Column: What’s the GOP today? A party obsessed with ‘woke supremacy,’ cancel culture and voter suppression

Sen. Tim Scott delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden's first speech to Congress.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) delivers the Republican response to President Biden’s first speech to Congress on April 28.
(Associated Press )

Every major U.S. city has that one station that catered to the Black community. In Detroit during the 1980s, that was 97.9 WJLB. The station’s morning show provided the soundtrack many of us listened to as we got ready for the day, and one classic in particular could usually be heard: “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

Wake up everybody no more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’, time for thinkin ahead…
The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better, we gotta change it, yeah, just you and me

For the record:

12:19 p.m. May 7, 2021A previous version of this column said Spike Lee’s character Half-Pint said “wake up” in “School Daze.” The line was said by Laurence Fishburne’s character Dap.

Released in 1975, “Wake Up Everybody” was my first introduction to the concept of “woke.” My second came more than a decade later in the movie theater — Dap, played by Laurence Fishburne, looking straight into the camera screaming “wake up” in Spike Lee’s film “School Daze.” When I got to college, Bob Marley’s “Wake Up and Live” was in heavy rotation.


Rise, ye mighty people, ye-ah
There’s work to be done, so let’s do it a little by little
Rise, from your sleepless slumber

Contrary to the characterizations found in the media — including the “get off my lawn” ramblings of Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who coined the bizarre phrase “woke supremacy” — the concept of “woke” in the Black community is not new.

In fact, if it weren’t for “woke culture,” Scott’s favorite “cotton to Congress” phrase would have had a very different story arc. For it was a youth movement known as the Wide Awakes, which included abolitionists, who rallied to support Lincoln’s presidential election in 1860.

“The reason we didn’t get an honest President in 1856, was because the old men of the last generation were not Wide-Awake, and the young men of this generation hadn’t got their eyes open,” said William Seward, who became Lincoln’s secretary of State. “Now the old men are folding their arms and going to sleep, and the young men throughout the land are Wide Awake.”

That’s right, America — not only was fighting racism once a Republican thing, “wokeness” used to be a Republican thing.

The GOP shouldn’t be asking themselves, “How do we stop it?” They should be asking, “What in the hell happened to us?”


This is what Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is asking. She is on the cusp of losing her GOP leadership position in the House because she refuses to support her party’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have,” she wrote in the Washington Post, noting China is seizing the moment to call democracy “a failed system.”

Hard to argue that given the collective shrug from congressional Republicans following the Jan. 6 attack. Hard to argue given what her party is currently doing.

For example, right now in Maricopa County, the most populous and diverse region of Arizona, state Republican lawmakers are conducting an audit of the 2020 ballots six months after the election results were called. Apparently, they still can’t believe voters rejected the man who had trouble denouncing white supremacy.

Even as this audit continues, we do not know who is helping to pay for it or what exactly the auditors are looking for. We know that Doug Logan, the CEO of the company overseeing the audit, has a history of promoting unproven election fraud claims. And we know the Justice Department is concerned about voter intimidation, especially against people of color, given the country’s long history of doing exactly that.

Meanwhile, Arizona has introduced more voter restriction bills (23) under the guise of anti-fraud protection than the number of actual instances of voter fraud charged nationally (16).

This is a moral crisis. Our country has repeatedly gone to war abroad in the name of promoting democracy and yet we have elected officials determined to undermine it here at home.

Do we not think the rest of the world can see what is happening in the Grand Canyon State or the other 46 states that together have introduced a total of 361 bills to restrict voting?


Scott, in his rebuttal to President Biden’s address to Congress last week, said, “It’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”

I could not agree more.

I just wish Scott and his allies would stop doing it.

Because when you try to shut down legitimate conversations about racism with tired fights over “cancel culture,” when you attack efforts to root out discrimination as “woke supremacy,” you are doing exactly that — using our past to shut down our future.

Decades and decades of data show the myriad ways Black and brown people are still being harmed by systemic racism — racism that has been part of this nation stretching back centuries.

Acknowledging this truth doesn’t make you part of some insidious subculture out to pervert America. It’s simply knowing American history. It’s also knowing America’s present. And unless the party of Lincoln — the party once buoyed by abolitionists, by wokeness — starts accepting this truth, democracy won’t have much of an American future.