“Go Woke, Go Broke” and the Right’s Antipathy To Empathy

Conservatives have a long history of couching their cruel policies in bubbly branding. It was the right’s self-proclaimed “Moral Majority” that launched the war on drugs, ostracized AIDS patients, and demonized black women. It was “compassionate conservatism” that slashed food assistance, fought women’s rights, and banned same-sex marriage. (Actually, both did all of that and more.)

Branding aside, in all cases conservatives led by the GOP claimed they were enacting policies for the greater good, often leaving out “this will hurt you more than it will hurt me.” But those days are over. Today the right makes no secret of their exclusionary, ignorant ways. Now they loudly, proudly proclaim, “go woke, go broke,” a rhyme scheme that reveals the depths of their disdain for their fellow humans. They have no empathy and brag about it.

The slogan “go woke, go broke” sprang from the mind of conservative author John Ringo in 2018. Within a year it was part of the right’s closed-minded rhetoric. Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and that avatar of conservative hate, Donald Trump, have turned it into a rallying cry. 

Now conservatives wield “go woke, go broke” against any and all nemeses: athletes who take a knee, actors who use their voice, journalists who tell the truth. They’ve attacked Cadbury, Patrick Stewart, Pepsi, and Gillette for being open-minded. Trump even went so far as to cheer against the “woke” U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team in the Olympics. That is how deranged this camp has become: they put politics above the simplest form of patriotism, cheering for your home team. 

To conservatives, being woke, i.e. embracing social justice and treating others how they want to be treated, is even worse than being a “snowflake.” They simply don’t care about others and don’t think you should, either. Exhibit A: Their maniac-level opposition to “critical race theory,” which is really just examining real, honest history from another’s POV.

But rather than see things from another’s perspective, conservatives boast about how they just don’t give a shit. They don’t care if black people are oppressed; they don’t want to know how violence and fear gave white folks power in America; they don’t care if you want to be called “he,” “she,” or “they,” because, honestly, they have zero interest in other people’s emotions. If you’re “woke,” you are foe. If you care about social, economic, or sexual justice, if you care about others’ feelings, you’re “weak.” Thus, any company that is “woke” deserves to be boycotted – to go broke. 

This is nothing new. “Go woke, go broke” is simply a catchier repackaging of the right-wing’s 90s-era criticism of “political correctness.” Back then, the term “politically correct” was the imperfect term for a movement intent on ending the normalization of sexist, racist, homophobic culture. Times were changing and sensitive, open-minded people were making an effort to be more mindful. The right wing balked: they loathed the idea of being kind to people unlike themselves. Their arrogance wouldn’t allow it. They had no other choice but to ridicule the “politically correct.”

The concept of and attacks on “political correctness” seemed to fade away in the early aughts, as George W. Bush’s conservatives consolidated their power and took fresh aim at abortion, gay rights, immigrants, and mother earth. They didn’t need to attack “political correctness” because they were in power and could do what they wanted. 

Obama’s election and the rise a comparatively more progressive America brought the right’s fear and loathing back to the forefront. Women’s rights expanded; LGBT rights expanded; environmental justice and immigrant rights expanded – and the right wing’s hatred for all this expanded in kind.

Close-minded contempt festered and evolved – or, rather, devolved – during the Obama years. First came the overtly racist Tea Party with their ceaseless vilification of immigrants, particularly those from Mexico. Then came more virulent assaults on “snowflakes,” including teens like the Parkland survivors. And then came Trump – the embodiment and culmination of decades of white resentment, rage, and egos.

Trump gave voice to the bitterness that has long driven die-hard conservatives: they see America as a white country for white people, preferably Christian, so Trump tried to give them just that. Now he and his followers no longer feel they need to cloak their animus in sanguine terms. Now they’re emboldened to bare all their hatred with “Go woke, Go broke”. Made up of mostly self-proclaimed Christians, this tribe gloats that they will not, under any terms or conditions, be empathetic, understanding, or human.

The right’s despicable scorn for “others” is the end result of almost a century of rampant, capitalistic individualism in America. We’ve always been a land that prizes supposedly self-driven success, but the late-1920s and early-1930s saw Herbert Hoover and his ilk promote “self-reliance” – a philosophy that we should primarily look out for number one. 

This idea became a central tenet in modern conservatism: make something of yourself, make money, and mind your own business, though the “mind your own business” but became less important as conservatives “protected tradition” against marginalized groups standing up for their rights. The right wanted a white, male, and preferably Christian America – a nation that reflected them and them alone – and many still do today. (Such self-centeredness is also fuel for attacks on facemasks: they believe individual rights trump the greater good. It’s “I the person” before “We the people.”)

So, what can be done about these people who reject empathy and basic kindness? While I’d love to shun them, that would only isolate them further, making them even greater lost causes. As much as it pains me to admit it, one of the best ways to counter right-wing hate is by practicing the unwritten law they so willfully and gleefully ignore: The Golden Rule, and that requires empathy.

We must remember too that a lot of Trump allies – not all, but a lot – have literally never met or engaged with anyone unlike themselves. They are often fed racist, sexist, and otherwise hateful lies that can only be dispelled through honest interactions with people who are different. Isn’t that sad?

So, how do we open their eyes to the beauty of diversity and cross-cultural connections? Maybe we can all start by not instantly dismissing the right as moron assholes. I know, conservatives sometimes make it very, very hard to like them, and sometimes it simply won’t be possible – wear a damn mask, selfish jerk! – but maybe, just maybe if enough empathetic people can turn just one conservative around, we can spread more love than hate. (I mean, the odds of that happening are slim and we’ll probably continue descending into partisan segregation and/or civil war, but it’s worth a try, right?)

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