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

Why Republicans’ fixation on ‘woke’ banking is so unsettling

The more Republicans whine incoherently about "woke" banks, the more we're reminded how unprepared they are to take policymaking seriously.


A few weeks after the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Rep. Mike Collins wrote a Fox News op-ed complaining about “wokeness” at the Department of Transportation. The Georgia Republican soon after suggested on the House floor that Norfolk Southern’s interest in a diverse workforce contributed to the disaster in Ohio.

The rhetoric served as a timely reminder: We’ve reached the point at which some Republicans will shout, “Woke!” in response to practically every adverse development, whether it makes sense or not.

This came to mind again over the weekend, as officials scrambled in response to the Silicon Valley Bank failure, and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer appeared on Fox News to declare, “They were one of the most woke banks.” (The Kentucky Republican appeared on the Fox Business Channel yesterday and doubled down on the claim.)

I initially assumed such nonsense would be limited to a handful of GOP oddballs who’ve abandoned the pretense of credibility. We’d all have a good chuckle about how fundamentally unserious the chairman of the House Oversight Committee is before focusing real attention on the situation at hand.

But it’s not just Comer. The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie explained in his latest column:

The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, also spoke to Fox about the collapse of the bank, and he also blamed the bank’s diversity programs. “I mean, this bank, they’re so concerned with D.E.I. and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission,” he said. A Saturday headline in The New York Post declared, “While Silicon Valley Bank Collapsed, Top Executive Pushed ‘Woke’ Programs.” And over at The Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler wondered if “the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”

Alas, the list keeps going. Not only are assorted conservative media personalities pushing this line with unnerving enthusiasm, so too are actual Republican senators, including Missouri’s Josh Hawley who whined about “SVB guys” investing in “woke garbage,” and Kansas’ Roger Marshall, who shuddered at the idea of bankers in his home state having to be concerned about “a woke California bank.”

Donald Trump, naturally, joined the parade, telling an Iowa audience last night that “wokeness” was responsible for the Silicon Valley Bank collapse.

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, my MSNBC colleague James Downie explained that this entire line of argument is absurd. We know why the bank failed, and it has nothing to do with interest in diversity.

Why does it matter that Republicans and their media allies are once again making up a ridiculous explanation for important real-world events? There are a couple of angles to this to keep in mind.

The first is that the GOP is getting lazy in ways that should alienate much of the American mainstream. Downie’s piece noted that Republicans have begun throwing around hysterical rhetoric about “wokeness” in response to everything from school shootings to police violence to the Pentagon budget, all while the party struggles to even define what they think the word means.

There was a time in which “judicial activism” came to mean any court ruling conservatives didn’t like, and “socialism” referred to any government program conservatives didn’t like. Now “woke” has come to mean practically anything the right finds bothersome in any way. It’s as incoherent as it is unpersuasive.

But even more important is the broader threat: Republicans might be called upon to engage in real policymaking related to the finance industry — quite possibly sometime very soon — and in recent days, they’ve proven themselves far too unserious for the task.

Banking regulations and safeguards are incredibly complex, and they require careful study and expert analysis. The more GOP voices ignore the substance of the issue and repeat the word “woke” as if they have some kind of nervous tic, the more obvious it becomes that the party can’t be trusted to approach this issue like responsible adults.