Presidential candidate Donald Trump sends out an offensive item on social media. When it’s pointed out that the source of the graphic showing Secretary Clinton next to a Star of David atop a pile of currency – what says usurious Jew more blatantly? – the graphic is replaced with a circle taking the place of the star. Then the explanations begin:
Former Trump campaign official Lewandowski, “It’s political correctness run amok.” [TheHill] It’s just like a sheriff’s badge – if the badge didn’t have globes at each point. And when a CNN anchor tried to get a Trump spokesperson to define political correctness this morning during a broadcast all she got for her efforts was a diversion into a claim that the Clinton Foundation acceptance of funds from Arab nations was “anti-Semitic.” [CNN]
As in the case of so much else in the conservative arsenal, political correctness has become a weapon of convenience, a counter point to other ways of expressing the same thought such as civilized discourse, and polite conversation. Language, of course, is a reflection of culture. Those who feel threatened by social change perhaps long for the not-so-good-old-days when it was acceptable to use racist, sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic terms right out loud in public.
“PC’s opponents point to its most extreme examples to argue for doing exactly what we did before political correctness showed us the racism, misogyny and homophobia embedded in our language: Nothing. Deriding political correctness gives people permission not to fix a problem, because the real problem, they tell us, is the cure.” [KAJ WaPo]
But, what is that “real” problem? “While 74% of Republicans and 66% of those not affiliated with either of the major political parties think the United States is now too politically correct, just 35% of Democrats agree.” [Ras2011]
However, even that 2011 survey didn’t attempt to define political correctness: “It’s important to note that the questions did not describe political correctness in any way. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines political correctness as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated,” and it has come to be understood by many as prohibiting critical comments about politically sensitive topics and groups.” [Ras2011]
This leaves us with the problem of defining the problem. On one side are those who hold that political correctness is simply a matter of being civil and polite, and avoiding giving offense; on the other are those who define political correctness as a form of social censorship on their manner of expressing themselves in ways that are now considered socially unacceptable.
The Great White Whine is perhaps an index of some social progress. No, the “N” word is not used these days in polite conversation, nor is it considered acceptable to pat Sally Ann’s posterior when she bends over the fender to see what the mechanic is talking about at the garage. The “F” word has gone the way of the “N” word when speaking of homosexual neighbors. Referring to a group of women as “Bitches,” or the “C” word isn’t polite, and is now considered the domain of unsupervised junior high boys’ locker rooms.
There is, however, a segment of the American population which is uncomfortable with these restrictions on their vocabulary; and, they are taking it personally. It’s “censorship,” it’s an assault on their freedom of expression, it’s an unwarranted intrusion on their comfort level. Therefore, any restraint on their expressions are perceived as personal attacks.
It’s easy to render “political correctness” a “problem” when it’s left undefined such that the personalization is allowable. It’s not so easy to dismiss the issue when the questions are phrased more precisely. For example, asking: “Do you think a person should be able to refer to homosexuals as “F’s” in public discussions?” could get a very different response from most people than if the question is “Is there too much political correctness?”
What might be the response if the question were: “Do you think politicians should use terms like the N-word, the F-word, the C-word during their campaign stump speeches? Or, if the question were: “Do you believe that politicians should use stereotypes in their campaign literature such as “dumb blondes, Africans as animals, or Jews as money-men?” I’m guessing that if the questions are expressed as bluntly and tactlessly as this, then the responses would suggest a much more mature American audience than merely offering that a highly generalized suggestion of political correctness is unpalatable.
Meanwhile, the Trump Campaign will continue to attract those who feel assaulted by any restraints on their vocabulary, and by extension any restriction on their sexism, racism, or bigotry.
Not only is it time to retire the expression “political correctness” to the dust bin of over-used and under-defined terms; it’s time to stop it from leaking over into policy discussions. No, “political correctness” is not driving the discourse in foreign policy – one element of which is trying to insure that we don’t insult our allies while attacking our enemies. And, no, “political correctness” isn’t an element of policy making concerning how we handle bullying and demeaning activities that take place on school playgrounds. What is an element is the concept that every child should feel comfortable and safe in any school setting. We should be discussing policies, not people.
“Anti-political-correctness rhetoric serves as a clever tool for politicians who wish to distract voters from the real issues (and their lack of solutions) by tapping into their darkest fears about those who are different than themselves. It’s genius — as long as those they’re manipulating are too zombified to think for themselves.” [KAJ WaPo]
Or, too childish?