Home/Rod Dreher/Woke Totalitarianism: Stan Richards’ Case

Woke Totalitarianism: Stan Richards’ Case

Advertising legend Stan Richards (WFAA TV)

You might have seen that Amy Coney Barrett was dragged briefly on the Left for using the term “sexual preference” in her testimony, to refer to gay people. She later apologized, saying that she didn’t mean anything negative by it. In Commentary, Noah Rothman details — with many examples — how the phrase was perfectly kosher with the media and academia until the moment they could use it to criticize Judge Barrett as a homophobe. Rothman continues:

We should not mince words. What we’re witnessing is a concerted, perhaps even coordinated, effort to manufacture an allegation of bigotry from whole cloth and to force previously neutral language to comport with that accusation. And all to assault the character of one politically inconvenient woman.

This is retroactive conditioning on a grand scale. Before Tuesday, this was a term that most well-meaning people used within perfectly explicable context to convey their commitment to tolerance and egalitarianism. But now, with a Supreme Court seat on the line, it is being perverted to mean the precise opposite of tolerance.

If the goal here were a fuller understanding of the gay community’s sensitivities, we would not be witnessing an inquisition. Barrett’s critics would be educating her rather than accusing her. But this is not a good-faith display on the part of the theatrically incensed—it is a nakedly opportunistic fabrication. And we are all expected to subordinate what we know to be true to the party line. That is totalitarianism, and our moral obligation to oppose its encroachment on every facet of public and private life is as good an argument as any for Judge Barrett’s confirmation.

An acclaimed liberal black writer tweeted yesterday:

There’s just got to be some grace in all this. Nope. Not when there are scalps to be taken. Not when there is INJUSTICE to be fought. As the dissident liberal Bari Weiss writes in her terrific new Tablet essay:

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game—due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself—must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with—designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

Grace? What’s that? We are post-Christian now; “grace” is a white supremacist concept, or something.

This morning comes news that a venerable Dallas-based national advertising agency, The Richards Group, is going down because of some ill-chosen words spoken by its founder, 87-year-old Stan Richards. More:

Motel 6, Home Depot and Keurig Dr Pepper have cut ties with the Richards Group, an advertising agency in Dallas, after a report that its founder had made racist remarks in a meeting last week.

During a Zoom gathering of more than three dozen Richards Group employees on Thursday, a creative team working on the Motel 6 account presented an idea for an ad to Stan Richards, who founded the Richards Group in 1976. Mr. Richards responded to the idea by saying, “It’s too Black,” according to a person at the meeting, who said the ad would have featured Black, white and Hispanic guests. Mr. Richards, who is white, added that the ad might offend or alienate Motel 6’s “white supremacist constituents,” the person said.

A Richards Group spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Richards, 87, had made the “too Black” remark, but said in an email that he was trying to convey that the proposed ad “was not multiculturally inclusive enough.”

When asked about Mr. Richards’ comment on white supremacists, which was first reported by the publication AdAge, the agency spokeswoman said, “Although his comments did reference that group, that quote is not correct.” Mr. Richards apologized to hundreds of the agency’s employees on a Zoom call on Friday.

The old man’s remarks were offensive, and he apologized. But now, some the firm’s big clients are leaving. Except for this client:

The Salvation Army, another client, said that it was “deeply concerned” by the comments but “encouraged by the fact that Mr. Richards has made an apology.”

Grace. The Salvation Army shows it; the major corporations, not so much. Motel 6 had been a client for 34 years; Home Depot, for 25 years. Just like that, gone. Such is loyalty in the Age of Wokeness.

Who knows if the agency will survive this? That man, Stan Richards, founded it in 1976, and built it into a national powerhouse. But today, a few dumb words from him in a meeting are enough to put his life’s work in peril — and the jobs of everyone who works at the massive agency.

Is that social justice? Is it really?

I want you to understand, reader, that the government did not make this happen. This is a totalitarian culture built entirely by the private sector, by people who willingly chose to live by its monstrous ideology. Nobody defends what Stan Richards said. He was wrong. But good lord, people, if we cannot find a means to forgive people — especially 87 year olds — who say stupid or offensive things, and if we create a world in which they and all those who work for them can lose a lifetime’s worth of work because they offended the politically powerful — then we are creating a miserable, anxiety-ridden dystopia.

Amy Coney Barrett said the words “sexual preference,” and was set upon by the Woke as a bigot. How do you know that something innocent you say today won’t be seized upon by your enemies in an attempt to destroy you? Stan Richards’s words were not so innocent, but for heaven’s sake, he was talking about an advertisement — and he quickly apologized! Do you want to live in a world in which you could lose your career or your business over a few words — and in which nobody will accept your sincere apology?

This is the world the Left has created for us. Again, read Bari Weiss’s essay. It was written by a liberal who has been red-pilled by progressive reality. Its title is “Stop Being Shocked” — her rebuke to fellow Jewish liberals who struggle to grasp what’s happening, and to understand how the world has changed. Excerpt:

I share with the majority of American Jews’ disgust toward Trump and Trumpism, which has normalized bigotry and cruelty in ways that have crippled American society. That truth doesn’t detract from another: There is another danger, this one from the left. And unlike Trump, this one has attained cultural dominance, capturing America’s elites and our most powerful institutions. In the event of a Biden victory, it is hard to imagine it meeting resistance. So let me make my purpose perfectly clear: I am here to ring the alarm. I’m here to say: Do not be shocked anymore. Stop saying, can you believe. It’s time to accept reality, if we want to have any hope of fixing it.

To understand the enormity of the change we are now living through, take a moment to understand America as the overwhelming majority of its Jews believed it was—and perhaps as we always assumed it would be.

It was liberal.

Not liberal in the narrow, partisan sense, but liberal in the most capacious and distinctly American sense of that word: the belief that everyone is equal because everyone is created in the image of God. The belief in the sacredness of the individual over the group or the tribe. The belief that the rule of law—and equality under that law—is the foundation of a free society. The belief that due process and the presumption of innocence are good and that mob violence is bad. The belief that pluralism is a source of our strength; that tolerance is a reason for pride; and that liberty of thought, faith, and speech are the bedrocks of democracy.

The liberal worldview was one that recognized that there were things—indeed, the most important things—in life that were located outside of the realm of politics: friendships, art, music, family, love. This was a world in which Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be close friends. Because, as Scalia once said, some things are more important than votes.

Crucially, this liberalism relied on the view that the Enlightenment tools of reason and the scientific method might have been designed by dead white guys, but they belonged to everyone, and they were the best tools for human progress that have ever been devised.

Racism was evil because it contradicted the foundations of this worldview, since it judged people not based on the content of their character, but on the color of their skin. And while America’s founders were guilty of undeniable hypocrisy, their own moral failings did not invalidate their transformational project. The founding documents were not evil to the core but “magnificent,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, because they were “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” In other words: The founders themselves planted the seeds of slavery’s destruction. And our second founding fathers—abolitionists like Frederick Douglass—made it so. America would never be perfect, but we could always strive toward building a more perfect union.

I didn’t even know that this worldview had a name because it was baked into everything I came into contact with—my parents’ worldviews, the schools they sent me to, the synagogues we attended, the magazines and newspapers we read, and so on.

I was among many millions of Americans cosseted by these ideals. Since World War II, American intellectual and cultural life has been produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, labor unions, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, historical museums, art museums—that aligned, broadly, with those principles. As such, they had incredible power—power that demanded our respect because they held up the liberal order.

No longer. American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it.

There certainly is. She goes on to express frustration over how older Jews among the cultural and financial elite just don’t want to see what is right in front of their noses:

So when I try to discuss this with many Jews in leadership positions, what I face is either boomer-esque entitlement—a sense that the way the world worked for them must be the way it will always work—or outright resistance. Oh please, wokeness isn’t important anywhere but in silly Twitter microclimates. When you explain that no, in fact, this ideology has taken over universities, publishing houses, the media, museums and is now making quick work of corporate America, you hit another roadblock: Isn’t this just righting some historical injustices? What could go wrong? You then have to explain what could go wrong—what is already going wrong—is that it is ruining the lives of regular, good people, and the more institutions and companies fall prey to it, the more lives it will ruin.

The dominoes are falling hard and fast. That’s how you get pulpit rabbis who argue that Jews should not claim ourselves to be indigenous to the land of Israel. Or an organization meant to fight anti-Semitism that aligns itself with Al Sharpton. Or a tinderbox in the city with the largest Jewish population in the country, whose communal outfits seem to care more about lending cover to politicians than ensuring the physical safety of Jews.

Last month, I participated in a Zoom event attended by several major Jewish philanthropists. After briefly talking about my experience at The New York Times, I noted that if they wanted to understand what happened to me, they needed to appreciate the power of that new, still-nameless creed that has hijacked the paper and so many other institutions essential to American life. I’ve been thinking about what happened next ever since.

One of the funders on the call launched into me, explaining that Ibram X. Kendi’s work was vital, and portrayed me as retrograde and uncool for opposing the ideology du jour. Because this person is prominent and powerful enough to send signals that others in the Jewish world follow, the comments managed to both sideline me and stun almost everyone else into silence.

These people may be the most enraging: those with the financial security to oppose this ideology and demure, so desperate to be seen as hip; for their children to keep their spots at the right prep schools; so that they can be seated at the right tables at the right benefits; so that they are honored at Brown or Harvard; so that business does well enough that they can renovate their house in Aspen or East Hampton. Desperate to remain in good odor with the right people, they are willing to close their eyes to what is coming for the rest of us.

Read it all! And pass it on! We are dealing with the same thing in Christian churches and communities. Older people want to pretend this is just a passing fad, or that it can be stopped by voting for Trump (as if Donald Trump or any other president could save The Richards Group). Others — well-meaning Christians — want to minimize it, because Isn’t this just righting some historical injustices? They are by now in willful denial of the fundamentally totalitarian nature of this threat.

It’s totalitarian because it regards no aspect of life as non-political. Critical Race Theory assumes that every human interaction and social construct is racialized; the goal is to unmask the racism within it. You cannot escape any of it. As Comrade Ibram X. Kendi, the lead theorist of the moment, says, “Either you are antiracist or you are racist” — and, in a truly Orwellian move, he defines “antiracism” in radically egalitarian terms that are rather distant from what normal people think of as antiracism. As Bari Weiss points out, Martin Luther King’s most famous speech would be considered racist under Kendi’s scheme.

Anyway, as you know, I talk about this in more detail in my book Live Not By LiesWe have to wake up. The Social Justice Warriors are going to find you. As Weiss says in her essay, and I say in my book, you don’t have to win over the masses in order to establish totalitarian control. You only need to have a fairly small number of committed zealots who have the allegiance (or fear) of elites and elite networks. No edict went out this morning from Comrade Kendi’s office ordering The Richards Group’s clients to cut them loose. Those clients had already internalized woke ideology. They have been harmonized. They have learned to love Big Brother.

UPDATE: I was just on Kerbey Anderson’s national radio show, and had the chance to mention the Live Not By Lies Study Guide, which you can download for free here. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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