In a campaign crowded with ironies, no one should be surprised that the candidate who ostentatiously poses as the hardened scourge of “political correctness” is the most promiscuous “PC” candidate in the entire Republican field.
Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner largely because he is viewed by hardcore conservatives as the candidate most willing to “tell it like it is.” This only means Trump is the candidate ready to say out loud all those hateful and hurtful things which even Trump’s avid supporters are too reticent to voice themselves.
According to New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall, Trump’s success is due in no small part to the fact he has “tapped into a deep reservoir of antipathy to the culture of polite restraint.”
A recent survey conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that 68 percent agreed that political correctness – or polite restraint -- was a big problem. This included 62 percent of self-identified Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 81 percent of Republicans.
These views cut across racial lines with 72 percent of whites and 61 percent of nonwhites (mostly African-American and Hispanic) describing political correctness as a big problem.
No wonder, as American Prospect’s Michael Waldman amplifies, Trump tries to justify every appalling utterance he makes by boasting he will never surrender to the self-appointed custodians of political correctness.
"Everybody wants to be politically correct, and that's part of the problem that we have with our country," says Trump. What this means in practice is that Trump insists Mexican immigrants are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” and it is now acceptable to slander women whose politics you don’t like as being “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Leaving such vulgarities aside, if there is a fair complaint to make against “political correctness” it’s the fact that political correctness is a form of censorship. By labeling certain points of view as being intrinsically racist, or misogynistic or hurtful to some particular group, the so-called “PC Thought Police” do deny certain points of view a public hearing, however hateful those views might be.
How ironic then that Donald Trump (and virtually the entire Republican presidential field) are now attempting to shut off a full and free debate between Democrats and Republicans on the merits of their competing ideas by labelling the entire liberal agenda as being “politically correct.”
Why won’t President Obama bomb those radical Islamic terrorists back to the Stone Age? ask Republicans. Political correctness, they say. Why do liberals want to tax the rich and adopt “giveaway” programs for the poor? Political correctness, of course. Why are liberals obsessed with global warming and developing more sustainable forms of energy? Political correctness again.
“I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” Trump told a business audience in South Carolina. “That’s called politicians’ speak.”
Echoing Trump, Ted Cruz asserts that “political correctness is killing people” when the Obama administration refuses to do everything Cruz thinks it could to stop terrorist attacks like those in San Bernardino by, presumably, endorsing Trump’s preposterous and pernicious idea of stopping all Muslims (even American ones) at the border.
Ben Carson also thinks the military should be allowed to kill civilians and torture prisoners -- and the only reason we’re not is because Obama is trying to fight “a politically correct war."
“You say my facts are wrong?” says Waldman, parroting Republicans, “I'm not going to knuckle under to your political correctness! You say my beliefs are abominable? Take your political correctness and shove it!”
Raising the specter of political correctness is a way for Republicans to pose as brave truth-tellers, says Waldman, “even if all that's actually happening is that people are pointing out that you're a brave crap-teller.”
It used to be sufficient to label an idea, program or person as “liberal” in order to dismiss them out of hand. Now, politically correct is the phrase of choice when something is scheduled to be summarily rejected.
The obsession with political correctness on the right has its roots in the slow but steady decline of those special privileges that white men once enjoyed by virtue of their whiteness and their gender, says Waldman. And not caring about the feelings or fortunes of other people was “a big part of that privilege.”
If you were the sort of fellow who grew up thinking it was perfectly fine to call a secretary "sweetheart" or to give her a pat on the behind whenever the mood struck you, then co-existing in today's more diverse and inclusive world might feel as if something of real value has been taken away from you, says Waldman. “Older people in particular have trouble keeping up with the ways language evolves, including the ways it evolves to not offend people needlessly,” he says.
Since 1964, the Democratic Party has served as the political sanctuary of civil and voting rights for racial and ethnic minorities, of criminal defendants’ rights, of women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, rights to sexual privacy, among others says Edsall.
And each of these revolutions “changed the moral order and norms of permissible language,” says Edsall, citing as small examples the substitution of “humankind” for “mankind” and the now common usage of “Ms.”
With his finger to the wind of public opinion, Trump has “stirred powerful undercurrents in American politics,” says Edsall.
He has also highlighted and profited from what Edsall calls the “irreconcilable ideological contradictions within both the left and the right.”
Edsall has in mind the tension among liberals whose efforts to bring historically marginalized groups into the social, cultural and political mainstream sometimes conflict with the traditional liberal defense of free speech -- no matter how hateful someone’s words might be.
On the right, Edsall’s “irreconcilable ideological contradictions” manifest themselves in the demands of busy-body social conservatives who want greater freedom and public “tolerance” so that they can then ban books and movies, police private behavior and impose their own peculiar religious orthodoxies on an unruly and unappreciative public.
And so to these constituencies Donald Trump would naturally come across as a breath of fresh air, telling it like it is, turning the tables of political correctness on the liberals who created it in the first place and unchaining white men from all those suffocating obligations to be civil and play nice, says Waldman.
“No wonder so many people are cheering.”