What is “wokeness” in America today? How did we get here?
Are “woke” corporations a threat to this country? What risk do we run if we don’t push back?
Vivek Ramaswamy, the author of the forthcoming book “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss wokeness and the dangers it poses to American society and beyond.
“If wokeism is a religion, then an employer can no longer force that religion down the throat of their employees any more than they could force down Christianity or Islam or any other religion. So, then, that raises the question of, well, ‘Is wokeism a religion or not?’” Ramaswamy said.
“And I think on the facts, the answer is abundantly clear … . There are certain words you can’t say, certain clothes you can’t wear, certain apologies you must recite, and an excommunication that follows, whether or not you recite it,” he added.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on “The Daily Signal Podcast” by Vivek Ramaswamy, author of “Woke, Inc.” Vivek, thank you for joining us today.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Glad to be here.
Del Guidice: Can you just start off by telling us about your book “Woke, Inc.”?
Ramaswamy: Sure. What I talk about in the book is the new arranged marriage between the progressive movement and big business, which is turning on its head what we used to think of as the values of the progressive movement from 20 years ago.
And I tell the origin story that actually dates back to the 2008 financial crisis where, actually, in the wake of ’08, big business was the bad guy. Capitalism was under attack.
The marriage to wokeness actually became a defense mechanism against the old progressive left and Occupy Wall Street to give birth to this new hybrid, what I call the woke-industrial complex, that is today far more powerful than either big business or big government alone.
And liberals who used to be skeptics of corporate power were tricked into submission because of their love of woke causes that these companies are pushing.
But conservatives were equally duped into submission because their inner conscience tells them that the free market can do no wrong without recognizing that the free market that they idealized doesn’t exist today.
That’s effectively what cleared the path for the rise of what I consider to be America’s newest 21st-century leviathan, something far more powerful than we’ve seen over the course of American history. And something that neither side of the political spectrum is going to be able to deal with on its own.
Del Guidice: Vivek, you said that woke corporations are a threat to this country. What kind of risk do we run if we don’t push back?
Ramaswamy: Yeah, so, Milton Friedman 50 years ago might have worried that the risk was creating less efficient companies. That if companies are all so focused on pushing social values, they’re going to make poor products and poor products result in a less productive economy.
And I have to admit, I share those concerns to some extent, but my concern is actually the opposite. It is not the way in which politics infects capitalism, but rather the way in which capitalism risks infecting our democracy.
I think that that’s actually the biggest threat of all, is the integrity of American democracy itself at stake, where our democratic norms, our marketplace of ideas in a democracy is supposed to work according to a one person, one vote; one person, one voice system. Yet in a new marketplace of ideas, we’re actually converting to a $1, one vote system where the people who wield the greatest corporate and market power wield power not just over the marketplace of products—which, by the way, as a capitalist, I’m OK with—but also power over the marketplace of ideas—which, as an American citizen, I’m not OK with. So, that’s actually the real danger.
Del Guidice: Vivek, what can conservatives do to successfully push back against these woke corporations? Would you say, do boycotts ever work or are there other strategies that you think conservatives should use?
Ramaswamy: Yes. I’m not a huge fan of boycotts, and I can talk about why. I do think that there are a number of strategies we need to consider. Some are legal strategies, right? I think that right now the issue is so pressing that we need to litigate some of these forms of corporate overreach that are downright illegal in court.
One of the biggest areas that I’m focused on is Big Tech censorship—where, effectively, a small ideological cartel in Silicon Valley wields not just power over the marketplace of products, but power over the marketplace of ideas to determine what ideas do and don’t get aired.
And the reason they’re doing it is, of course, it’s a part of an unspoken backroom deal. Where again, in the wake of ’08, over the last decade, Big Tech effectively says, “We’re going to censor content that the woke movement disagrees with,” but in return, they don’t do it for free. They expect that the government overlords are actually going to leave their monopoly power intact.
Now, what we’re seeing in return is, especially as Democrats come to power in the United States, every few months they call these Big Tech CEOs to testify in front of them. And then when they show up to testify, what do they do? They said, “We’re going to regulate you. We’re going to break you up. We’re going to come after you and make it swift, unless you take down hate speech and misinformation by the way, as we, the party in power, define it.”
So when these guys go to the other coast and do the same thing, do exactly what the party in power told them to do by taking down so-called misinformation and hate speech—which is really just political speech that the party in power disagrees with.
My view is that those companies, that behavior ought to be governed by the First Amendment, the same way that the government is bound by the First Amendment, because the government cannot delegate to a private party to censor what it cannot censor directly.
That’s hardcore case law, going back through Supreme Court jurisprudence that you can’t use private parties as pawns to do what you can’t do directly under the Constitution. Yet, that is exactly what we’re seeing. State action in the guise of private enterprise.
So those are the kinds of legal solutions that I think we need to see in court. I personally think that, I don’t know if he’s going to do it, but I think President [Donald] Trump should be taking these companies to the Supreme Court—not the Facebook sham corporate “Supreme Court,” but the real U.S. Supreme Court.
And actually, legal theories that I think are well supported by the case law, not just in the case of Big Tech censorship, but now to sort of go to a different category, woke employee firings. Something that we’re seeing every day across the country.
My own views, this puts everyday American citizens in a particularly difficult position where they have to choose between either expressing themselves freely or putting food on the dinner table, but they cannot reliably do both.
And to me, if America is anything, it is a place where you get to have both the American dream and the First Amendment without having to make a choice between the two. So what I’d like to see is some Republican with a spine actually propose amending the Civil Rights Act and adding political belief as a protected class, right there next to race and gender and sex and sexual orientation. All encompassed in sex and religion and national origin.
I think if you can’t discriminate against somebody because they’re black or gay or Muslim or whatever, you should not be able to discriminate against them just because they’re an outspoken conservative either. And this is not an academic issue. If it can happen to the 45th president of United States, it can happen to anybody. And so those are the kinds of bold legal solutions that I think we need.
I can tell you more about it, that even in absence of Republicans stepping up, I think there are some legal theories that could potentially bring that case in court now, even under existing law. But I do think that the law, both through our court system as well as through potentially simple statutory changes, can help curb this tide a little bit. That being said, all of that is just symptomatic.
What I really think we need in this country is a deeper cultural cure where we fill the moral void in an entire generation. Maybe people my age and your age and younger, who ultimately lack the kind of spiritual void that would have been filled by notions like patriotism and religion in a prior era. As those have receded in public importance, that creates a moral vacuum in the minds of an entire generation that allows ideas like wokeism and its close cousin of scientism to be able to fill the void.
I think that’s what we’re seeing in the country right now, that the real right answer actually isn’t even to fight wokeism directly. It is to fill the void that wokeism fills with much more meaningful forms of identity. And if you’re asking me, I prefer shared American identity.
Del Guidice: You mentioned what can be done despite the lack of Republican leadership and majorities in House and Senate. You mentioned some legal recourses. What kind of things do you see right now that could be taken up in the absence of Republican majorities?
Ramaswamy: Well, look, I think that if somebody is at risk of either getting fired on their job for saying the wrong thing or failing to attend the right DEI—or so-called diversity, equity, inclusion—sessions, which you’re seeing today, people may be fired for that. People may not get their year-end bonus for that. I’m not making this stuff up. This is really happening to real people every day. I hear about it. I think they can bring legal recourse, even under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act today, which says that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.
Now, I’m not saying that that just means that it’s the employee’s religion who’s protected and to say that I don’t want to attend a DEI session. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s my religion as an employee, but I’m making the opposite argument.
Because actually, a flip side of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act says that not only can you not discriminate against employees on the basis of their religion, but you as an employer cannot force your own religion down the throats of your employees.
So if wokeism is a religion, then an employer can no longer force that religion down the throat of their employees any more than they could force down Christianity or Islam or any other religion.
Then that raises the question of, well, is wokeism a religion or not? And I think, on the facts, the answer is abundantly clear, both in a colloquial sense of the word. There are certain words you can’t say, certain clothes you can’t wear, certain apologies you must recite, and an excommunication that follows whether or not you recite it.
I mean, … in every colloquial sense of the word, I absolutely think wokeism is a religion. But it definitely meets the legal definition for the test of religion. The Supreme Court’s held that even secular humanism counts as a religion. That a religion called Creativity, which professes white supremacy as its main access, still counted as a religion—crazy as that religion may be.
If white supremacy counts as a religion under Supreme Court doctrine, then certainly anti-white supremacy, which is what wokeism claims to be, ought to count, too.
So, I think that there’s actually legal recourse available under existing case law today that somebody who feels threatened in their workplace, threatened of being fired in a hostile workplace environment, can bring a Title VII case today, even in absence of a Republican stepping up.
And I don’t think it’s just about winning the majority. I think it’s about Republicans actually being willing to be standard bearers in leading the way to the real threats to liberty and prosperity of everyday Americans today. Which is not just the liberty of businesses, but the liberty of everyday Americans not to be governed by this new government-industrial complex. That includes big government, big business, too.
So, it’s not just the majority. I actually think that the bigger problem might even be within the Republican Party of identifying leaders who are actually willing to become the standard bearers of conservative principles to meet this uniquely 21st-century challenge, rather than reciting some dogma that they memorized from 1980.
Del Guidice: Vivek, going back to your book for just a minute here, the subtitle includes the term “social justice scam.” Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Ramaswamy: Well, I think the social justice craze in the United States, especially in corporate America, is absolutely a scam. It is a greater way for companies to pretend like they care about something other than the pursuit of profit and power to aggregate more of each. And it works like a magic trick, but it is working masterfully for really everyone who’s a party to that trade.
If you’re Coca-Cola, it’s a heck of a lot easier to talk about a technical voting law in Georgia or to train your employees on quote-unquote “how to be less white,” things that they’ve done in the last six months, than it is to reckon with the impact of your products on the nationwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes, including in the black community that they profess to care so much about.
If you’re Nike, it’s easier to write a multimillion-dollar check to Black Lives Matter, a Marxist organization that professes to care about black lives, all the while sourcing your labor from slave labor in Asia to sell $250 sneakers to black kids in the inner city who can’t afford to buy books for school.
That is how this game is played. And it’s a lot easier to criticize slavery 250 years ago than it is to give up on slavery that you rely on today. That’s effectively what these corporations are doing to whitewash the kind of behavior that would have attracted scrutiny, by using this progressive smoke screen—what I call “woke smoke”—to cover it up.
And I do think that’s a scam. And I think that not only are they scamming us out of our money, but I think they’re scamming us. It’s a worse scam than that. It is a scam on your voice and your identity, which I think are even more valuable to each of us than the number of green pieces of paper in our bank account—though we’re losing those, too.
Del Guidice: You said it’s time to replace diversity, equity, and inclusion with excellence, opportunity, and civility. How can we do that?
Ramaswamy: Yeah. Well, look, I think that fighting wokeism directly is hard because you’re left being the bad guy fighting these great-sounding ideas, like diversity or equity or inclusion. Those sound pretty friendly. Except today in the definition of the modern woke left, diversity means anything but diversity of thought. … Equity means anything other than equality of opportunity. It means equality of results, even if that means negating equality of opportunity.
In the name of inclusion, we’ve created this new exclusionary political culture where certain points of view are just not welcome. And they have co-opted language in a way that makes it actually very difficult to fight directly without being alleged to be guilty of the same sin that they’re accusing you of in the first place. And so, that’s why I think the right strategy is actually not to fight wokeness directly and stamp it out.
… In the short run, we may need to do some of that in court and elsewhere. But in the longer run, the real answer is to dilute it to irrelevance with shared values that runs so deep that this wokeist nonsense seems silly by comparison.
So that’s where I’ve been thinking, giving some thought to what could fill that notion. And I’m not wedded to this, but one that I’m a fan of is the idea of excellence, opportunity, and civility rather than diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Diversity is great as a means to the end of achieving excellence, not in and of itself.
I prefer opportunity to equity because I know what it means. It means equality of opportunity to where we all begin, irrespective of where we all end up.
Inclusion is a hollow term that means the opposite of what it sounds like. Instead, I think we ought to focus on civility. Not to dilute the messages that we deliver to one another, or to dilute or pretend like disagreements don’t exist. But to be able to engage in those disagreements with the sort of civility in our discourse that we actually lose under the banner of inclusion, which is just another manner of silencing people in the way that that word is used today.
Del Guidice: You also talked about, and we each touched on this briefly in our discussion, but how if businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or religious beliefs, how those businesses should not also be able to discriminate on the basis of political beliefs either. We talked about this a little bit, but can you touch on more why there’s a double standard here, if there’s a double standard? Because I think, as you mentioned, we’re seeing this happen everywhere.
Ramaswamy: I do think there’s a double standard. The best argument I hear from the other side is that … political beliefs are not inborn or native or inherited, and that our protected classes should only apply to those characteristics that are inherited, like race or sex or something like this.
I have two responses to that. First of all, religion is a protected class and it is not something that you’re born with. It is a choice. Faith, by definition, is something that you espouse rather than something that you inherit. On its own terms, that’s what faith is. So it’s actually an untrue premise that that’s the way we’ve conceived of protected classes in the past.
And second, I also think that there’s no obvious reason why the notion of protected classes should be limited to the characteristics you inherit anyway. They are protecting the kinds of categories of your identity that we think you should not be asked to trade off in order to be able to pursue your dream. And I think that the ability to express yourself politically is one of those things that you should not be asked to trade off in order to pursue your dreams.
Now, could a principle Libertarian make a compelling argument that actually the market should fix these problems on its own? I think the answer could be yes. The answer is that, well, look, if conservatives are being fired from company A, then couldn’t company B hire them and view that as actually a business opportunity? And in principle, that’s true.
Here’s my main issue with it, though, we can’t apply that argument unevenly. Because if you believe that, then you also ought to believe that the market ought to be able to police racial discrimination and sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination and religious discrimination. Yet nobody, from [Sen.] Susan Collins to [Sen.] Rand Paul, is interested in taking that up on the Republican Party. And certainly nobody in the Democratic Party or even the Libertarian Party is interested in taking up the idea of revisiting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its notion of protected classes.
And so long as we’re not willing to have a principle debate about whether we should have protected classes at all, which I personally am intellectually open to, so long as the political discourse isn’t open to it, then I think we at least have to apply that standard equally by adding political belief right up there next to race, sex, national origin, and religion.
Del Guidice: Something else we’ve talked about, Vivek, is how you think it’s time to stop saying “people of color.” Why? Tell us about that.
Ramaswamy: Yeah. Well, that expression has always irritated me and I reflected on why. I am a person who has higher melanin content than you do, I can tell by sitting here, but I don’t think that that is a defining feature of either of us.
And the idea of taking a group of people who are non-white, but are otherwise a diverse, polyglot, divided group of people on the basis of language and culture and religion and national origin and self-conceived identity, probably hundreds of different sub-identities, and to say that we’re going to lump all of those into one category, which we call “of color,” sounds like a cult that they belong to called “Color.”
And, by the way, pits them against the only other cult that’s left, which is the “White” cult. Which ultimately allows two groups to be pitted against each other and go to, effectively, civil war, which is where I think we’re ultimately heading.
So, that expression irritates me. I think it’s more than just a nitpicking at the phraseology. I think it says something about the moment that we live in and the kinds of identities that we latch onto. And the kinds of deeper identities within us that we abandoned in pursuit of these skin-deep identities instead.
Del Guidice: Vivek, to tie all this up, how would you say wokeism can be combated in classrooms as well as corporate America?
Ramaswamy: Yeah. I think that in the classroom is probably the most important place to start. I actually started with my focus in corporate America. It’s certainly a big part of what my book is about. But as I wrote my book, I ended up devoting more airtime as well to combating wokeism in education. And if I had to choose, I think, actually, the battle in our schools is even the more important one.
In fact, I had to choose between, from a conservative standpoint, taking back the White House or taking every school board seat in this country, I would in a heartbeat take every school board seat in this country. Could care less about who takes the White House by comparison. That is what’s really more important because we’re talking about the next generation here.
So, I do think school boards are really important. I think that conservative or even just independent-minded apolitical parents who want their kids to get a balanced civic education ought to speak up and raise the social cost for these teachers who ultimately may want to get home.
If they’re working a difficult job, they’d rather spend the extra time getting home rather than dealing with some sort of woke protest, just like a CEO. It’s the same thing, too. Make life easier by caving to the side that’s actually most likely to give you a hard time.
Well, we shouldn’t be able to give them a pass more easily on the other side as well to force them to actually make a normative decision rather than a decision that’s based on the human principle of laziness to do what is really the easiest thing to do and follow the path of least resistance.
So I think that the easiest thing to do is to increase the social cost of compliance with the far woke left. Because that has actually been a tool that they’ve used to their advantage to be a thorn and a pain and a thorn in somebody’s side that prevents them from getting home to see their kids in time. Well, they’re not going to get to see their kids in time any sooner than if they do or don’t cave to the woke left if there’s also an equal opposition on the other side.
So I think that’s where it begins. I think more people need to find the courage to be able to speak up when they believe that they’re the only person in the room. I mean, to anyone who’s listening to this, to you, I would say, if you’re the only person in the room who believes what you do, I think we live in a moment where you have a civic obligation to stand up and say what you believe in. And my commitment to you is that if and when you do, you will discover that you were not the only person in the room to hold that opinion.
Courage is infectious, but somebody has to start spreading it first. And that doesn’t start in the political sphere. It doesn’t start in on Capitol Hill. It starts in the everyday conversations that we have in our schools, in our places of work, in our diversity training seminars, in our universities, in our communities. That’s really where it begins.
Del Guidice: Vivek, thank you so much for joining us on “The Daily Signal Podcast.” It’s been great having you with us.
Ramaswamy: Great. Thanks for having me.
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