Sean Hannity vs. Our Better Angels
Why it matters that evil cannot comprehend good.
A lot has been written on Twitter and beyond about how the right-wing hate machine has failed to land any substantial hits on Joe Biden, how the same attacks that worked wonders on a white woman or a Black man just slide off him like consequences off a white male duck’s back.
Some of the quote-tweeted commentary on this bit from Hannity have characterized this as floundering that results from not knowing what to do when the usual dirty tricks are failing, and I do think there’s something to that, but the specific form the floundering takes is something I find specific.
Let me start with the basics: the number of people who specifically care, in so many words, about “wokeness” is very small, especially in comparison to the number of people who are happy to speak out against the whole thing as being misguided at best.
This is exactly the same dynamic with the bogeyman that preceded the elevation of “wokeness” to the position of lead villain of the culture wars (along with its Sith apprentice in training, “cancel culture”), that of “political correctness”… a force that approximately everybody hates and yet one that a sizable number of people were convinced was terribly in vogue and wielding an outsized amount of power.
It’s convenient for the right, with its obsession on winning culture wars, to have a label they can slap at anyone or anything that aspires to be even slightly more progressive or caring than they are, in order to convey to the general public that such concern is fake and bad.
What’s less convenient is the effect that peddling this alternate reality has on their own ability to distinguish fact from fiction over time. Sean Hannity really believed he was landing a body blow on Joe Biden by showing him to be not just out of touch or confused, but out of touch with something that is only an actual concern of any significant number of voters in the Fox News fantasy version of the country.
The reality is, we all care so little about what the words means or how it is used that it effectively means nothing and there is no correct usage. I put “woke” and “wokeness” in quotes to acknowledge there was a useful and important concept in AAVE discourse that was twisted into an empty buzzword by uncomprehending white liberals (briefly) and opportunistic headline writers (more enduringly).
Joe Biden talking about people getting woked? I mean, might as well be the next linguistic evolution. The only reason to care about it is to care about the ongoing appropriation and debasement of a context-specific concept, but that’s not something I see brought up often in conversations about the problems of the supposed “woke” culture and obsession with “wokeness” on the left sides of the aisles.
The actual obsession with “wokeness” is people who are obsessed with labeling other things as being not just performative but specifically performatively “woke”, and while this clip of Biden plays into that obsession, Hannity’s hope in highlighting it was basically that it would resonate with and offend the imagined mass of people who actually do care about “wokeness” for its own sake.
There was a scene in the finale episode of the television show Angel where evil lawyer Marcus Hamilton, played by alt-right darling Adam Baldwin, tells the titular hero that he doesn’t understand why he fights on when he has nothing to personally gain.
Angel’s response is, “People like you, who don't care about anyone or anything, will never understand the people who do.”
To which his obedient servant M dot Ham replies, “Yeah, but we won’t care.”
And that sums up one of the weaknesses that the chronically discompassionate conservative movement has in its ongoing culture wars. While it never fails to gain some traction in attacking the straw(bogey)man version of progressivism as being “PC Police” or “Social Justice Warriors” or “wokeness” or “cancel culture”, it ultimately fails to grasp what people care about, or why, or even that there are people who truly do care about anyone or anything beyond their own personal good.
Hannity’s attacks on Biden flounder and fail because even when he hits on something people do care about, he doesn’t treat those concerns as genuine. He assumes that like himself, everybody he’s trying to turn against the Democratic candidate is just looking for vulnerabilities and waiting for a chance to strike for the sake of scoring points, for the sake of seeing someone bleed, for the sake of gaining some advantage.
He doesn’t care, so he can’t understand.
And he might not care about that, but it still places him at a tactical disadvantage. He doesn’t know how to leverage even the actual concerns people have about Biden and his candidacy and potential term in office, because he doesn’t believe those concerns even exist.