George Orwell despaired at the linguistic atrocities of propagandists, but he did offer one bit of hope in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language.” While lamenting that “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible,” he noted that some abuses of the language were vulnerable to “jeers” from a few critics. “Silly words and expressions have often disappeared,” he wrote, “not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority.”

So perhaps a jeering minority will rid us of today’s most egregiously indefensible phrase: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” It’s a textbook example of doublespeak, the term inspired by Orwell’s 1984 dystopia in which the Newspeak language enables citizens to engage in “doublethink”—simultaneously holding two contradictory beliefs. The words in DEI sound like admirable goals, but the officials mouthing them are working to do just the opposite, as Florida governor Ron DeSantis observed when he banned DEI initiatives at public universities. What DEI really stands for, DeSantis said, is “Discrimination, Exclusion and Indoctrination.”

That formulation hasn’t caught on, but another one has: “Didn’t Earn It.” It went viral this spring after Ian Miles Cheong, a conservative journalist, and Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, tweeted it to their 2 million followers on X. Adams, who had fearlessly predicted in 2015—six months before the first Republican primary—that Donald Trump would be elected president because of his skill as a “master persuader,” tweeted another forecast: “Whoever came up with ‘Didn’t Earn It’ as the description of DEI might have saved the world. Normally, the clever alternative names people use to mock the other side’s policy are nothing but grin-worthy. This one could collapse the whole racist system. It’s that strong.”

Sure enough, “Didn’t Earn It” has become an Internet meme, a buzz phrase on social media, and a conservative talking point on cable television, radio, and podcasts. It appears in posts linking to Kamala Harris, the plagiarism accusations against DEI officers at Harvard and MIT, the 50 percent failure rate on tests of medical students at UCLA, and the sentencing of a DEI executive for stealing $5 million during her work at Facebook and Nike. In the surest sign of its success, “Didn’t Earn It” has been solemnly denounced by DEI executives, progressive pundits, and the left-wing watchdogs at Media Matters, which was so alarmed that it published a report documenting the phrase’s popularity and—inevitably—labeling it “racist.”

There’s nothing racist about expecting people to earn what they get, which is why the phrase is so powerful. It appeals to Americans’ basic sense of fairness. The civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s succeeded because they demanded equal treatment for everyone. The idea of reverse discrimination was widely unpopular even among those who had just endured decades of Jim Crow: in a 1969 poll, most blacks were opposed to preferential treatment in hiring or college admissions. They realized it would unfairly stigmatize all blacks, including those who would have been hired or admitted purely on their merits. But activists needed a new cause, and they justified reverse discrimination by calling it “affirmative action” and claiming it was a “temporary measure.” As the programs became permanent and grew into bloated bureaucracies, they were renamed DEI in a further effort to make them sound fair.

This pretense inspired ludicrous doublespeak, as when Harvard and the University of Texas at Austin  told the Supreme Court that their consideration of race would improve the chances of some applicants but never negatively affect other applicants—a claim that “defies the law of mathematics,” as Justice Samuel Alito observed.  DEI executives like to say that they’re defending women against  “systemic sexism,” but hundreds of studies in the past two decades have shown that female applicants for jobs in academia and other industries are now favored over similarly qualified males. However widespread racism and sexism were in the past, Americans have now experienced a half century of programs and policies promoting reverse discrimination. They’re sick of pretending that it’s not happening.

Hence the power of Didn’t Earn It, which applies not only to beneficiaries of reverse discrimination but also to the bureaucrats enforcing these policies. It’s perfect for posts linking to recent revelations by OpenTheBooks that the University of Virginia paid two DEI executives annual salaries of more than $500,000 apiece, spent $20 million annually on over 200 DEI employees, and has committed almost $1 billion over the long term to race-based scholarships, faculty chairs, and other “equity projects.” Companies typically pay DEI directors in the U.S. at least $200,000 annually, much more at large firms, and globally spend an estimated $9 billion on DEI.

What did that all money buy? DEI policies gave college presidents and corporate executives a chance to brag about their commitment to diversity and to appoint more minorities to jobs with impressive titles and salaries, but at great cost to everyone else. The students admitted because of racial preferences were more likely to languish academically or drop out because they weren’t as well-prepared as their classmates.

The money and time spent on DEI workshops and other programs was not only wasted—researchers have repeatedly concluded that the training is ineffective—but often counterproductive.  DEI executives deepened racial tensions in the workplace and on campus by creating segregated “affinity groups” and inventing grievances. Yale University never had a problem with racist Halloween costumes until its administrators’ issued a warning against this nonexistent problem. The warning prompted a needless furor that divided the campus and stained the university’s reputation—but it was a boon to the bureaucrats, who were rewarded by Yale’s cowering president with an additional $50 million to promote “diversity” and “inclusivity.”

The success of Didn’t Earn It owes also to its timing, just as DEI is being banned at public universities in red states and threatened everywhere by the Supreme Court decision outlawing racial preferences. The new scrutiny has forced colleges to reveal—and try to justify—their DEI budgets. Corporations have cut back on DEI hiring and started quietly omitting the D-acronym or any mention of “diversity goals” in their annual reports.

There’s even been a backlash at that devoutly progressive institution, The Daily Show. It came during a recent monologue by a guest host, the popular black comedian and talk show host who calls himself Charlemagne tha God. He began by showing clips of DEI critics, including Greg Gutfeld, uttering “Didn’t Earn It” on his Fox News program. “These right-wingers are crazy, right?” Charlemagne said to the audience. “But here’s the part where you all stop applauding everything I say. The truth about DEI is that although it’s well-intentioned, it’s mostly garbage.” He then went on to sound like a Fox News host himself as he cited the 900 studies showing that DEI didn’t work, that it made things worse, and that it was “just corporate PR.”

When you’ve lost The Daily Show, can the end be near? A quick death is too much to hope for because the DEI industrial complex will not surrender without a fight. Its profiteers know that companies and colleges are still loath to fire DEI officers, fearing bad publicity, protests by activists, and costly lawsuits.

But perhaps Didn’t Earn It will at least achieve a linguistic triumph. Some companies and universities have been jettisoning the DEI acronym for departments and job titles, replacing it with terms like “Wellbeing and Inclusion,” “Employee Engagement,” “Student Development,” or “Access and Opportunity.” Not much to celebrate here, true—this is the sort of political language, as Orwell wrote, that is designed “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” But at least it’s not the pure doublespeak of DEI. If that trend continues, Didn’t Earn It will confirm the note of optimism that ends Orwell’s essay: “From time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase . . . into the dustbin where it belongs.”

Photo: designer491 / iStock / Getty Images Plus


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