A few years ago, long before this blog was born, I wrote a post about political correctness and called it “PC Is Just BS”. It wasn’t very good. I had just started writing and found that I couldn’t explain my two main arguments clearly. For a long time, I was bothered by my failure to write about political correctness correctly.
That was also long before Donald Trump. The Donald declared war on political correctness from the start of his presidential campaign. At first, people found that refreshing. I did, even though I’ve never supported him. But, since then, Trump has said so many outrageous things, has insulted so many people, that I would bet that even the most die-hard, anti-PC conservatives are currently praying that he’d be more politically correct, even just a little bit.
As for me, I’ve found myself thinking about that post and my arguments from back then.
My first argument dealt with the term’s usage. I argued that “political correctness” should only be used when referring to politicians and others in the political arena, and that while it should cover everything from their behavior to their speech, it should really focus on the way that they were doing their jobs. For example, if I were to use the term in this way, I would say that it has not been politically correct for the GOP to take their obstruction to the extreme that it has. This incorrect manner of political maneuvering has resulted in unprecedented paralysis in our government and untold damage to our democracy, a recent example (to pick from a too-long list) being the refusal to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
An older example dealing with political correctness, as I’d like to define it, happened in 2009 when Rep. Joe Wilson yelled “you lie” at President Obama during a speech to Congress. Although come to think of it, this outburst goes beyond incorrectness (political or otherwise); it was downright disrespectful.
My second argument involved the bad consequences of political correctness. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I shared the same opinion of some conservatives, at least as far as thinking that political correctness could prevent us from addressing the ills that caused political incorrectness in the first place. This is what President George H.W. Bush said at the University of Michigan Commencement Ceremony in Ann Arbor on May 4, 1991:
“The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off limits, certain expression off limits, even certain gestures off limits. What began as a crusade for civility has soured into a cause of conflict and even censorship … Throughout history, attempts to micromanage casual conversation have only incited distrust. They have invited people to look for an insult in every word, gesture, action. And in their own Orwellian way, crusades that demand correct behavior crush diversity in the name of diversity.”
Where I differed from conservatives was that while they began using the term derogatorily, back in the 1990’s, against liberals and what they thought was a turn towards progressive teaching at universities; I felt that too many politicians (especially right-wingers) were being protected by it. Here’s what I wrote back then:
It seems to me that PC has become a devolutionary societal construct that helps shield plain old bigots, racists, misogynists, and whatever other discriminatory type of human there may be, from being called exactly what they are. Politicians can now make hateful comments, and no longer have to bear the burden of being the low-life bigots, racists, or sexist societal pariahs that they are in actuality. All they need to do is make some teary-eyed apology and get whisked away, in the presence of numerous flashing cameras, to some training course where they will presumably be taught to be more sensitive. More likely the dolts are just learning how to change the way that they speak. By labeling someone’s speech “politically incorrect” rather than being correctly tagged as hateful, inhuman, demeaning, or completely lacking in judgment and decency, we emphasize an error in style rather than what could very likely be an egregious deficit in character.
Now, I don’t think that we will ever see Trump making a teary-eyed apology or heading to any sensitivity training; however, there is no doubt that Trump’s political incorrectness shows an egregious—make that a YUGE— deficit in character. Finally, thinking about political correctness in the age of Trump, I’ve come to these conclusions:
- I stand by my long-held belief that “political correctness” should be a term to describe the behavior, speech, and work product of politicians and not a manner of speech by the general public.
- I do think that we should be correct, respectful, when we speak to each other and about others. However, this should be the case whether we are politicians or not. Therefore, there is no need to insert politics in the term.
- Politicians have an additional obligation to speak correctly and honor the positions that they hold or to which they aspire, especially when we’re talking about the highest position in our country.
- Finally, Donald Trump has the right to be as politically incorrect as he wishes and say whatever he wants, just as we have the right to judge him and his words as racist, sexist, vile, and condemnable, and to not vote for him in November.