesirable. Whether it be queer people, trans people or people of color, this is an all-out assault.
The GOP’s culture war is not just rhetoric but real life.
Take Florida’s Stop Woke Act, which stands for Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act. It prohibits individuals from making anyone feel uncomfortable about their race, national origin or gender.
It also bans employers from providing training that promotes the idea that “an individual bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.”
When boiled down, the bill is essentially about making it illegal to make white men feel uncomfortable about being white men, and it’s is purposefully vague. Who will get to decide which actions violate it? The bill has been passed by the Florida Legislature and is awaiting Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ expected signature.
Another bill awaiting DeSantis’ signature targets the LGBTQ community and education. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibits Florida teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms or in a “manner that is not age appropriate.” The legislation also allows parents to sue school districts for violating the provision. While supporters of the bill say these discussions are meant to be had at home, Florida teachers are worried that the broad nature of the phrasing would open the door to plenty of lawsuits from parents.
In Texas, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that declared providing gender-affirming care for transgender children was child abuse under the law. Mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, including teachers, were required to report trans children and their parents to the state’s Child Protective Services. Now parents of trans children in Texas are being investigated by the state. (At least one of the investigations launched so far has been halted in state courts.)
It’s not the Lone Star State’s first radical proposal. In September, the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature passed a harsh anti-abortion bill that bans the procedure at six weeks, before many know they’re pregnant and also allows individuals to sue anyone involved in an abortion after six weeks. Emboldened by this broad action, other states, including Missouri and, of course, Florida, are looking to follow suit.
But somehow, despite the avalanche of radical laws meant to restrict the rights of huge swaths of people, the narrative remains that the real problem with political culture is that liberals are taking it too far.
And it’s not only the media that buy this narrative, it’s also big parts of the Democratic Party itself. According to Politico, one of the slides shown to Democrats by their campaign arm urged members to stay away from a certain type of debates. “Democrats need to demonstrate they fully understand and care about stressors in people’s lives… without stoking divisive cultural debates,” it read.
Last summer, political commentator James Carville went viral for demanding that the Democrats stop being so “woke” or it would cost them at the voting booth. When Republican Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s governor’s race last fall, he credited Democrats’ “stupid wokeness.”
Republicans have been happy to join in agreement and have made similar talking points about Democrats going into the midterm elections.
“These far-left policies are just so far out of the mainstream in the country right now that they can’t get people elected,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on Fox News late last month. “I think they’re getting crushed in the middle of the country, and the reason is the extreme radical agenda.”
Maybe voters who are convinced it’s the Democrats who have moved too far to one side don’t want to reckon with the fact that perhaps they agree with radical Republicans, at least on some level.
Otherwise, why would a moderate white president who can’t stop talking about how much he loves the police be considered a left-wing defund-supporting activist while the party seeking to remove trans children from their loving homes be seen as the people who understand the average needs of everyday people?
If Democrats end up losing control of Congress, there will be plenty more said about how and why liberals lost — and what they can do to win next time. Surely, an indefinable “wokeness” and a focus on identity politics will be blamed. But before the pundits can shriek about their inability to reach “regular” voters because of extreme policies, it’s important to remember who is actively dragging us back to the 1950s. And who isn’t.