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Wokeism and the Decline of American Soft Power

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Aaron Vincent Elkaim

America defeated the Soviets in the Cold War not only by winning the race for nuclear arms, but the one for the hearts and minds of the world as well. It was a victory achieved as much through American soft power as hard. American music, television, movies, style, values, and overall national swagger, compelled much of the world to the US side of the Cold War ledger.


In the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the world was captivated by hit Hollywood movies with larger-than-life American heroes, like Rambo and Rocky, thrashing their Russian adversaries. While on and off the screen, they saw the American Dream with all the fruits that capitalism can bring—a vibrant American middle class enjoying soaring standards of living, brimming with freedom and opportunity, and standing in stark contrast to the dull, stagnant, dreary Soviet Union. 

America looked and sounded like winners. Through word and deed, America projected onto the world an image of supreme confidence, ascendancy, and belief. President Reagan, embodying this winning spirit, imbued his oratory with infectious optimism. It was “morning in America” and we were “a shinning city on a hill.” 

In short, we were distinctly and unapologetically proud American nationalists. And the world respected, even loved us for it. 

But as we enter a New Cold War against China, what is America now showing the world? 

Judging from what Hollywood produces, the rhetoric of our sports stars, celebrities, politicians, and media, we are portraying a far different image these days. Instead of the confident, optimistic, strong patriotic nation of the 1980s, we appear an America filled with uncertainty and doubt. An America that no longer feels ascendant, but declinist and defeatist and going through an identity crisis. Worse still, an America that is even ashamed of itself. 


Indeed, many of our companies now take great pains to explain that they are no longer American, but instead multinational global corporations, as if being brand U.S.A. is bad for business. Likewise, many US elites claim to be global citizens as if to disassociate themselves from their provincial Americanism. 

Of course, we have been through the doldrums as a nation before. The 1970s and the Vietnam War, for instance, were a bit of a rough path. But there is something now that did not exist then. Something insidious in our nation, poisoning it from within. Something we have come to call Wokeism. 

It is an expansive term these days, subject to many potential definitions. But as a Supreme Court Justice once famously said in relation to pornography— “I know it when I see it.”  

So does the rest of the world. And like many Americans, they are repelled by it.  

One of Wokeism’s defining traits is an obsession with identity and race, and the need to view everything through that prism. In that way, it has taken on many features of an identity-based Marxism. We see this in the cancel culture it has bred; the suppression of speech; the hierarchy based upon perceived victimhood; and the almost Orwellian desire to rewrite the past to suit a preferred narrative. Ironically, it’s all very Soviet.


Hollywood, universities, cultural institutions, and the other Woke bastions have even indoctrinated young Americans into believing that their own country was rotten from its very conception. In doing so, these Woke apostles have done more than any outside enemy ever could to weaken and divide the nation. This has also been a boon for our New Cold War adversary, with massive geopolitical implications. 

In an ironic twist, as America endures its own Woke version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, China is projecting itself as an ascendant, hopeful, and confident superpower, reminiscent of America in the 80s. China’s leader Xi Jinping even speaks in Reagan-esq terms about China’s future, referring regularly to China’s “Great Rejuvenation” and “inevitable rise” and in an obvious rip off, the “China Dream.”

And while China pumps out patriotic films portraying Chinese heroes bravely defending their homeland against evil Americans, Hollywood continues to bash America and declines to produce anything casting China, or its Communist rulers, in any negative light whatsoever. As if, unlike the Hollywood of the past, today’s Woke version isn’t merely refusing to take sides in the fight, but worse still, is rooting for the other one. 

Is it any wonder then that China’s vision for a New World Order is resonating in so much of the globe. Especially in the developing world, where the people do not want to go Woke, or have it imposed upon them, and are seeking examples to follow as they build up their own societies. Why would they follow that of a nation that does not even seem to love itself? 


Wokeism is depriving America of its soft power just when it needs it most. It is a cancerous tumor sapping our national strength and vitality. And if not excised soon, America stands to lose far more than just a Cold War. 

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