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Counterpoint: The War on Woke Is a Scam on Middle America

For an alternate viewpoint, see: Point: To Be Woke Is to Be MAGA

Buckle up, team: I’m a White man from the Midwest with a story to tell about wokeness.

I live in an Ohio railroad town. Locals hear trains calling through the night, wait them out at crossings, and photograph them trundling along the river past the old mill downtown. But as our neighbors two counties over in East Palestine know, those cars don’t just carry freight or Old World charm — they also bring danger.

While we refreshed local EPA reports in the days after the Norfolk Southern derailment, I wondered who’d get blamed for it. There was no shortage of options.

Norfolk Southern skimped on maintenance, overstretched its workers, and used the profits to hike its stock price.

Ohio’s governor and the local congressman accepted thousands from the company while the statehouse dutifully killed a bipartisan rail safety bill the company lobbied against. Former president Donald Trump, who showed up after the crash to promote his bottled water brand, had killed an Obama-era regulation to prevent accidents like these.

But on the MAGA circuit, none of these were to blame.

Instead, as the Ohio Capital Journal’s Marilou Johanek put it, we got “opportunists exploiting East Palestine’s suffering population with politics and race-baiting.” In this telling, it wasn’t corporate or government corruption that caused the suffering in East Palestine. It was “wokeness.”

Fox host Tucker Carlson proclaimed that East Palestine was affected because it “is overwhelmingly White, and it’s politically conservative.” As writer Greg Sargent summarized, Carlson alleged the administration would have cared more “if the accident had happened in Philadelphia or Detroit — wink, wink.”

“If this train derailment happened in downtown Atlanta in the densely populated Black neighborhoods,” agreed far-right activist Charlie Kirk, “this would be the number-one news story.” The millionaire talk show host insisted that our leaders “hate working-class Whites,” and, in fact, there’s a whole “crusade against White people.”

Fox talking head Jesse Waters played a similar note, asking this about Michael Regan, President Biden’s Black EPA administrator: “Is this his idea of fighting environmental racism? Spilling toxic chemicals on poor White people in Ohio?

Donald Trump Jr., for his part, denigrated Treasury Secretary Pete Buttigieg as “the gay guy.”

This is the “war on woke” sham in a nutshell.

Well-heeled politicians and millionaire MAGA media figures tell poor Whites to blame Black people, LGBTQ people, and vague liberal ideas for troubles any sensible person would blame on a greedy corporation and the bought-off politicians — from the GOP-run Ohio statehouse on up to the White House — who enabled it.

Even while lambasting President Biden, they had little to say about his bad decision to snub the railroad unions, perhaps because most Republicans — many flush with railroad cash — supported that, too. The only beneficiaries are the bad actors who poisoned the poor Ohio community these pundits claim to represent from their perches in New York or Washington.

They play the same game all over.

Right-wing politicians rail against “woke corporations” only to collect corporate campaign cashpush corporate tax cuts, and oppose minimum wage hikes, sick leave, and union organizing. They ban books about race and viciously attack LGBTQ kids to protect education while systematically underfunding schools.

A self-described “anti-woke budget” drafted by former Trump officials would cut the “woke” Environmental Protection Agency by 30 percent. What a gift to East Palestine, where the EPA is doing emergency cleanup operations.

This hateful, fact-free rhetoric is doing incredible damage.

It spreads cruel and dangerous anti-LGBTQ laws. It’s gutting classroom libraries. It’s led to absurd conspiracy theories, an emboldened and violent White supremacist fringe, and the January 6 coup attempt. It divides urban and rural communities of every race and color who might otherwise work together against influential people who do them wrong.

In court, a lawyer for Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida recently defined “woke” as the “general belief in systemic injustices in the country.” Ask yourself: Why would a powerful politician want to banish that belief?

Instead, the MAGA bargain for Middle America goes something like this: If we hurt other people worse, is it OK if we hurt you, too?

Sorry, but I guess this White Ohioan would rather be woke.

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Point: To Be Woke Is to Be MAGA

For another viewpoint, see: Counterpoint: The War on Woke is Scam on Middle America

Critics can’t agree on what “woke” means. Going back a bit into our history is the idea of Black people being “woke” from the oppression of the White man and what we, as a society, can do about it. However, the term has been appropriated for a variety of left-wing causes.

On the other side of this is MAGA. What is this MAGA movement, and what does it mean to be in it?

Like woke, being MAGA is also hard to define.

Most political movements have difficulty defining themselves, and finding the right label has been a challenge.

For example, I’m a libertarian republican, but hawkish. A contradiction in our basic political terminology. Just as calling me MAGA would be inaccurate, so, perhaps too, is calling me conservative, depending on who’s talking at any given moment.

The woke idea has been appropriated mainly by White liberals at the expense of Black people and has come with such force because the authoritarian tendencies from the left leave you woke or out of the crowd.

The White liberal political groupthink that comes with the term, and the movement for transgender rights, a mainly trendy White problem, continues to transform as Whites exploit civil rights for White aims. Woke, at this point, varies from non-racist or even anti-racist to acculturate leftist movements that have little to do with whether I’m going to be gunned down by police while eating a donut.

Like woke, MAGA has become a word and a movement taken from its small-government, dovish roots and hijacked, not from liberal authoritarian Whites but Christian nationalist authoritarian Whites and/or the alt-right.

Instead of reveling in shrinking the government and protecting borders, MAGA has become a rallying cry for a minority of White conservatives who see a browning America and want to make adjustments to the racial harmony of the country. Some commenters at the Charlottesville, Va., rally went so far as to advocate for a country that is 85 percent White and Christian. Where the hell does that come from? Donald Trump certainly never, ever, suggested anything like this.

Woke and MAGA appear to be at odds with each other, but they have some similarities in goals that are worth noting. Not to silence the cries of Black people with legitimate complaints, MAGA wants more police training and more funding for law enforcement. If the left thinks more money will fix the schools, why won’t it fix the police? Why is it anti-woke to even suggest it?

At the heart of the Black community are serious deficits in education. Like the GOP before it, MAGA seeks to push hard for school vouchers. Not because White donors can’t afford it but because too many Black students can’t. They want those kids in school with their kids, and the right-wing fight against the soft segregation of public school districts is noteworthy and important.

While we’ll continue to hear authoritarians try to use terminology and labels to divide the public by race, religion and partisanship, we must remember that our struggles and hardships end up hurting us all the same, even after the division. The question we should be confronting is how these terms are used to divide us, and we should be answering it by seeing our common enemy and fighting that instead.

To be woke is to be MAGA, as both movements are about ensuring an equitable and fair society. A society where the nation’s underclasses, across racial lines, have been abandoned by the institutions that govern us and the leaders of movements primarily interested in enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

We need to ignore these labels to establish a consensus in moving America forward and finally making America great again for everyone.