How to Destroy a People
Twenty years ago, I interviewed a young woman for an entry-level position at the prestigious university where I taught. I had read the candidate's Ph.D. thesis, with considerable reservations, and was eager to ask about her scholarly interests. She stated that she followed the approach called "critical theory" and that her interest was limited to whatever was abnormal, perverse, and antagonistic. She despised everything that was conventional, decent, or good.
As a person who had devoted his entire life to promoting what was conventional, decent, and good, I was taken aback. Not that I was entirely surprised. Critical theory, with its antagonistic attitude toward ordinary society, had been gaining ground for decades. I myself had attended the first National Endowment seminar, at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1988, focusing on critical theory, and I did not like what I heard.
It turned out that I was the only member of the hiring committee to vote against the young candidate. Her other qualifications were sterling, and apparently the others on the hiring committee saw nothing wrong with her fascination with the perverse. As it was, the abnormal was well on its way to becoming normal, as it now is in almost every university in America and much of the West — and in high schools and elementary schools as well. The so-called academic discipline of critical theory is the source of most of the social conflicts that are now arising — everything from transgender "rights" to slavery reparations to sanctuary cities to no-bail policing. It all derives from misguided sympathy with what appears to be marginal, outcast, and oppressed, but what actually constitutes a new class of privilege.
Woke supporters are intent not just on gaining equality, which they already possess as citizens, but on forcing ordinary Americans to admit and publicly support the prioritizing of and special privileges for so-called marginalized groups. Wokeness is not about "rights" — it is about favoritism on a colossal scale. It is about transforming America into a Marxist totalitarian state based on a coalition of groups antagonistic to traditional American identity. And so, ultimately, it is about destroying America as we have known it for over 200 years.
The special consideration that these groups demand comes at the expense of ordinary citizens — those decent, hardworking, family-oriented citizens who now find themselves forced to the back of the bus. Ordinary Americans pay the higher taxes necessary to fund the privileges that marginal groups now claim; ordinary folks are expected to nod in agreement as their children are subjected to woke brainwashing; ordinary people are told they must swallow the idea that the needs of homosexuals, transgenders, transvestites, criminals, illegal aliens, environmentalist radicals, communists, atheists, and anarchists come first — in education, hiring, culture, politics, and the news. There is little space or funding left for everyday Americans, who are told that they are less important and "outdated" and even "hate-filled" just because of their noble beliefs in Christianity, self-responsibility, decency, and goodness.
Critical theory began as the dream of a small number of extremely alienated left-wing academics. It has now become orthodoxy among the intelligentsia and has infected the minds of tens of millions of otherwise decent Americans, who may not understand the full implications of the ideas they promote. How would it be if our society were to become fully "woke"? What if only marginal groups were allowed to receive honors at school, were hired and promoted ahead of those who appear normal, were listened to and validated in their careers and communities, were elected exclusively to public office — in short, what if the woke population came to control our lives in every respect? The answer should be obvious because we are well on our way to that condition already.
It's only a few courageous leaders, like President Trump and Gov. DeSantis, who have begun to push back against the ideology of critical theory and wokeism. They understand that in America, we do not create special classes of victimhood who are to be granted special privileges and who are to be placed ahead of ordinary persons. They understand that robust policing and prosecution are necessary in order to protect everyone from criminals. They know that children should not be exposed to teaching that implicitly promotes homosexuality, transgenderism, and other behaviors that they consider deviant. They know that it is wrong to focus the resources of the State on the needs of illegal aliens and away from those of citizens.
This push-back is not about denying rights to anyone. All citizens of the U.S. are entitled to the same rights under the law — but no group or individual is entitled to special consideration, promotion, or remuneration. What we are now facing is an ideology based exclusively on granting privileges to those who are "marginalized," which is to say those who are deviant, illegal, subversive, and hostile to traditional values. This ideology is the very opposite of constitutional law, which guarantees equal treatment and protection, not special treatment.
It's not enough just to have a few in politics and the media oppose the woke ideology. What is necessary is a widespread rejection of practices and ideas that we consider wrong. Americans need to decide, once and for all, whether they want the future of our country to be in the hands of decent, hardworking citizens with traditional values or in the hands of those who, by their own admission, wish to "transform" America into a country defined by extreme and antagonistic ideologies. All that is necessary is for ordinary Americans to regain their belief in the rightness and worth of their identity and to speak out whenever that identity is derided or dismissed. It is late in the day, but it is not too late to restore a nation with shared values of goodness, decency, and order. That is the prescription for health, prosperity, and security.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).