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In recent months, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Republican elected officials vocally criticizing programs and policies that advance “wokeness,” or left-wing racialist ideology, at the federal or state level. This is a positive development and a sign that more Republican policymakers have recognized the significant threat posed by the prevalence of ideologies such as critical race theory in our society’s key institutions.
But if Republicans are serious about this fight, they need to recognize an important and uncomfortable reality: woke ideology is now embedded within the very DNA of the federal bureaucracy. It increasingly guides day-to-day decisions on everything from health care to transportation, weaponizing government to divide America’s into “oppressor” and “oppressed” and to punish them according to their identity.
How should policymakers approach this problem?
First, they must understand that ending the threat of a woke and weaponized government will require more than simply eliminating a few line items in the budget or repealing a few executive orders. Instead, it will require dismantling and radically transforming large parts of the federal bureaucracy and ripping these toxic ideologies root and branch out of our government.
A recent executive order by President Biden that places “racial equity” at the center of federal agency policymaking demonstrates the scale of the challenge.
The order requires all agencies to produce “equity action plans,” create “agency equity teams” within each federal department, and enact policies with the goal of “delivering equitable outcomes.” In translation: Executive Order 14091 creates a woke commissar corps across the federal government that would implement discriminatory policies targeting disfavored racial groups – mostly Whites and Asians – in the name of social justice.
At first glance, this would seem like an abrupt intervention in the day-to-day operations of the administrative state. But in reality, most federal agencies have already operationalized much of this divisive agenda and had already prepared for a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” regime.
Nearly 100 federal agencies have already submitted agency equity plans that would implement discriminatory policies awarding grants, contracts and other government services on the basis of race, gender or other forms of identity.
In 2021, for example, the Department of Agriculture launched a $4 billion program designed to provide debt relief exclusively to non-White farmers, regardless of their financial health. The program was ultimately halted by a federal judge, but rather than comply with civil rights law, the Biden administration is now attempting to double down with a similar program that uses evasive language to hide its discriminatory intent.
The federal health care bureaucracy is also pursuing racially-discriminatory policies as part of its “health equity” initiatives.
Framed as an effort to correct historic injustices, “health equity” is simply a way to justify prioritizing care and resources for members of specific racial groups. For example, during the COVID pandemic, some federal health care programs used “health equity” as a justification to prioritize the distribution of COVID vaccines to racial minorities.
The Biden administration has even managed to embed critical race ideology into federal infrastructure projects. Whether launching a $1 billion fund to combat racist roads or distributing $662 million of port improvement funding to advance “equity,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has fanatically embraced racial preferences and discrimination as a matter of federal policy.
Republicans must deal with this threat head-on and defund, dismantle and radically transform the elements of the federal bureaucracy that advance the left-wing racialist agenda. In the upcoming debate over the debt limit and budget, Republicans should focus their political capital on defunding large swaths of the agencies that contribute to woke and weaponized government.
However, Republicans cannot simply defund one or two programs, declare victory, and return to focusing on tax cuts or funding endless wars abroad. This effort will require a sustained focus over years in both Congress and the executive branch to achieve the fundamental transformation of the federal government that is required to jettison the woke ideologies that have infected it.
Congress must conduct effective, continuous oversight that exposes attempts to further embed woke ideology within the federal government while also not being afraid to aggressively wield the power of the purse to roll it back. A future Republican presidential administration must also appoint competent personnel who can effectively fight wokeness within the bureaucracy.
If Republicans do not grasp the scale of this challenge and appropriately meet the moment, they only ensure the continued march of wokeness across all of society’s key institutions while once again failing those who placed them in office.
Christopher Rufo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.