"Anti-woke" darling Richard Hanania is exposed: What this says about the "intellectual" right

While Trump feeds red meat to the base, the alt-right grifts educated conservatives with "respectability" packaging

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published August 8, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

MAGA hat man (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Drew Angerer)
MAGA hat man (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Drew Angerer)

For those who want to understand the vast differences between elite and everyday Republican voters, this past weekend was a perfect study in contrasts.

Donald Trump — who has a rich-daddy-funded college degree he definitely didn't earn — spent the weekend communing with the bulk of Republican voters, who love basking in MAGA red meat, served raw. Despite agreeing in court last week not to threaten potential witnesses in upcoming trial for his attempted coup, Trump did just that, repeatedly, singling out his former vice president, Mike Pence, for the same vitriol that inspired Trump followers to threaten Pence's life on January 6, 2021. Trump also issued one of his unhinged stemwinders in Alabama over the weekend, blaming imaginary "Marxists" and "communists" for his legal woes, as opposed to his own choice to conspire to overthrow democracy. And, in a pattern we've all become numb to, the more garish Trump gets in his fascistic language, the more the GOP base swoons over him. There is no "too far" with these folks. They clearly adore Trump not just because he's a violent, racist pig, but also because he's so damn proud of it. 

Optics are the only real difference between the redhats screaming at Trump rallies and the suit-and-tie set keen on debating the "excesses of wokeness" under the banner of "academic freedom."

Meanwhile, the small but well-heeled world of "anti-woke" politics — a mish-mash of elite conservatives, "leftist" critics of so-called "identity politics," wealthy Silicon Valley investors, and centrists in a tizzy over "cancel culture" — was left rocked by its own scandal.

On Friday, Christopher Mathias of HuffPost released an exposé of Richard Hanania, a rising star of the right's supposed intelligentsia. Under his real name, Hanania runs a think tank called the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, has a spot as a visiting scholar at the University of Texas, and was published in the New York Times and Washington Post. But Hanania also had a robust secret career as "Richard Hoste," who wrote for white nationalist websites, where he expressed a belief that Black people are intellectually inferior, obsessed over "miscegenation," and advocated for forced sterilization of those he considered "low IQ."

Hanania's outing embarrassed the anti-wokers, the college-educated class of people who claim not to be MAGA but who share the Trumpian loathing of liberals.  Hanania had been well-regarded by that crowd, which ranged from supposed contrarians like Bari Weiss to faux-socialists like Freddie deBoer, who was recently seen gate-keeping the progressive bona fides of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. He has also bro'd down with Hanania on the "question" of female intelligence. 

After the HuffPost exposé, there was a mad scramble among these self-styled "independent thinkers" to disavow Hanania.

But the protestations of shock at his secret fascist views are hard to swallow, as there is very little difference between views Hanania espoused under his own name and those he shared under the "Richard Hoste" pen name. His "academic" opinion-writing in the Washington Post was thinly veiled apologia for those who opposed equal rights for women and Black people. In May, he tweeted that we "need more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people." His upcoming book from Harper Collins, "The Origins of Woke," uses the current "anti-woke" mania to revitalize 60s-era racist grievances over civil rights. Then there's his 2018 doctoral thesis

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Even in his response to the HuffPost piece, which purports to be an "apology" and offers claims to have reformed, Hanania shows he hasn't evolved. "The reason I'm the target of a cancellation effort is because left-wing journalists dislike anyone acknowledging statistical differences between races," the man who claims to not be a racist now writes. 

This unseemly incident has exposed how all this "anti-woke" chin-stroking is just putting an academic gloss on old-fashioned racism. Hanania reveals that these folks may have fatter wallets, nicer clothes, and bigger vocabularies than the hoi polloi at a Trump rally, but at the end of the day, they share the same vile bigotries. John Ganz explained it beautifully in his newsletter response over the weekend: 

For some, it appears to be just a pushback on annoying, overly-PC peccadilloes, but for the really serious and clear-sighted they would use that sentiment a wedge to attack and try to reverse core elements of the American democratic project. The rhetorical move is to make "woke" or "C.R.T." encompass more and more phenomena, from music to movies to basic egalitarian principles of American democracy.

As Ganz goes on to argue, "But for a lot of people in the intelligentsia, generalized anti-wokeness is a kind of gateway drug to extreme politics." Even as many on the right are trying to salvage Hanania by claiming he's de-radicalized, it's clear he and others like him play exactly the role that Ganz describes: Putting a veneer of respectability on politics that otherwise reek of a KKK meeting. 

This unseemly incident has exposed how all this "anti-woke" chin-stroking is just putting an academic gloss on old-fashioned racism.

Optics are the only real difference between the redhats screaming at Trump rallies and the suit-and-tie set keen on debating the "excesses of wokeness" under the banner of "academic freedom." This difference even shows up in the most recent New York Times poll. 

When presented with the choice between two hypothetical Republican candidates, only 24 percent of national Republican voters opted for "a candidate who focuses on defeating radical 'woke' ideology in our schools, media and culture" over "a candidate who focuses on restoring law and order in our streets and at the border."

Around 65 percent said they would choose the law and order candidate. Among those 65 and older, often the most likely age bracket to vote, only 17 percent signed on to the "anti-woke" crusade. 

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Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times offers a tortured analysis of this difference, but really what it comes down to is this: "Law and order" is a more straightforwardly racist dogwhistle than "anti-woke." Obviously, Republicans aren't for law and order in the literal sense, as their likely presidential nominee is a rapacious criminal who is facing 78 felony counts so far. It's just a paper-thin cover for what MAGA really supports, which is an aggressive police state that uses false pretexts, overpolicing, and unfair sentencing practices to relegate people of color to second-class status.

"Anti-woke," in contrast, is about burying the racism under many more layers of bad faith about "free speech" and "academic freedom." The posture of non-bigotry makes it more presentable in college-educated circles. As the Hanania example shows, it opens the door to publishing in major newspapers that would likely turn their noses up to more openly fascistic content. But it doesn't get the MAGA juices flowing like the blunter rhetoric peddled by Trump. 

These right-wing elite no doubt think of themselves as more cunning than their Trump rally-going brethren that are always at risk of saying the n-word on camera. But this pathetic desire to be seen as part of the "smart" set makes it pretty easy to scam the elite right.

Take the fake presidential candidacy of Vivek Ramaswamy, an Indian-American "running" on an "anti-woke" message. Ramaswamy's schtick is transparent. Because he's not white and not Christian, he offers rich conservatives a chance to claim that being "anti-woke" is somehow separate from the earthier racism on offer by Trump. But that's also why Ramaswamy doesn't have a snowball's chance in a Republican primary, where most voters would like their racism without all the deflective set-dressing. That much was made clear after Ramaswamy, who is a practicing Hindu, appeared on  the Christian nationalist program "FlashPoint" with a pandering message about how he supports "Judeo-Christian values."

The audience for "Flashpoint" leans more snake-handler than country club, and they were not having it. The producers of the show have been scrambling ever since to reassure their audience that they still hate everyone who is not a right-wing Christian. As Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch writes

Ramaswamy's appearance apparently did not sit well with "FlashPoint's" audience, prompting host Gene Bailey to reassure viewers that "neither I nor anyone else on this team has or will ever embrace another religion" and "FlashPoint" panelist pastor Hank Kunneman to deliver a Sunday sermon attacking Ramaswamy's faith and warning anyone who supports his campaign that they "will have a fight with God."

"FlashPoint" continues to grapple with the fallout from Ramaswamy appearance, as far-right anti-choice activist Abby Johnson used the program Tuesday night to launch yet another attack on Ramaswamy's faith....

"Do not be fooled," Johnson warned. "Do not be a victim of Satan's confusion right now."

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Ramaswamy has not been deterred by this overt bigotry aimed straight at him. He's kept up the "I'm not a racist, but" pandering, by arguing the Juneteenth should be canceled as a "useless" holiday. Of course, on the actual holiday, he put up a video celebrating the new federal holiday as "a celebration of the American Dream." Finding that sweet spot of "racist enough to get donations, while keeping up appearances" is more art than science, I guess.

It's unlikely that Ramaswamy thinks he's got a chance at winning the GOP nomination with these transparent ploys. But he is getting loads of attention from that small-but-wealthy class of Republicans who desperately want to be told that there's a way to be "anti-woke" without being some low-rent racist. Hanania's defenestration was entertaining, but as long as there are rich people willing to pay to hear that their bigotries are smart instead of evil, there will be dozens of "anti-woke" grifters to take his place. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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