Being a conservative these days sounds emotionally exhausting.
At any given moment, you might find out, for instance, that your favorite light beer sent a brew to a transgendered influencer and get so mad about it you have to film yourself using that beer for target practice. Or you might discover—gasp!—that Target is selling T-shirts with little rainbows on them for Pride Month and simply have no choice but drive to the nearest Target, threaten employees with violence, write a song about it, and whine that the song is being censored. Perhaps your precious children are being exposed to a poem about unity, or a movie about a mythical creature that isn’t white, so you do whatever it takes to shield them from these horrors. Maybe you heard someone say their pronouns and subsequently fainted in the middle of a PTA meeting.
That’s just how it goes in the United States of Wokemerica. Another day, another space that is not safe.
Lately, it seems that many of the same MAGA Republicans who once wore “Fuck Your Feelings” T-shirts to Trump rallies now exist in a perpetual state of emotional outpouring. Everywhere conservatives have looked over the past few years, they’ve glimpsed something they didn’t like, had an apoplectic outburst or two, and then tried to legally ban it—sometimes with success. Incredibly, the very people who seem to find it tragic that “you couldn’t make Animal House today” are busy ensuring that no local theater company can perform Shakespeare in Tennessee the way actors did in Elizabethan England, because it would require the male cast to be in drag, and children might see them.
Whatever happened to “melting the snowflakes”? When did being “triggered” go from the most shameful and hilarious thing that could happen to a person, in the eyes of Sean Hannity stans, to conservatives’ default mode of existence?
At the dawn of the Trump era, Republican policy was roundly replaced by trolling. Anything that outraged progressives, like installing far-right svengali Steve Bannon in the White House, was a victory merely because it provoked outrage, regardless of any additional outcome. Liberals at the time would wake up one day to find the president had, say, abruptly implemented a travel ban for Muslim-majority countries, and get mad about it online—only to find Twitter users with Pepe the Frog avatars replying, “Uh, triggered much?” Never mind the fact that conservatives at the time would fully lose their minds if you didn’t use their favorite greeting in late December.
The focus on triggering the libs was meant to suggest a powerful truth about the world order—that people so sensitive and volatile were unfit to hold the majority in a tough world that demands a thicker skin. Reacting in any way to a cruel provocation designed explicitly to incite extreme reactions was perceived as weakness, hysteria, virtue signaling, or—paradoxically—all of the above. The term “Trump Derangement Syndrome” eventually emerged to describe the lib-who-cried-wolf types who panicked over everything. But nothing was considered appropriately triggering. No matter what liberals were upset about, the standard response was to act as if the outrage was due to Hillary Clinton’s face not yet being emblazoned on the dollar bill.
It’s hard to pin down exactly when this dynamic changed. The Trump administration didn’t exactly run like a fine-tuned machine, so election-triumphant MAGA trolls quickly found themselves on the defensive and stayed there. When a Turning Point USA activist walked around a college campus wearing a diaper, ostensibly to show libs what babies they are, the broader lib-triggering posture curdled into caricature. And though prominent MAGA players like CPAC chair Matt Schlapp would later go on to crack weird jokes about Nancy Pelosi’s husband getting attacked with a hammer, back then they made a huge deal about the line-crossing incivility of a comedian being too mean to Trump’s press secretary. Not exactly alpha behavior.
The true end of the “melting the snowflakes” moment arrived with the Jan. 6 insurrection, one of the most triggered displays in American history. The still-persistent belief that Trump was cheated out of a second term may have been driven by disinformation, but it’s mainly fueled by feelings. A pollster explaining why 68 percent of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen wrote in The Atlantic last year: “As a woman from Wisconsin told me, ‘I can’t really put my finger on it, but something just doesn’t feel right.’” Jan. 6 proved once and for all that “Fuck Your Feelings” never meant that feelings themselves were frivolous signs of weakness, only that yours are. My feelings, however—as a MAGA Republican—are sacrosanct pillars of strength.
The years since the insurrection have seen conservatives retreat into constant, shrieking victimhood. They wailed and virtue-signaled when the Dr. Seuss estate stopped publishing six of its titles, bemoaned the green M&M becoming slightly less fuckable, and worked themselves into a frothy lather over both the fictional threat of banning red meat and the merely floated possibility of phasing out gas stoves.
If they seem to consider their anger infallible, perhaps it’s because the right-wing media ecosystem assures them it is. For instance, when mainstream media outlets noticed conservatives’ fury-panic around gas stoves earlier this year, Fox News responded with a story about liberal media maliciously casting their outrage in a negative light. These red-blooded Americans weren’t triggered by an idea regarding stoves—they were righteously resistant!
The main reason conservatives are mad these days, however, seems to be that their children are in grave danger. Every day is a gauntlet of terrors for our nation’s young. If left in untrustworthy hands, they might accidentally see a drag queen read a book, hear that one of their teachers is gay, lose to a trans girl in soccer, or find out why Martin Luther King, Jr. existed, apart from that one quote conservatives love to misinterpret. The source of all this peril? One word: wokeness.
The most lasting legacy of the 2020 uprising has been the word “woke” transforming into an all-purpose demonizing adjective. Right-wingers of all stripes have lately coalesced around wokeness as the archenemy of their cause, stretching its original meaning—awareness of systemic racism—to cover a vast variety of things they deplore. It’s now essentially synonymous with “Radical Marxist Commie Socialist,” although it also enfolds each individual idea Radical Marxist Commie Socialists, aka Biden voters, generally support.
The more nebulous the term “woke” became—even people who’ve written books about it can’t seem to define it—the more concepts it turned into inherent evils. Gradually, over the last three years, defining anything as “woke” created a permission structure for losing one’s entire shit about it at the drop of a hat.
Maybe it’s because so many things are now considered woke that conservatives are getting triggered by them more often. The weight afforded that term makes everything seem like it’s part of some nefarious agenda that, for some reason, endangers children. Brands have been cravenly pandering to underserved demographics they don’t give a damn about for ages, but when they do so now, right-wingers call it woke indoctrination. This way, when they throw a temper tantrum because a company wasn’t pandering to them for two seconds, they can frame it as fighting the good fight.
Just as conservatives coined Trump Derangement Syndrome to describe people who got too upset about the cruel and unnecessary chaos Trump wrought, rather than those who unreservedly supported it, they have now invented another disease—the “woke mind virus”—which is directed not at the people routinely flipping out about pride flags, but their supposed tormentors.
While some of the people pegged as having TDS did occasionally jump to World War III conclusions when just an eye-roll would do, much of their outrage concerned policy decisions about healthcare and immigrants that would, and did, actually affect people’s lives. Much of the outrage around wokeness comes down to rote business decisions and people living their lives. It’s just disguised as “protecting children” from wokeness. That framework is even more confounding, though, when taking into account how little conservatives seem concerned with protecting children from being slaughtered in schools or molested in church.
If you think the greatest threat facing your children today is finding out how Jackie Robinson was treated when he became the first Black baseball pro, I just have to ask: What must you think of your child? That if they learn unfortunate history lessons, it will render them too riddled with guilt to function? That they are such mindless automatons that meeting one trans person will rewire their entire gender identity? That seeing a rainbow shirt at Target will make them decide to turn gay? Because Target said it was OK? If my parents thought so little of me that they tried to ban those things in order to protect me from them, I would be furious. I would also likely grow up coddled, sheltered, and completely unprepared for a tough and challenging world.
It’s hard to believe that conservatives actually do feel so strongly about all these things and aren’t just semi-reluctantly going through the motions. If they really do feel that way, though, to be honest: Fuck their feelings.
Image Credits: Luis G. Rendon-The Daily Beast