Goodbye, Guilted Age
The wokeness that was defeated in Virginia's recent elections was the hallmark of an era of guilt that America should turn her back on.
There are many ways to parse the Republican upset over a Democrat party boss in Virginia this November. Was it proof of the GOP rebounding after a Trump binge? Was it a foretaste of bigger Democrat wipeouts to come in 2022? Was it, to riff off of TAC contributing editor Matthew Walther’s take, false euphoria over a pyrrhic non-conservative win?
I think all of these views have merit. For my part, my initial gut reaction to the Old Dominion election was, “Thank God the Clinton henchman and McCabe-ist swamp creature got shown the door.”
But as the hours wore on and the warm rush of dopamine—which always comes from watching glum, defeated liberals mope on the TV—wore off, I began to think that Democrat strategist James Carville’s pithy assessment captured the moment best. It was “stupid wokeness,” my fellow big-mouthed Cajun noted, that hung like an albatross around Democrats’ necks. That’s the ticket right there. Woke croaked this month.
Americans are not going to be told anymore that we are all racist, evil, oppressive goons ruining the lives of every blessed minority in creation. That asinine fable, which many on the left apparently believe, is not going to sway the electorate any longer. We have long been a guilted people. But the Guilted Age is over. The insufferable woke punditry and academic-bureaucratic complex are going to have to find some other high hobby horse to ride.
By “guilted” I mean the knotted, clotted rage of the left against pretty much the entire country. This rage has dominated the mediascape and institutional mood this past half decade. It has become the hobby, the very bad habit, of the elite to hector and browbeat all the little people going about their business in the workaday world, to blame us all for a whole rap sheet of offenses.
Every platform in America became a pulpit in the 2010s for telling the plebs and proles in “Palookaville” (a certain Alinsky acolyte’s favorite term of contempt for the utterly forgettable hometown of Joe Sixpack) that they were knuckle-dragging bigots just looking for some homosexual or Muslim to beat up. “Pin the blame on the whole nation” sells well in the Hamptons. I get it. But it has become a complete joke everywhere else, from the bien-pensant suburbs, to the black neighborhoods which suffer the most from the consequences of the left’s blame obsession.
The left grew intoxicated by this idiotic accuse-everyone exercise, which quickly went from annoying to intolerable to just plain absurd. Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith, for example, an encyclopedia-entry-worthy representative of the Haranguing Wing of the unhinged left, actually called Larry Elder, who ran for governor of California earlier in 2021, the “Black face of white supremacy.” Black conservative Candace Owens has also been accused of this logically untenable crime. When even black people are “white supremacists,” one would think the air brakes on the leftmobile would kick in and the Democrats would try to circle back around to some common sense. But no.
The insanity finally crested with public school teachers’ pushing the cultural-Marxist agit-prop known as critical race theory in class. (The Zoom year helped enormously by revealing to parents just how bad the public school curricula had become.) In school board meeting after school board meeting across the country in 2020 and 2021, parents of every conceivable ethnic background took to the podium to insist that teachers stop telling kids that race war was a kind of Fourth Law of Thermodynamics. Black parents, white parents, Middle Eastern parents, Hispanic parents, Asian parents—everyone stood up and said to quit with the CRT already. Enough was enough.
But the left doubled down again. Apparently everybody is a white supremacist now (surely as much of a surprise to immigrant parents from Haiti as it was to Elder and Owens), and also a “domestic terrorist” to boot. Folks got fed up with this narcosis oddly known as “wokeness,” and threw out on his ear whichever politician happened to be within electoral reach. That politician, poetic justice would have it, was Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe so perfectly embodies the smug disdain for average Americans that has come to be the Democrats’ national brand, that even straight-D voters in Virginia’s bluest counties went to the polls and gave the CRT cultists a piece of their mind.
I would guess that one of the reasons that both Carville and I have an allergy to this business of calling everyone a white supremacist is that, in our home state of Louisiana, we had an honest-to-goodness white supremacist run for public office: the execrable David Duke. It wasn’t too hard to tell that Duke was a white supremacist. You didn’t need the gurus on CNN to spell it out for you. I mean, Duke was given to praising Hitler and saying things such as, “White people are genetically superior,” and “Blacks and Jews are sub-human,” and other cloacal statements along that line.
White supremacists like Duke do not hide their views. They are anxious to show you their swastika collection and to explain to you how the Rothschilds control the world. If you ever encounter a white supremacist, you will know it in about three seconds. This is not “systemic racism.” Duke was, and is, an outright racist. “White supremacy” is not an abstraction or an atmospheric phenomenon. It is not a subtle art, my friends. It is glaring. You don’t have to suss it out of the interstices of a culture.
I know Carville must have paid close attention to Duke. Everyone in Louisiana did. The Republicans shunned Duke. The Democrats gave him much more leeway, back when he was a Democrat. Is anyone surprised? The outgoing governor of Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam, was photographed in either blackface or a Klan hood. He can’t remember which. That is not “systemic racism.” That is a racist jackass. You don’t need to appeal to nebulous, “systemic” iterations of what is right in front of your eyes.
And yet, during the Virginia campaign this autumn, we witnessed low-rent Democrat operatives with tiki torches pantomiming “white supremacy” in front of Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin’s campaign bus. This was the shark-jumping moment for “systemic racism,” but still the left seems unable to grasp that the jig is up.
So, what is up with the twirly insanity of the left these days? Some say that wokeness is political correctness on steroids, but I disagree. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of political correctness, which is basically Marxist prissiness dolled up as faux sensitivity. I rolled my eyes with everyone else at the insistence on torturing the English language into preposterous circumlocutions designed to avoid the correspondence between thought and reality that we know as “sanity.” “Fat,” “short,” “poor,” “wrong”: these frank acknowledgements became passe and then taboo. (Sorry, I shouldn’t say “taboo.”)
But wokeness is different entirely. Wokeness is not political correctness. It is not only a denial of reality, although it is also that. The main mechanism of woke is a short-circuiting of guilt. Woke is a broken-record guilt-trip. It is the left trying to pin existential guilt on everyone else, which is why the woke always go for indelible traits like race and sex, rough and easily-politicizable stand-ins for metaphysics. The ur-texts of this odd religion hold that there is something called “systemic racism,” another tumbledown metaphysical concept, and we (or at least those of us not in Manhattan, Washington, or Hollywood) are to blame for it. Just by breathing. Just by existing.
Of course, we could plead the woke’s favorite mantra, “Pride,” as a way to excuse ourselves from our guilt. But that doesn’t work. Because Pride is only for the woke. If you are not woke, you may not be proud. You may only be sorry. And even that is not enough, not even close. The elite-captured institutions now work only to shame the non-elite into accepting the guilt for all that has gone so horribly wrong. It’s like a spinning merry-go-round. You can’t get off. You can only hold on and feel dizzy and sick.
Truth be told, wokeness comes from deep in the American psyche, from places we don’t like to talk about at parties. We are still sinners in the hands of an angry God, it seems. It’s just that God is now Whoopi Goldberg. Which, I think, is not working out so well. Malcolm X said that Plymouth Rock landed on us. I think I know how he felt. Puritanism is truly an irritating creed, and there is always this broken key in the American national character just waiting to be mashed for maximum dissonance. Wokeists found the key, the off-note that makes everyone grab their ears and grit their teeth as though hearing nails scratching down a blackboard, and the wokeists have been banging that one key again and again since the Trump candidacy was announced.
I am very glad that we seem to be breaking the grip of this atavistic madness and getting back to normal. Because Americans are just too good to put up with this kind of sick joke, too pure-hearted for the sadomasochism of Puritanism.
Americans, good? Did Morgan really just say that? Yes. I did. I have lived outside of the continental United States, most of that time in East Asia, for more than half of my adult life. I have come to hold a rather astringent view of the United States government in my creeping middle age. But at the same time I have come to admire and respect, even love, my fellow Americans. I never saw it until I left home, but most Americans are good, honest people. Sinners, yes. And maybe in the hands of an angry God. But not all that bad despite these important qualifiers.
Whenever I go back home for a visit I am always astounded at how nice Americans are. In lines at airports or grocery stores it is not at all uncommon for Americans to begin chatting with one another, something I have never seen in any other country. Perfect strangers, but by the time they get to the checkout counter they already know where half of one another’s extended family resides. For a very good reason. Americans can be goofy, but they are good-hearted. Far too good to be kicked around by bullies on MSNBC.
The people in Japan, where I live, are extraordinarily kind and giving, and will do anything to help a friend in need. I have benefitted from this myself, every day for more than ten years in this beautiful country. But I have never witnessed an impromptu heart-to-heart at a bus stop, or people showing one another photos of their grandkids while in the lobby of a bank. The word “friendly” has been incorporated into Japanese, straight from English, and is used most often, in my experience, to describe either big, happy dogs, or Americans.
It is well known that Americans give the most money to charity. Big charities like the Red Cross, and little charities like your neighbor’s kid’s little league team. If you set up a coffee can in front of any Walmart and tell the folks going in and out that you are raising money to help the handicapped, or stray animals, or starving kids in Africa, your can will be overflowing with coins and wadded-up cash in no time.
A woman recently had a flat tire in Tennessee, and a country star named Luke Bryan stopped to help her out. Like a dang fool, I ran a rental car off the road early one frosty morning in rural Alabama years ago, and a man down the way came out on his tractor and pulled me out of the ditch. Wouldn’t take any money, was shy even about being thanked for what he’d done. Americans of all races have adopted abandoned children from around the world. I’m told that even Yankees have been known to practice spontaneous acts of charity, bless their hearts.
America, that place so awfully racist that droves of people keep streaming in from around the hemisphere, is not what the left tells us it is. America is a good country, a country where goodness, in any given moment, has at least an even shot at shining through. We invented PETA, the pro-life movement, Hallmark movies, and Mother’s Day. We invented Dolly Parton and Frederick Douglass.
Yes, Americans are good, and not despite their past but because of it. Lynchings, slave auctions, Manzanar, Native genocide. It’s all right there. Open any history book, open any newspaper for that matter, and the sins of our youth are before us. The left acts like it is some kind of secret, esoteric knowledge to say that America has often failed to live up to her ideals. But of course everyone knows the dark history. That’s why we so treasure the racial unity that we are finally beginning to achieve.
The trick of wokeness has been in getting us to believe that nothing has changed since Nat Turner or Little Big Horn. Average Americans are not so average after all, I think. We’ve overcome some stuff. We’ve worked hard to live with our brothers and sisters in peace, to quit being ugly to one another and to treat one another with the respect we all deserve. We’re a “friendly” folk, as the Japanese know very well. That friendliness was hard won, bought with a price. And that—precisely that—was what Americans are not about to give up this election season, not in Virginia or anywhere else.
We are tired of this Guilted Age, this distortion of the truth about who we are. It’s always a dangerous business to extrapolate predictions from notoriously un-representative midterms, but I think it is safe to say that James Carville’s phone is going to be ringing healthily between now and next November and beyond. The Democrats had better listen to the man and quit with the “stupid wokeness,” because that dog won’t hunt any longer.
Ask Virginia’s new lieutenant governor, Winsome Sears. The Jamaican immigrant and former Marine’s name beautifully describes her place in the national conversation right now. Winsomely, she sears the addled brains of the woke left. A happy warrior, she, like so many others great and small, gives the lie to the charge that America is a racist country filled with oppressive domestic terrorists.
Let Winsome Sears be the face of post-Guilted Age America. Let her Virginia, emerging from a bad case of CRT, give hope to the rest of us that the guilt trip is over, and that there are better days ahead. Better days for a country that is far too good for the stupid, woke elite that has been lording over it.
Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.