Last week, former President Donald Trump criticized the term “woke.” “I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear, ‘Woke, woke, woke.’ It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t define it, they don’t know what it is,” he said at a breakfast in Iowa. He sounded like Joy Reid or Jen Psaki—liberal pundits who pretend the term woke is undefinable in order to suppress discussion of deeply unpopular causes supported by the left.
Of course, Trump is up to something different. He uses the word frequently to criticize progressive understandings of race and gender. So what’s behind his gambit?
For one thing, Trump, a genius for branding, no doubt wants to distance himself from a concept that is now heavily identified with his rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has dubbed Florida the place “where woke goes to die” and made fighting identity politics the cornerstone of his campaign. Trashing the term woke is just another way of trashing his chief rival, something Trump spent the majority of last week doing.
Others may view Trump’s commentary on wokeness as another area in which he is running to DeSantis’s left; Trump called the six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed into Florida law “too harsh” and has voiced the belief that abortion cost the GOP the midterms. And he’s criticized DeSantis for his feud with Disney over its commitment to LGBT content.