Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Barack Obama’s limitations, Christopher Rufo’s ego and Trump on ‘woke’ | Readings and excerpts
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Former President Barack Obama speaks during the ceremony for the official groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago in September 2021.
Former President Barack Obama speaks during the ceremony for the official groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago in September 2021. [ TERRENCE ANTONIO JAMES | Chicago Tribune ]
Published June 10

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “Barack Obama’s New Netflix Series Shows That He Has Critiques but No Answers,” by Paul Prescod in Jacobin at

The context, from the author: While it’s always refreshing to see the lives of working people centered in our media, the docuseries “Working: What We Do All Day” is hampered by the limitations of its host and narrator, former President Barack Obama.

The excerpt: Before episode one is over, Obama reveals the limits of his own political perspective, which weakens the docuseries throughout. While he can often effectively name the problem, he struggles to carry that to its logical conclusion when proposing a solution. The audience is left with equivocating, mealy-mouthed ruminations on what he thinks should be done.

From “Is It Possible to Be Both Moderate and Anti-Woke?” by Emma Green in The New Yorker at

The context, from the author: The new organization would be called “FAIR: The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism.” The name was an initial act of defiance, implicitly painting the group’s opponents, self-described “anti-racists,” as the real racists. The founders’ dream was for the group to replace the ACLU as America’s new defender of civil liberties — a mission they believed the ACLU had abandoned.

The excerpt: (Bion) Bartning told me that he thought the battle over FAIR’s future was ultimately driven by the ideological conflict that had dogged the organization from its beginning: Even among people who agree that the American left has become overly orthodox, there are big disagreements about the best way to take on that problem. “I’d say that, in the first few months of starting FAIR, I didn’t realize the degree to which this was being politicized,” he told me. “Getting this issue tied up in a culture war between two political parties is dangerous and could end up pushing things toward a more dehumanizing approach, because people get locked into their position.”

From “Christopher Rufo Launched the Critical Race Theory Panic. He Isn’t Done,” by Isabela Dias in Mother Jones at

The context, from the author: Meet the man helping Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to turn back the clock on social progress.

The excerpt: In 2020, Rufo’s highbrow brand of scaremongering launched him into the conservative spotlight. He boasts that his strident anti-CRT campaign was a singular achievement in public persuasion — a transformation from “an obscure academic discipline” that few had heard of into a catalyst for conservative outrage. Not one for false modesty, he told The New York Times, “I’ve unlocked a new terrain in the culture war.”


From “Trump Is Wrong about ‘Woke,’” by Rich Lowry in The National Review at

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The context, from the author: “Wokeness” is real, and we all know it when we see it.

The excerpt: “I don’t like the term ‘woke’ because I hear, ‘woke, woke, woke,’” (former President Donald Trump) said the other day. “It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.” Of course, Trump wasn’t randomly volunteering his equivalent of an elementary rule of usage from Strunk & White. His newfound disdain for the term “woke” has everything to do with his contest with Ron DeSantis for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. The former president’s by-any-means-necessary approach to fighting DeSantis means that he doesn’t care whether he’s adopting the arguments of the other side, as long as he’s taking a dig at the Florida governor. It’s his version of what people who are woke — to use the offending word — call “allyship.”

From “Working Poor Need Mutual Aid,” Sohrab Ahmari’s review of the book “Hell to Pay: How the Suppression of Wages Is Destroying America,” in The American Conservative, at

The context, from the author: Ours is an economy that generates working poor people: millions of Americans whose wages don’t suffice for survival without government assistance.

The excerpt: “Hell to Pay” is bursting with fresh but realistic ideas for how to restore working-class power in the 21st century, from a prudent diversification of how we think about free trade (rather than the current one-size-fits-all universalism) to the restoration of wage boards and tripartite corporatism between government, labor, and capital. (”Hell to Pay’s”) cheery practical-mindedness recalls the best of the Hamilton-Lincoln-FDR-Eisenhower tradition of political economy.

From “America Is Headed Toward Collapse,” by Peter Turchin in The Atlantic (and not really from the right but too interesting not to include in this roundup) at

The context, from the author: All human societies experience recurrent waves of political crisis, such as the one we face today. My research team built a database of hundreds of societies across 10,000 years to try to find out what causes them.

The excerpt: In the past 50 years, despite overall economic growth, the quality of life for most Americans has declined. The wealthy have become wealthier, while the incomes and wages of the median American family have stagnated. As a result, our social pyramid has become top-heavy. At the same time, the U.S. began overproducing graduates with advanced degrees. More and more people aspiring to positions of power began fighting over a relatively fixed number of spots. The competition among them has corroded the social norms and institutions that govern society. The U.S. has gone through this twice before.