Wokeism Has Peaked

Wokeism Has Peaked

I’m calling it: Wokeism has peaked. Yes, it will remain a highly influential movement, and it will probably continue to spread globally. But in the U.S. at least, wokeism and the woke will ebb.

By wokeism, I refer to a movement that, on the positive side, is highly aware of racism and social injustice, and is galvanized toward raising awareness. On the negative side, it can be preachy, alienating, overly concerned with symbols and self-righteous.

The turning point for the fortunes of the woke may be this week’s school board election in San Francisco, where three members were recalled by a margin of more than 70%. Voters were upset that the school board spent time trying to rename some schools in a more politically correct manner, rather than focusing on reopening all the schools. There was also considerable opposition to the board’s introduction of a lottery admissions system for a prestigious high school, in lieu of the previous use of grades and exam scores.

San Francisco is and will likely remain one of the country’s most left-leaning cities. And there could still be unforeseen consequences of the recall election. Still, it will serve as a reminder that even left-leaning voters can put up with only so much wokeism.

Another piece of evidence for the wane of wokeism is last year’s gubernatorial election in Virginia. Virginia had become a blue state, opting for the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential elections. Now Virginia has a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican attorney general. Furthermore, Republicans ran and won on the education issue, in particular opposition to the teaching of so-called critical race theory.

Republicans also passed a bill, with partial Democratic support, that children cannot be forced to wear masks in public schools. While wokeism has not made masks an issue, in my experience the pro-woke view and the pro-mask view are highly correlated. Whatever your view on masks in the schools, this new law is a sign the woke are not in charge.

Looking forward, I still expect Virginia voters to opt for Democrats more often than Republicans, especially at the presidential level. But as in San Francisco, a message has been sent: Political posts are contestable, practical solutions come first, and the woke will not be entrusted with all institutions — especially the schools.

Another trend is how relatively few immigrants are woke. Latinos in particular seem more open to the Republican Party, or at least don’t seem to have strong partisan attachments. More generally, immigrant political views are more diverse than many people think, even within the Democratic Party.

And what about the survival of Joe Rogan? There are a variety of reasons he is continuing his podcast with Spotify, even in light of some serious verbal transgressions. But the fact that he has not been canceled is another sign that the power of the woke has peaked.

Wokeism is likely to evolve into a subculture that is highly educated, highly White and fairly feminine. That is still a large mass of people, but not enough to run the country or all its major institutions. In the San Francisco school board recall, for instance, the role of Asian Americans was especially prominent.

By no means will the woke vanish from public life. They are entrenched in human resource departments, and fear of employment lawsuits will make it hard to dislodge their risk-averse procedures and pro-diversity rhetoric. The status quo for hiring practices, for better or worse, is now a permanent feature of American life.

The woke also are likely to achieve an even greater hold over American universities. Due to the tenure system, personnel turnover is low, and currently newer and younger faculty are more left-wing than are older faculty, including in my field of economics. The simple march of retirements is going to make universities even more left-wing — and even more out of touch with mainstream America.

Both the woke and their critics have been making the same fundamental mistake: assuming that their ideology, whether loved or hated, is a truly universal one. In fact, wokeism is a specific set of views stemming from ideological backgrounds which incorporate values that are Christian, Protestant, Puritan, Jewish, Enlightenment and, most of all, very American. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld used to say.

Modified versions of woke ideas will spread globally because there is so much real injustice in the world. Americans, meanwhile, need to get used to the idea that wokeism is just one part of a highly diverse mix — which is perhaps what the woke should have been wishing for all along.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero."

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