IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The GOP’s latest ‘woke’ victim will have your head spinning

Blaming 'woke' ideas has become Republicans' go-to answer, no matter the question.

In the latest edition of The Wall Street Journal’s “Inside View,” columnist Andy Kessler ponders last week’s collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the second-largest bank collapse in U.S. history. The autopsy might seem straightforward: The bank was unusually vulnerable to interest rate hikes because most of its holdings were in long-term debt and because its customer base was disproportionately startups and other industries that needed more cash as interest rates rose.

But Kessler suggests another possible cause. "In its proxy statement," he writes, "SVB notes that besides 91% of their board being independent and 45% women, they also have '1 Black,' '1 LGBTQ+' and '2 Veterans.' I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands."

“Say ‘woke’ in case of emergency” has become a favorite Republican strategy.

Now, there’s nothing “woke” about woefully inadequate risk management. White men have excelled at that for millennia. But, regardless, as MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle put it, “This has absolutely NOTHING to do with a bank being ‘woke.’” 

Missing the point in times of crisis is nothing new for the Journal’s opinion pages. This is the same publication whose editorial board, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, suggested President George W. Bush should use the tragedy to pass “pro-growth tax cuts.” But in this case, Kessler, far from having the “Inside View,” is merely repeating Republican talking points. 

“We see now coming out they were one of the most woke banks,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. Referring to diversity, equity and inclusion policies, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told Fox News: “I mean, this bank, they’re so concerned with DEI and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission.”

“SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices,” tweeted Donald Trump Jr. (The executive vice president of the Trump Organization did not elaborate nor say whether “common sense business practices” include those that led to his employer’s being convicted of tax fraud.)

This tactic long predates SVB's collapse: “Say ‘woke’ in case of emergency” has become a favorite Republican strategy. At first, denunciations of “wokeism” were mostly used in attempts to oppose gay rights and scrub school curricula of mentions of Black history. But more recently, Republicans have expanded their use of the term. After the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., wondered whether “Norfolk Southern’s DEI policies [were] directing resources away from the important things like greasing wheel bearings.” As Republicans scramble for politically palatable budget cuts, lawmakers such as House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York have tried to target the Defense Department’s “woke agenda.” When a former student shot up a Texas elementary school, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin blamed “wokeness.” And when Memphis, Tennessee, police fatally beat Tyre Nichols, Trump Jr. was one of the conservatives who blamed Memphis police for hiring “woke DEI candidates” as officers

It’s useful to think of the word “woke” as its own bailout — for conservatives.

Why are conservatives using one word to explain everything from a train derailment to a bank failure to the police wrongly beating a motorist? Because it lets them duck the consequences of their ideas.

They could acknowledge that SVB might still be around today but for deregulation signed by former President Donald Trump that was supported almost unanimously by Republicans (and even some Democrats). But it’s easier to blame the “woke agenda.” They could admit that school shootings are more common because of lax gun laws. But it’s easier to blame the “woke agenda.” They could accept that American policing may be in desperate need of reform. But it’s easier to blame the “woke agenda.”

While debate continues over whether SVB has received (or should have received) a bailout, it’s useful to think of the word “woke” as its own bailout — for conservatives. Whether it’s explaining away an inconvenient news development or creating a stopgap reason to oppose a Democrat, criticizing what it calls wokeness is the one-size-fits-all solution for today’s right. An intellectually healthy party would engage with the news, react to the developments, reconsider its priorities when necessary and strengthen its policies as a result.

But it’s easier to rail against an imaginary “woke agenda.”