Whither Woke Culture in an Era of Pandemic?

Bruce Bawer, What effect might this plague have on the Left’s pampered soy boys and pussy-hat feminists?

Last week, in the New York Post, Kyle Smith made a thoughtful argument that, in the COVID-19 era, “the woke virus,” too, “is spreading faster than ever.” He quoted a statement on Twitter by actress Fran Drescher that the Chinese virus is a product of capitalism; he noted the “vomitatious ‘Imagine’ video praising open borders, socialism and atheism” that was posted online by Gal Gadot and other C-list celebrities in response to the pandemic; and he cited inane claims by various activists that the coronavirus disproportionately disadvantages women or people of color. “Next year,” Smith concluded, “there will probably be a vaccine for coronavirus. But there will never be an inoculation for woke stupidity.”

He may be right. But during these strange weeks when all the world has been united in being apart, I’ve kept nourishing the hope that woke culture may turn out to be one of the casualties of this plague. In fact I’ve pretty much talked myself into believing that it will be. After all, what could more effectively expose the absurdity of the concept of microaggressions than a macroaggression on the scale of the coronavirus? When an increasing number of Americans are infected by a very real and malignant corporeal contagion, how many people are going to keep buying the leftist fiction that no country on earth is more riddled with the contagion of prejudice than the United States? In a time when we’re all “social distancing” to save our skins, who will dare to carry on about the need for “safe spaces” as protection from mere words?

If the religion of intersectionality survives the pandemic, how can its adherents not come to discern that if there are indeed legitimate victim groups in twenty-first-century America, they’re not women or gays or Muslims or racial minorities but the old and infirm? (Unless, of course, you’re talking about the Christians, Jews, Hindus, women, gays, and others who are the victims of systematic Islamic oppression.) And what about the whole “trans” business – the insistence that men can become women, that women can become men, that there are more than two sexes, and that sexual identity is determined not by chromosomes but by how a given individual feels on a given day? Not only do some of these contentions contradict others – they all defy biology. And when everyone on the planet is preoccupied with a virus, biology is one thing that’s very hard to deny. If a lethal contagion came along that took down only men but not women, who would be more worried for his or her own life – a biological man who identified as a woman or a biological woman who identified as a man?

To be sure, as Kyle Smith points out, the mainstream media are still playing the same old tune. For example, they charge that calling the Chinese virus the Chinese virus is racist. On March 18, the New York Times ran a ridiculous piece that was presented as a news article and credited to no fewer than three reporters – Katie Rogers, Lara Jakes, and Ana Swanson. Its lede read as follows: “President Trump on Wednesday defended his increasingly frequent practice of calling the coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus,’ ignoring a growing chorus of criticism that it is racist and anti-Chinese.” Trump’s continued use of this term, we were informed, “has angered Chinese officials and a wide range of critics, and China experts say labeling the virus that way will only ratchet up tensions between the two countries, while resulting in the kind of xenophobia that American leaders should discourage.” Naturally, the article (which failed to acknowledge that the Times itself had used the term “Chinese virus” in a January 20 headline) went on to claim that Trump’s word choice had made Asian-Americans the targets of “racial slurs and physical abuse.”

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Notably, the Times article referred to “the erroneous perception that China is the cause of the virus.” Of course, no one thinks that China is the virus’s “cause,” whatever that might mean; but it’s an established fact that China was its place of origin, that the virus would never have arisen if not for certain disgusting cultural and culinary traditions that are indigenous to China, and that the virus probably would never have spread so widely and taken so many lives if not for the treacherous duplicity of the Chinese Communist Party. Scott Kennedy, a “China expert” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times that the term “Chinese virus” was “fueling a narrative in China about a broader American hatred and fear of not just the Chinese Communist Party but of China and Chinese people in general.” Yes, there is a narrative to that effect taking root in China: it’s a narrative that’s being pushed, in the most devious and cynical fashion, by the Chinese Communist Party. (Note, moreover, the implication here that hating and fearing the Chinese Communist Party, or any Communist Party, is a bad thing.)

On March 20, the Washington Post ran a similar story, which also masqueraded as a news article, by Allyson Chiu, who, like her compeers at the Times, maintained that Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” had dismayed certain “critics.” (As with the Times, there was no mention that the Post itself had used the term “Chinese virus” on January 17January 21,  January 22January 24, and January 27.) These critics, charged Chiu, worried that Trump’s word choice “could lead to increased discrimination and racism toward Asian Americans — a marginalized group with a long history of being scapegoated amid public health crises.” Chiu quoted Harvey Dong, who teaches Asian American studies at Berkeley, as saying that Trump’s word choice was “racist” and “dangerous”; she cited Gilbert Gee, who teaches public health at UCLA, as saying that Trump & Co. had “made it okay to have anti-Asian bias”; and Charissa Cheah, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, told Chiu that Trump was throwing Americans “of Chinese and Asian descent ‘under the bus.’” Like the Times reportersChiu asserted that “[s]cores of Asian Americans nationwide” had been “targeted in verbal and physical attacks linked to coronavirus fears.”

In treating the coronavirus as yet another excuse to cry bigotry, the Times and Post are hardly alone. Other major media, such as CNN, have also sung from the same hymn sheet. These are, needless to say, the same media that were quick to heap scorn on President Trump’s January 31 ban on visitors from China — a ban now recognized as having saved lives. On February 5, the Times ran an op-ed headlined “Who Says It’s Not Safe to Travel to China?” Accusing Trump of “xenophobic rhetoric,” the author, Rosie Spinks, suggested that the reason for his China travel ban was that “destinations perceived as ‘Western’ benefit from a kind of cultural familiarity and presumption of safety that so-called foreign or exotic places do not.” Who’s Rosie Spinks? A virologist? No. She’s a “global tourism reporter.”

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Good try, Rosie. But at a time when we’re all constantly washing our hands in an effort to avoid perishing, how many of us are going to be inclined to wring our hands over the claim that hordes of Asian-Americans (none of them, to be sure, ever identified by name) are being verbally bashed or physically beaten from coast to coast because of the Wuhan plague? In any event, in the weeks after Spinks’s piece appeared as the U.S. and scores of other countries cut off travel to and from almost anywhere abroad, the media finger-pointers, instead of issuing apologies, began attacking President Trump for not acting sooner. At one White House presser after another, reporters have shown themselves to be less interested in obtaining information about the pandemic that might be of use to the public than in using the world crisis to try to tear down the president. Again, Kyle Smith is right: they’re still stuck in pre-pandemic propaganda mode. But by taking this route at a time when they should be playing a critical role in the reliable dissemination of vital information, they’re proving themselves more useless – and downright dangerous – than ever. Most Americans, knowing that they’re being fed fake news rooted in woke ideology, already distrust the news media. How can the media’s decision to stick with propaganda in a time of crisis not send their approval ratings even further south?

As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to want to see the woke mentality quashed, this crisis has given us a new reason. Just as fear of being called racist kept colleagues and neighbors from blowing the whistle on the San Bernardino and Fort Hood terrorists (among others), and kept British police officers, social workers, journalists, and public officials from sounding the alarm about Muslim grooming gangs in that country, so the same woke-engendered fear reportedly kept Italian authorities from taking prompt, sensible action against the coronavirus. Dr. Giorgio Palù, a virologist at the University of Padova, told CNN that “a proposal to isolate people…coming from China” was rejected outright by the Italian government because it was “seen as racist” – and this decision, he said, was the chief reason for Italy’s brutal death tolls.

It’s a consummation devoutly to be wished, then, that this bad dream we’re all dreaming together will put an end, once and for all, to the whole woke package, from microaggression to intersectionality to phony victimization. Is it a realistic wish? Am I kidding myself when I think that the experience of this plague might be a sobering, maturing experience for at least some of America’s privileged, pampered soy boys and pussy-hat feminists, turning them into rational grown-ups with a mature understanding of the challenges, uncertainties, tragedies, and responsibilities of life?