The Woke Policing the Woke

Increasingly, the kids are running the show.

Via Getty Images

When Teen Vogue fired its new editor before she even started work this week, it felt a bit like Lord of the Flies: the kids are now running the show. Alexi McCammond is on the younger end of the Millennial generation — she’s 27 — being fired by a teen publication which has gone full Communist, as a result of insensitive tweets about Asians from when she was a teenager.

There was a predictable hue and cry from establishment conservatives, though precious little in the way of commentary on what to do about it all. The Daily Wire has made masterful inroads when it comes to fighting cancel culture: as Gina Carano’s recent triumphs demonstrate, there is now a home for victims of the mob if they can see their persecutors for the slimy would-be autocrats they are. But what about when the guillotine comes for the revolutionaries themselves, as it always does?

There is no sign at all that McCammond has taken this insane witch hunt to heart as a prompt to reconsider her own values — which are, by all accounts, hyper-woke. She almost certainly wouldn’t have been hired at Teen Vogue to begin with if she weren’t a card-carrying lefty, and indeed her major regret is that the tweets in question “overshadowed the work I’ve done to highlight the people and issues that I care about.” This is someone who really believes the problem is that she mouthed off as a teenager — not that the public eye in this country is ceaselessly engaged, Sauron-like, in hunting out and pitilessly condemning past transgressions.

In other words: this is not the woke coming for conservatives. This is the woke policing the woke. What felt most surreal about the whole thing was reading a New York Times rundown in which the linked source for the original story was an Instagram Post by Diana Tsui, former fashion editor for New York Magazine. It’s like being in high school: catty backbiting, gossip on social media, and sudden shifts in alliance. Except it’s all happening at some of the most glamorous media institutions in the country. This is what it looks like when cancel culture cancels its own.

The Kids are All Grown Up

A couple years ago, there was this weird cultural phenomenon going on: everybody was talking about Millennials as if they were children, but they were really adults. In 2018, Pew Research had to remind us all that “Millennials Aren’t Kids Anymore.” Roughly speaking they — we — were born between 1981 and 1996. We’re known for our native facility with digital technology, our arrested development when it comes to marriage and family life, and our nostalgia for toys and shows from the ’90s. To our parents, the Boomers, this makes us look a lot like overgrown children. But at this point, the oldest of us are hitting 40.

In some sense, I suspect no parent ever gets used to thinking of their boys and girls as grown men and women. So maybe generational commentary is always subject to this kind of lag. But at this point, the childish antics of the college campus really have made their way into the halls of power. People who follow the American media will remember the watershed moment when Bari Weiss announced her resignation from the New York Times. “Intellectual curiosity — let alone risk-taking — is now a liability at The Times,” wrote Weiss. She described an office culture in which a few passionate true believers silenced all dissent.

All over the country, newsrooms are gradually being taken over by dynamics which we think of as the stuff of campus riots, but which are really now the stuff of young professionals like McCammond and her colleagues. They are turning not only on one another but on their slightly older bosses, who are often nice Boomer liberals. These remnants of the old Left probably felt initially sympathetic to the social justice concerns of their younger employees. They recognized in them the revolutionary spirit of their own youths. They did not realize that the new world their successors are ushering in looks more like a fervid religious dictatorship than a freewheeling summer of love.

We conservatives, though, have a few lagging cultural assumptions of our own that we have to bring up-to-date. One of them is that business is a naturally conservative institution. There’s an old narrative that the hippies of the’60s became the Reagan voters of the ’80s as they grew older and more conservative. And many former Democrats did vote for Reagan. But there’s good evidence to suggest that this doesn’t mean they became conservatives altogether, or that all the hippies abandoned all their social attitudes. In other words, as the flower children grew up, many of them stayed flower children at heart.

So the Boomers who took over the world as they came of age didn’t magically transform into hard-nosed neocons. What they did, instead, was reshape our world entirely according to their ethos. No example of this phenomenon is more decisive than that of Apple. If any business mogul of the Boomer generation can be said to have had the greatest influence on our daily lives, it is surely Steve Jobs — the juice-cleansing, turtleneck-wearing practitioner of Zen mindfulness whose aesthetic sensibilities and business attitudes still radiate outward from Silicon Valley into every American city and suburb. Even the style in which we build buildings now — those sleek urban high-rises sheathed in reflective glass — is casually referred to as the “iPhone style.”

It should hardly surprise us that the prophet of “think different” comes from a cohort of business leaders who find things like tradition and patriotism hopelessly outmoded. Of course Nike and Verizon, Disney and Condé Nast are swathing themselves in rainbow colors, disassociating themselves from the NRA, and expressing “solidarity” with the Marxian radicals of BLM. However few or many of their employees may fully believe or understand the doctrines of systemic racism and gender fluidity, they are at least committed to gaining approval among their peers — and among their peers, the atmosphere has become one of knee-jerk leftism.

Let the Cancelers Cancel Themselves

I suspect an up-to-date assessment of the landscape would show that big business and legacy media are becoming closed systems unto themselves within which cancel culture is, if anything, worse than it is out in the real world for us normies. Yes, we may face horrible consequences for speaking our minds or expressing our values. But there are a growing number of extremely successful institutions — the Daily Wire chief among them — which offer cancelled conservatives a home and a way to be successful without reference to the outdated world they are leaving behind.

The crumbling institutions which wokeness is now eating from the inside out still have a lot of power, don’t get me wrong. But we are building institutions and infrastructure of our own that stand a real shot of succeeding. In many ways the question will be whether conservatives can use digital technology to outpace the spread of woke culture into every area of life. In other words: we are in a race to create a free-standing, independent ecosystem of commerce and culture which is neither subject to censorship by the Left nor dependent on it for major resources.

If we can do so, then the cancellation of wokies by wokies for the benefit of other wokies will increasingly become a matter of occult concern, with little or no bearing on the lives of ordinary Americans. But in order to get to that place — and it’s a long way off — we have to really get it into our heads that the establishment is not our friend in basically any area of life. For all the railing we do against the mainstream media, against the academy, against big tech, we continue to buy from Amazon reflexively and marvel instinctively at people with degrees from Harvard. That is the sort of thing we have to wean ourselves off of, bit by slow bit.

The more viable our renegade institutions become, the more attractive they will be to the untold numbers of nice, sensible people who mostly just want to be left alone. At the moment, as a matter of cultural inertia, lots of those people have found themselves trapped in businesses or schools where woke doctrine is rigorously enforced and no dissent is tolerated. What will it take for someone like that to read an article in the Blaze and nod along, or check out that Ben Shapiro guy whom “everyone” seems to hate, or even — gasp — consider voting red?

It won’t take as much as we might think, if the California recall is any indication. Despite laughable efforts on the part of Gavin Newsom to portray the recall as a nationwide Republican op, the fact is that people living under California’s horrendous progressive dictatorship have shown up against Gavin to the tune of around two million people. You don’t hit those kinds of numbers without real, organic discontent among all kinds of Californians — from Trump-loving farmhands to nice granola-eating moms in Beverly Hills. The appetite is out there for something — anything — better than the modern Left.

The Real America

I’m not here to sell you false optimism. I’m just here to point out that though our enemies have attained enormous amounts of cultural and political power, they are essentially overgrown children running an enormous playground unsupervised. I hope the time will come when we can say: let ’em. If the kids want to devour one another alive, fine. We’ll build our own world for grown-ups, and anyone who loves this country is welcome.

It will take an enormous effort on the part of everybody — pundits, politicians, private citizens — to get there. But that effort is already underway. Ron DeSantis is protecting the children of Florida from the poison of Critical Race Theory. Conservative media institutions are uncancelling stars whom the woke machine has chewed up and spat out. Platforms like Dave Rubin’s Locals are opening a serious space where creators and consumers alike can be free to say and think as they please. And even inveterate Dems like Sarah Silverman are showing signs of life, though it remains to be seen whether they will take the plunge of leaving the Left.

Perhaps it’s ironic that the administration of our oldest president would preside over an America overrun by children. But the senile White House and the squabbling newsrooms have one thing in common: they are weak. All the energy, all the vitality, all the best ideas, are ours. Let them have their crumbling towers and their dying world. The future belongs to us.

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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