If there’s one word which symbolizes American progressivism in 2019 it’s wokeness. Asking what it means constitutes proof that one is not woke. Although wokeness can best be viewed as the pop-cult wing of the late-Marxist heresy called intersectionality by academics, it’s really more a cultivated posture than a coherent political program.
The challenge with wokeness is its fluidity. Its arbiters exist mainly on social media as an unelected Politburo of sorts, and their edicts can change without formal notice. What was sufficiently woke yesterday may not be deemed so today, with real-world costs for those eager to stay on the vaunted right side of history.
For politicians the hazards are real, as Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic governor, discovered last week. No national figure until a few days ago, Northam burst to stardom on Wednesday when he gave an interview in which he discussed a bill before the Virginia legislature which proposes to ease access to third-trimester abortions. A pediatric neurologist by trade, Northam’s comments were a tad too clinical for some, and controversy ensued. While the Woke Brigade hailed Northam as a hero, many on the Right believed the governor had endorsed infanticide.
That was nothing, however, compared to what appeared on Friday to render Northam’s left-wing hero status dead on arrival. Just 48 hours after his abortion commentary birthed a social media sensation, a right-wing website called Big League Politics published a photo of Northam’s medical school yearbook page from 1984. This included an image of two presumably white men which one need not be exceptionally woke to find offensive: one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.
At this point the Internet exploded, and the governor quickly admitted that he was in the photo (without clarifying if he was the blackface or the KKK), proffering the now-customary clichés when the gods of wokeness demand appeasement: the costume ‘was clearly racist and offensive. I am deeply sorry…This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today…I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work.’
Not understanding 2019, the governor believed that was the end of that and he could get on with his job. Social media disagreed, however, and leading members of his own party demanded his resignation. They surely had a point. While the Confederate flag was still mainstream 35 years ago – The Dukes of Hazzard, in full Dixie kitsch glory, was running on CBS in 1984 – nobody outside the rightist fringe, a generation after the Civil Rights revolution, then thought blackface or Klan garb were amusing or socially acceptable.
Northam then proceeded to inexplicably make things worse the following day with a bizarre press conference in which he changed his story, stating he was not in the controversial photo, while admitting that he had once donned blackface to impersonate Michael Jackson for a talent show. He offered to moonwalk for the cameras, something Mrs Northam wisely shut down, while helpfully explaining the challenges of donning blackface: ‘I don’t know if anyone’s ever tried that – you cannot get shoe polish off.’
Leaving the press dumbstruck, Northam believed he still had a political future, his resistance to resignation undimmed. Everybody who’s anybody in his own party disagreed, and the online braying for Northam’s head increased, with even President Donald Trump – who is nobody’s idea of woke – joining the Twitter chorus condemning the governor.
It would be difficult to overstate the political hazard of the Northam debacle for Democrats. It doesn’t help that he was elected in 2017 in part by lambasting his Republican rival as – you guessed it – a racist. Republican operatives are asking how nobody uncovered the yearbook during that race, given the large sums spent on opposition research, but the Northam disaster nevertheless constitutes an extraordinary gift to the GOP for 2020. Democrat hypocrisy, thy name is Ralph Northam.
The governor still seems to think he can hold onto office somehow, despite the opposition of essentially his whole party, while it’s difficult to see how he can be impeached for an offensive social faux pas back in the Reagan years. The cost here for Democrats, who seemed to be on the verge of turning purple Virginia blue, promises to be steep and potentially long-lasting.
No worries, insisted the Woke Brigade: Northam’s deputy, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is ready to step in. While Northam is old, white, and tainted, Fairfax is young, black, and scandal-free, indeed a rising star in Democratic circles. His wokeness is impeccable. Last month, the lieutenant governor condemned the Virginia Senate for honoring native son Robert E. Lee, while as a self-proclaimed ‘proud feminist’ and Planned Parenthood official, his views on abortion seem similar to Northam’s. The solution to the crisis was obvious.
Then the Internet struck once more, with Big League Politics (yes, again) on Sunday posting a story about a woman who claimed that an unnamed politician – it was clearly Fairfax – sexually assaulted her in 2004. The lieutenant governor responded by posting a denial on Twitter, complete with legal threats for defamation, based on the premise that the sexual encounter was ‘100 percent consensual.’ Moreover, Fairfax explained, the woman had previously approached The Washington Post with her accusation, and the paper never ran the story due to ‘significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegation.’
The Post responded with a statement clarifying that the lieutenant governor was lying, noting that they ‘did not find ‘significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations,’ as the Fairfax statement incorrectly said.’ This was a classic he-said/she-said situation, in which thePost, for want of hard evidence or third-party eyewitnesses, could not firmly establish what happened back in 2004, therefore they spiked the story – as any reputable journalistic outfit would do in such a case.
Yesterday, Fairfax counterattacked with a bizarre presser of his own in which he vehemently denied any sexual misconduct while denouncing the ‘smear’ against him, implying there is a conspiracy working against him. ‘I don’t believe anybody believes that’s a coincidence,’ he added about the sexual assault allegation, amid dark hints of plotting by media and perhaps the embattled governor himself.
The problem is that only a few months ago leading Democrats demanded that all women be believed regarding sexual misconduct accusations, even when no corroborating evidence can be found – at least when the man in question was Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats have not yet called for Fairfax’s resignation en masse, indicating that #BelieveHer may have limits based on the ideological convenience of the accusation.
The political cost of wokeness has just raised its head in Virginia, shaking the Democratic establishment there to its core as the world watches. The fragility of the post-Obama Democratic coalition – what a Marxist might term its ‘inherent contradictions’ – is on display. No matter what happens now to Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and their political careers, Democrats ought to notice that purges of the insufficiently woke demanded by social media are only taking out fellow Democrats. Just ask former Sen. Al Franken.