Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Trump ’16, SJWs ’20

How Social Justice Warriors are working from the Trump primary campaign's playbook
GOP presidential debate in Miami

At UCLA, the university has removed a lecturer who refused a student’s request to give black students preferential treatment in grading, because they’re black.The lecturer, a white man, responded to the student’s request by saying that would be unfair. For this, the university has suspended him.

We’re going to see a lot more of that. This moment is not about justice, social or otherwise. It is about seizing power.

This afternoon I had to check a quote from my Live Not By Lies manuscript with the 1996 memoir This Saved Us, the Catholic anticommunist dissident Silvester Krcmery’s account of torture and imprisonment by Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. While I was searching for the lines I used in my book, I ran across this passage in which Krcmery quotes a former high-ranking member of the secret police, who had been imprisoned with them:

“Some people think our repression is directed against our main enemies. This is certainly true, but most of all it is concerned with the seizure of absolute power.

“If we arrest and kill only those who work against us, who collect weapons and have radio transmitters, others would simply protect themselves and make sure they wouldn’t get caught. But this was not our main objective. We wanted to make everybody, even the innocent, shake with fear both day and night. No one was to feel secure even if they avoided all political resistance or power struggle. We wanted to be undisputed lords and masters.

“Supreme power recognizes no limits. To have the ultimate control over all requires keeping everyone trembling in anxiety and fear and seeking our approval. It means forcing those who want to save themselves to report any sign of disagreement or dissenting opinion to us. It involves terrifying people to the extent that no one feels safe and no one trusts anyone.

“To accomplish this, we necessarily have to arrest and destroy many innocent people, including our own. Everybody! Everybody has to live in terror. All must come to believe that it is better to hand over a father, a brother, or a husband, if that allows you to save yourself.”

This is the soft totalitarianism that we are welcoming into our lives, right now! As I wrote earlier today, at a Catholic university, a 19-year-old student’s life is being ruined by the resurfacing of bigoted tweets he put online when he was 15, and that were dug up and publicized by a black gay student who calls herself “L*sbian Satan.” You are not safe. Everybody has to live in fear of accusation and destruction, and distrust of all. This is necessary to establishing their power.

A reader forwarded to me something he sent to a conservative political discussion group of which he is a part. He gives me permission to post it here, without using his name. All of the boldface emphases are in the original. He also loaded it with links, especially in the section where he cites specific instances — but they didn’t copy over, and I don’t have time to track them all down:

I think the issues of discrimination and racism that are being discussed at length in this forum are serious and need to be addressed. Many of the solutions outlined by David French and several other members of this listserv are fantastic and would make a big impact.

But, I think we are missing the forest for the trees here. We are not discussing a serious threat that has been growing recently – an ideology that is using a legitimate issue to radicalize the population and gain significant influence.

Background: In 2016, I watched in confusion as Trump destroyed the GOP primary field. A friend of mine was ahead of the curve and explained what was going on. When Trump would make some “crazy” policy announcement about immigration, NATO, trade, etc., the rest of the GOP field would do what any American politician at the time would do: They would see that as a flawed policy proposal and try to take it down with a counter-policy.

But here’s the thing: Trump wasn’t talking about policy. He was talking about a wholesale dissatisfaction with the system. He was communicating that he was willing to kill sacred cows, think differently, “drain the swamp,” etc. Here’s what the other candidates missed when they tried to show how one of Trump’s policies was wrong: It didn’t matter. Trump was operating on a different plane of understanding, so he ran circles around the others while they talked about the “text,” not the more meaningful “subtext.”

I think we’re seeing a similar thing happening right now as it relates to SJW / Identity Politics and the past two weeks of unrest.

What I’m reading on this listserv and among the mainstream press is the equivalent of what Rubio, Cruz, Bush, etc. were doing on the debate stage in 2016. These protests and this unrest is nominally about racial justice and police brutality. There is rightful (in my mind) critique of how policing works in America and how black Americans are treated in general. So, like smart, helpful, patriotic Americans we are hearing that criticism, seeing its validity, and thinking about how to address those problems in concrete ways. Qualified immunity, police contracts, nonprofit support organizations, hiring practices, etc.

But like Rubio, Cruz, Bush, etc., we’re focused on the “text,” while a very significant “subtext” is at play. And like 2016, there could be very serious repercussions for that failure of understanding.

If you listen to the rhetoric related to the unrest of the past two weeks, you’ll see there’s a distinct ideology at play: that of Identity Politics / Social Justice Warriors. Let’s call it the Woke Ideology, embodied by the 1619 Project, Safe Spaces, etc. Among its fundamental tenets is that race/gender/sexuality is the bedrock of individual identity, and that the American system is flawed at a fundamental level.

Think of it this way: In the 1960s, the civil rights marchers pointed to our national ideals enshrined by our founding documents and rightly accused America of not living up to our self-professed ideals. They shared the values of those who opposed them, and a productive conversation and policy transformation occurred. David French, President Bush, and others who are speaking up are doing this as well.

Today, the Woke Ideology points to our national ideals and accuses the ideals themselves as being racist and corrupt. That is a huge, huge difference and we cannot ignore the importance of that difference. They are playing on a different plane — they are more invested in the “subtext” than they are in the “text.”

This listserv has been focused on reforming the police, for example. But if we eliminated qualified immunity, reformed police union contracts, and made many of the changes proposed on this forum, do you think the Woke Mobs would stop? Do you think they would accept victory and consider the fight won? Of course not. Because like Donald Trump talking about eliminating NATO and stopping immigration, this is not a policy debate. This is an ideological one. (Again, I think we should pursue these policy solutions.)

Right now, the Woke Ideology is leveraging the good faith support of racial justice to advance its illiberal cause. There is very little accepted room between being “part of the problem” and going full “1619.” Just ask the liberal Mayor of Minneapolis –watch in real time as he realizes that there isn’t interest in policy solutions among the mob, only ideological purity. If you don’t commit to defunding the police, you are the enemy in the eyes of these adherents. This is what they did to a man who “supported the cause” by vacating the police from their precinct to let it burn just a week prior.

I am a big fan of Rod Dreher. He has been writing consistently over the past year about “Soft Totalitarianism.” He has been warning his readers of this Woke Ideology being enforced comprehensively not via government (“hard” totalitarianism) but a combination of social media platforms, media pundits, and “woke capitalism.” He’s publishing a book about this in September.

Soft Totalitarianism in this context is:

– When journalists revolt against their paper for publishing an offensive OpEd, and the leadership of that paper completely cave, instituting new measures to limit the voices in their paper and forcing out the editor.

– When a well-known columnist isn’t allowed to publish his weekly column because he dared to write about rioting.

– When public health officials who have the power to lock us in our homes start to make exemptions for certain approved causes.

– When a small Italian grocer in Philly has to grovel and apologize to the public for giving free meals to police officers, even after one of their locations was looted.

– When corporate brands are required to take sides and publicly pronounce sanctioned political stances, or face backlash.

– When massive platforms of communication decide what is true, what is acceptable, and silence everything else.

– When your social media feeds are “blacked out” for a day, and both staying silent AND posting anything besides what has been sanctioned is considered an attack.

– When Amazon decides to remove a new book from its store because it disagrees with the topic.

– When a professional football player gets cancelled for not kneeling during the anthem because he’s trying to show support for the military.

If this ideology continues unchecked and we aren’t willing to push back hard against it, then we will be losing the war for freedom and American ideals while we fight the battle for racial equality. Conservatism cannot exist in a country that has ceded control to Woke Ideology.

Like I said, I think we should certainly pursue police reform and racial justice energetically, because it’s the right thing to do if we want to live up to our founding ideals. However, let’s not allow our good faith to blind us to a truly scary ideology that is gaining momentum daily and securing new levers of authority.

I wish I had a clearer call to action, but for now all I can think of is to fight hard to protect the separation of meaning between racial justice and Woke Ideology. Everything around us is conflating those two things, and if they become conflated in the mind of the public, it will be hard to undo.

I think there are powerful insights here. It’s not just that conservatism cannot exist in a country that has ceded control to Woke Ideology; neither can liberalism! 

That is the true nature of the fight upon us. This is not really about George Floyd, and it’s not about Donald Trump.  It’s not even about liberalism vs. conservatism. The image in this tweet, of a defiled memorial to the dead of World Wars I and II, tells you what is really at stake:


I don’t know the right ways to combat this threat. I do believe that the reader’s analysis of how the woke left is playing on a different level, in the same way the Trump 2016 primary campaign was playing, is a valuable contribution to figuring out a strategy.

Let me repeat the words, via Krcmery, of the communist secret police official:

Supreme power recognizes no limits. To have the ultimate control over all requires keeping everyone trembling in anxiety and fear and seeking our approval. It means forcing those who want to save themselves to report any sign of disagreement or dissenting opinion to us. It involves terrifying people to the extent that no one feels safe and no one trusts anyone.

This is what the woke seek to impose on our country, to displace old liberal standards and mechanisms. They want us all to be afraid of each other, all the time. They want us to be snitches. This soft totalitarianism will destroy America.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now