In the beginning, there was armchair bigotry. You either were an armchair bigot yourself, or (I hope) did your best to object to it. But hatred was just a part of life, sometimes morphing into organized violence and even genocide, other times staying put in the literal armchairs of living rooms worldwide.
Then came the extremely premature declaration of progressive, anti-racist, anti-sexist victory. The feminist glee at Hillary Clinton as first woman U.S. president (reader, she lost the election). The widespread 2020-21 epiphany that racism is bad actually, and that even if you’d already understood how terrible things were and are for BIPOC, you don’t know the half of it.
It seemed, for a time, and still does in some quarters, like wokeness had won. It had not. It would be more accurate to say that it won a few battles, but inspired a wide, confusing network of objectors. Some were artists who found the sanctimonious messaging of a landscape where every work had to make a pro-social-justice argument too stifling. Others were members of the “intellectual dark web,” or heterodox thinkers, often people who had understood themselves as liberals or leftists, but who found all the privilege-checking off-putting and shifted right.
Still others are unquestionably liberal, but not entirely on board. (Hello!) See, most obviously Jill Filipovic’s recent, excellent Atlantic mea culpa of sorts for bringing trigger warnings to the feminist blogosphere of the early 2000s.
Speaking of mea culpas of sorts, but let me be clear, not remotely conflating the two, this brings us to the other place anti-wokeness often lands: straight-up, old-fashioned, unapologetic hatred. Hatred of the sort conservative writer Richard Hanania spewed for years under a pseudonym. He wrote a great big… apology? or at any rate, a newsletter post about this revelation, one that’s more of a self-promotional diatribe than anything resembling contrition. Save yourself the time and read the tweet version.
The vibe is very, Please, no autographs at this time.
Hanania, as Jamelle Bouie points out, and as anyone who glances at the oeuvre in question soon realizes, hasn’t exactly put his racist past behind him. No, I don’t think he’s said anything antisemitic about Sarah Palin’s opponents in the last five minutes (wouldn’t be topical, at any rate) but he has begun a tweet from a few days ago, “As smart as the Chinese are, they can’t make industrial policy, the modern name for central planning, work.” How smart exactly is each group, Richard Hanania? Do you have thoughts about that? I bet you do.
What’s hard to gauge is whether Hanania has moved to the right-wing mainstream, or whether the current social media landscape, which incentivizes rage-clicks, gives someone like this an audience. But thanks to the proudly offensive school of punditry, and its political equivalent, the voice of anti-wokeness has become… this.
Which is interesting, because just as Hanania has a new book out about wait for it, wokeness, the crest has peaked, normal people have moved on from privilege-checking, and we’re returning to the serenity of a world where self-important bigots and hypersensitive left-wing radicals are fringe, and everyone else can just go about their day, finding other things to worry about.