Former President Donald Trump told a Republican audience in Iowa on Thursday that while he opposes progressive ideas about transgender rights, he does not like using the term “woke” to describe them, because too few people know what it means.
Speaking to the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, Iowa, Trump described his revulsion with letting children with gender dysphoria identify as another gender, declaring that the country “has gotten sick.”
“And I don’t like the term ‘woke,’ because I hear ‘woke, woke woke,’” the 2024 GOP presidential candidate said. “You know, it’s like just a term that half the people can’t even define it. They don’t know what it is.”
Trump is not the first person to point out the vague definition of the terms “woke” or “wokeness.”
The word dates to the 1930s, when Black Americans used the phrase “stay woke” as a call to their brethren to remain alert to anti-Black racism and potential danger associated with it. When the term trickled into the mainstream in the 1960s, it became a watchword for awareness of the systems of oppression used to subjugate Black Americans.
Nowadays, it has taken on different layers of meaning. Some centrists use it to describe a particular kind of social justice ideology that they believe is too quick to describe dissenting views as racist, sexist or transphobic.
But conservatives often describe any liberal idea or policy they don’t like as “woke,” leading progressives to dismiss it as a dog-whistle term for racial justice or other ideals.
It’s unclear whether Trump plans to abandon the word “woke” for good or he was just engaging in a spur-of-the-moment riff. As recently as Sunday, he described Disney as a “Woke and Disgusting shadow of its former self” on his social media platform Truth Social.
But the comments could also be a subtle jab at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s top rival for the GOP presidential nomination. The governor routinely characterizes his right-wing culture war as a crusade against “wokeness.” DeSantis, who has restricted discussions of sex and gender identity in school classrooms, proudly describes Florida as the state “where ‘woke’ goes to die.”
Trump toes the conservative line on transgender rights, sprinkling his stump speeches with jokes about transgender women participating in women’s sports.
But his effort to distinguish himself from DeSantis rhetorically could be part of a larger strategy to avoid pandering to a niche corner of the online right.
Trump has slammed DeSantis for failing to prevail in his prolonged battle with Disney, which DeSantis has sought to punish for opposing his bills restricting discussion of sex and gender issues in the classroom. And Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., disappointed some conservative activists when he spoke up against the movement to boycott Bud Light after the brand hired Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman, as a spokesperson in a few advertisements.
“People say, ‘You’re conservative,’” Trump said on Thursday. “Yeah, I’m conservative. But more important is: I’m a person with common sense.”