Kellyanne Conway's "woke" joke at CPAC was subtly insidious

Twitter screenshot / @NowThisNews

It's CPAC time — that annual gathering of the who's who from America's right-wing. And from all indications, this year's Conservative Political Action Conference — led by Republican lobbyist and Fox News mainstay Matt Schlapp, spouse of White House Communications Director Mercedes Schlapp — is set to carry on the proud tradition of political bloviating punctuated by incongruous threats of violence. Also, drama! Literally!

In many ways, CPAC represents the distillation of the modern Republican party to its core. Speakers range from high-profile elected officials, Cabinet secretaries, and party big-wigs, to various right-wing cult figures who have increasingly come to define the GOP in the Trump era.

Given its status as the effective epicenter of Trumpian conservatism, it should come as no surprise then that it was during a CPAC panel Thursday when White House counselor Kellyanne Conway offered one of her characteristically craven political bon mots, declaring "woke"-ness both "broke" and "a joke" (the woman loves her rhymes!).

Let's begin with this short clip of Conway's comment— made during a conversation with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — which circulated widely across Twitter on Thursday afternoon.

Casually dismissing the idea of being culturally aware of systemic inequality and injustice as "a joke"? That's bad — and also a line Conway has been testing for at least a few weeks now.

But it gets worse.

Because, as it turns out, at the same time Conway was mocking anyone with the audacity to be "woke" while sitting onstage with a billionaire Cabinet secretary whose brother is the most notorious mercenary on Earth, the Trump administration was rolling out its effort to court African American voters — an effort which reportedly includes selling "WOKE"-branded Trump merchandize at pop-up "community centers" in a number of cities around the country.

Lambasting woke-ness while simultaneously capitalizing on it to garner votes is extremely hypocritical. But it goes even further than that. While the initially viral tweet cut out after a meager eight seconds — just long enough for viewers to be justifiably outraged — Conway's full comments in context show just how craven her dismissive "woke is a joke" line truly is. Watch, starting around the two-hour-and-thirty-minute mark below:

Here are Conway's full remarks, in response to a question about "religious liberty" (i.e. school prayer) in America's school system:

If I hear one more time: "We're woke! We're woke!" — Woke is a joke. Woke is totally broke. Woke is broke if you're standing in the way of disadvantaged children getting a better education, and you are pretending that you are for everybody's freedoms and liberties, and you go out of the way to prevent schoolchildren from taking a moment of reflection ... to take a pause, a moment of reflection, regardless of their denomination. That's the point. That's America. To actually be able to do that and feel free from discrimination, or bullying, or oppression, or ridicule, or even eye-rolling in the classroom, in the school, in the play-yard. And I'd like to call out all the hypocrites who say one thing and are completely another. Woke? Broke. Woke? Joke. You can have it.

Now we get to the crux of Conway's superficially flippant remark: She's asserting that the ability to assign woke-ness is fundamentally the purview of the Trump administration, and the Trump administration alone. Labeling a shirt "woke" in a transparent play for votes? Perfectly fine. Objecting to the White House's effort to inject religious observance into public schools? Per Conway, you're a "joke" and "totally broke."

This effort to invert, and then project outward, any Trump-facing criticism back at those doing the criticizing is nothing new. Time and time again the White House has accused its critics of doing the very thing for which they, themselves, are ultimately guilty. But it's Conway — easily one of the smartest operators in the Trump administration — who brings her skills to bear most effectively in this respect.

By dismissing her rhyme-schemed witticism as mere hypocritical meme-fodder, we risk overlooking the real insidious goal of all this: to minimize, and ultimately discredit, any legitimate public dissent from the president's increasingly destructive political agenda.

Don't fall for it. It's not a joke.