The election is only a couple weeks away, and the racist messages that have become a tradition in Republican election campaigns are reaching a crescendo right on cue.

On the national stage, we have Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville explicitly equating descendants of slaves with criminals and saying Democrats are “pro-crime.” 

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has attacked his Black opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, for his support for ending cash bail, calling him a “dangerous Democrat” and darkening his skin for emphasis in campaign materials. 

Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, meanwhile, embraced racist White supremacist rhetoric on the campaign trail, saying “5 million illegal aliens are on the verge of replacing you ….”

Here in Colorado, Republican Heidi Ganahl hammered Gov. Jared Polis in a recent debate on the issue of crime, calling herself “a law-and-order girl,” and insisting that Polis will “prioritize criminals over victims.”

Rep. Lauren Boebert continues to babble on about the dangers of allowing immigrants into the country after burnishing her racist Republican bona fides last year by characterizing her colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, as a terrorist.

And Rep. Doug Lamborn called people of color “gullible” for believing that Republican efforts to undermine the Voting Rights Act constitute voter suppression.

At the same time, Lamborn and way too many of his Republican buddies vilify as “woke” efforts to create respect across racial and gender differences in such places as schools, corporations, workplaces and, specifically, the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

C’mon, Doug. We all know the whole anti-woke campaign is just another dog whistle.

The term “woke” goes back to the 1940s. It was used in the Black community to describe people who were aware of the racial prejudice and injustice in our culture.

In the 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the “great challenge” to “remain awake” throughout the revolution of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the weeks, months and years after the murder of George Floyd, demonstrators worried that the injustices that had come so much to the fore would recede from public attention and once again be ignored. Millions around the world were awakened to systemic racism by that horrific crime.

“Stay woke” became a mantra in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Given our history, we all should have realized that a vicious backlash to the awakening to injustice would follow, demonizing anyone who would seek racial and gender justice and equity.

Woke, a term that for generations was associated with the struggle for civil rights, was transformed into a profane epithet.

Guys like Lamborn wielded it as a cudgel to humiliate anyone who might seek to cultivate an atmosphere of inclusiveness and decency in public life. 

In their pugilistic white world, to be woke is to be weak. 

In a letter to the superintendent of the Air Force Academy, Lamborn ridiculed diversity training as “woke” and said, “the purpose of your institution is to make our future Airmen and Guardians more lethal, not more politically correct.”

Given the history of the term “woke” and its prominence in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in recent years, you can’t help but wonder if he wants cops to be more “lethal” and less “woke,” too.

Lamborn’s choice of words was either shockingly ignorant or stunningly revealing.

As the election nears and the campaigns descend into classic deceptive Willy Horton-style negative ads, there is one thing voters still have the power to do — see them for what they are and reject those on the ballot who employ them.

One of the most ruthless and successful practitioners of racist attack ads from the 1980s, Republican political consultant Lee Atwater, ultimately called his campaign for George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis “naked cruelty.” 

He told the New York Times, “While I didn’t invent negative politics, I am one of its most ardent practitioners.”

When he was dying of brain cancer, Atwater publicly expressed regret for his racist attacks, saying that at heart he wasn’t a racist even though he knew full well his tactics were exactly that. 

“Some nights I can’t go to sleep, so fearful am I that I will never wake up again,” he said prophetically before he died an anti-racist racist at the age of 40.

Win or lose, one thing’s for sure: truth finds a way to get the last word. Atwater’s cynically successful career and his sad and bitter end say it all.

Karma’s … um … a witch.

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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