The woke derangement syndromeJesse Jackson Sr. / June 16, 2023
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been touted as the presidential candidate who offers Trump without the drama, a Trump who can win rather than lose. He was supposedly able to forge a majority by uniting Trump’s MAGA base with disaffected Republican suburbanites. In recent weeks, he’s rolled out his presidential campaign platform, promising Americans a “war on woke.”
Say what? Americans face declining life expectancy – a product of a health care system that is failing despite costing about two times per person what other industrial countries spend. We suffer a debilitating inequality and increasingly pervasive corruption – a product of the big money that distorts our democracy. We face a literally existential threat in catastrophic climate change already costing lives and billions from extreme weather. We lost more than one million people to a pandemic and ended with a public health system more discredited than when we started. We’ve made college education and advanced training more and more unaffordable even as they are more and more important. We are threatened by more than 12 mass shootings a week, with schools now doing drills on how to escape. We’re spending more on our military than the next nine countries combined, and still find ourselves in wars without end and without victory.
These are not, however, what DeSantis thinks ails America. Instead, he plagiarizes Winston Churchill taking on Hitler in World War II, saying: “We will fight the woke in education, we will fight the woke in the corporations, we will fight the woke in the halls of Congress. We will never, ever surrender…”
What is “woke?” Donald Trump complained that half the people who use the term don’t know what it means. DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, defined woke as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them,” adding that DeSantis doesn’t believe there are systemic injustices in American society. Really?
Those who were once sleep, are now “woke” because of the pressing issues affecting their lives. For example, people adjusted to watching “Amos and Andy” until they became acquainted with “The Huxtables.” Those who were told they could not vote became maladjusted until we were given the right to vote. Now we are voting with deliberate speed.
For DeSantis “waging war on woke” has entailed launching attacks on LGBTQ Americans, purging books from schools, distorting the teaching of history, and taking on businesses like Disney that disagree with him. He wants to cover up the history of slavery, put gays back in the closet, ship out some immigrants (not the Cuban Americans and Venezuelan-Americans who form part of his base), and outlaw acknowledgement of sexism, racism or nativism, much less doing anything about them. And he expects enough Americans to enlist in his war on woke to elect him president.
History, however, can’t simply be erased. And reality can’t simply be ignored. To deny that systemic injustices are part of the American reality is to demand that justice be blind, not equal.
DeSantis’ war on woke may succeed in dividing us, but it offers no answer to what ails us. Working people aren’t the cause of our unaffordable health care system – insurance and drug companies are. LGBTQ Americans aren’t the defenders of catastrophic climate change – big oil and King Coal are. Working people aren’t losing ground because African Americans have gained civil rights, they are losing ground because corporations have shipped good jobs abroad with the aid of conservative politicians in both parties that they finance. Immigrants aren’t the cause of the gun violence that terrorizes our children, the gun lobby and politicians like DeSantis, who oppose common sense gun reforms, are far more responsible. Those who object to racism, sexism or nativism don’t cause the injustice; they seek to remedy it.
In the end, DeSantis’ war on woke is an ugly con. He opposes investing in people, lifting the minimum wage, giving workers the right to organize, curbing big money in politics. He opposes taxing the rich and corporations, rolling back subsidies to big oil, cracking down on pervasive corruption. As a congressman, he favored cutting Social Security and Medicare while defending tax breaks for the wealthy. He is the champion of the contented, the protector of the privileged.
That isn’t exactly an attractive agenda. So, DeSantis offers up his war on the woke, seeking to turn us on one another, peddling a big lie in the name of truth, cruelty in the name of morality.
Despite his multi-million-dollar war chest, his campaign to date has been a dud. In Florida, parents are mobilizing against his attempt to censor the curriculum, ban books, and terrorize teachers. His assault on Disney cost the state thousands of jobs and gave his wealthy sponsors second thoughts. More importantly, voters don’t seem to be buying what he’s selling. Even as Trump’s legal troubles deepen, DeSantis has lost ground in the polls. Perhaps Americans aren’t as dumb as he thinks they are. Perhaps hate isn’t as potent as hope.
Jesse L. Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition.