The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Wokeness has replaced socialism as the great conservative bogeyman

By David A. Graham

20 Mar 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

How did "wokeness" replace socialism as the primary fear among the American right? The Atlantic looks at the transformation of conservative fears in this thought-provoking piece.

During Barack Obama’s first term, the American right became fixated on the supposed threats of communism and socialism. At the time, it felt like another weird throwback trend from the Cold War, along with flared jeans, gated reverb, or Jell-O molds. The proximate causes were clear enough—huge government spending to bolster the economy (by, uh, bailing out banks, but whatever) and efforts to expand health-insurance coverage—even if fears of a coming socialist America were clearly overhyped.

Seen from today, that moment looks less like a quirky cyclical trend and more like the passing of an era. “Wokeness” has supplanted socialism as the primary bogeyman among conservative politicians and pundits. The eclipse is evident in Google search trends and Fox News time allocation, and it has also been on vivid display over the past week, as leading figures in the Republican Party and right-wing media have portrayed the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank as a case of woke values undermining sound business practices and diversity, equity, and inclusion supplanting the profit motive. Complaints about bailouts have been mostly the province of the left—which objects not to government spending but to helping the wealthy.

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