A Guide to Political Incorrectness, and Why Trump Doesn’t Get It
For someone who touts himself as the king of “political incorrectness," Donald Trump seems to know very little about what that term actually means. In fact, it is evident that Trump does not entirely comprehend what political incorrectness is or why it is used. His understanding does not account for a key distinction between political incorrectness – a legitimate tool used to counter political correctness that whitewashes real issues – and his personal use of rude and apolitical rhetoric.
But first, some background. The PC movement – notorious for its presence on college campuses – aims to create a safe and comfortable political atmosphere for all. That is, if there is an opinion or ideology that makes you uncomfortable then you shouldn’t have to hear it. Many colleges have instituted intellectual “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” as well as disallowed controversial speakers, in order to protect students from unwelcome opinions. To be sure, PC does not stop at the gates of college campuses. Rather, these campuses are but a microcosm of an ideology ubiquitous across the country, particularly in the political arena.
While the sentiment of protecting students or citizens from discomfort is well intended, many see its methods as intellectually close-minded and potentially stifling to freedom of expression. This line of opposition to PC has recently been spearheaded by the University of Chicago whose welcoming letter to the incoming class stated that the University’s “…commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics are controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces.’” This candid rebuttal of PC is representative of a rapidly growing feeling of opposition toward PC as citizens feel more and more ideologically suffocated by the PC movement.
Bear with me, I’ll get to Trump soon.
For every leftist movement there is bound to be a counter movement from the right. The logical way to combat political correctness would be to provide its mirror image. But what is that mirror image? The aforementioned letter from Chicago University states, “Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.” In other words, just because we don’t create safe spaces doesn’t mean you should walk around insulting people. This line is the point of disconnect and the key to the distinction between true political incorrectness and Trumpian political incorrectness. True political incorrectness counters PC by presenting for public consumption the very positions, opinions, and legitimate political arguments that cause the discomfort political correctness seeks to avoid.
A popular example of this is found in the ongoing debate regarding how to address the threat of radical Islamic terror. President Obama has famously refused to adopt the language of “radical Islamic” terror because he believes it miscasts the issue as one of wider Islam, whereas President Obama himself sees radical Islam as being part of a sub or fringe group that ought to be considered an entirely separate entity. The politically incorrect movement views this pussyfooting as a paradigm of political correctness negatively impacting the decisions and trajectory of our nation and its policy. Senator Ted Cruz has responded to the President’s position saying, “Political correctness is killing people, because it prevents the Obama administration from focusing on the communications and activities of potential terrorists who are Muslims.” Cruz’s rebuttal of President Obama’s position exemplifies political incorrectness in action.
Cruz’s so called politically incorrect association of radical Islam with wider Islam is in direct contrast to President Obama’s PC position. His (Cruz’s) argument is substantive and speaks to the perceived issues facing the nation. The sentiment of Cruz’s argument might cause discomfort to fragile pushers of PC, but the challenge he presents contributes to the important dialogue through which our political system aims to approach and resolve issues while maintaining a semblance of mutual respect. He does not resort to insulting his opponent through name-calling, nor does he insult his opposition’s appearance. In fact, he doesn’t issue any personal insults at all. Rather, Cruz speaks directly to the politics of the matter and thus he is politically incorrect, whereas Trump has made a habit of presenting arguments void of political relevance altogether and therefore to call his remarks “politically incorrect” would be a misnomer. Statements like Cruz’s are representative of the true politically incorrect movement, which aims to counter the suffocation of debate wrought by hypersensitive PC. It does not do so through unsubstantial vulgarity. That isn’t true political incorrectness; it is just Donald Trump.
So what does Trump’s version of political incorrectness look like? There is perhaps no example of Trump’s misguided approach more telling than an exchange he had with Megyn Kelly of Fox News at the first Republican primary debate just over a year ago. Kelly questioned Trump’s temperament – particularly toward women – citing times when he had called women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “disgusting animals.” Kelly added that Trump “once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” Trump’s response began, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
As the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz puts it, this excuse from Trump is “the same one he used when he insulted Mexican immigrants, women, and prisoners of war: People are just being too ‘politically correct.’” Citing other examples, Mitchell Blatt of the Federalist has said, “He calls his opponents ‘losers’ and mocks the appearance of their wives and then pleads that he is just being anti-PC. That’s not being anti-PC, it’s just being a contemptible jerk.” It is pretty easy to see the difference between true political correctness and the distasteful, unapologetic muck issued often by Trump.
Trump correctly read the room when he labeled himself the politically incorrect candidate at the outset of his campaign, but his assessment of the national mood was - and still is – far better than his uncouth solution. As the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro has said, “He’s always been half of a great doctor: terrific diagnosis, awful prescriptions.” Trump had the opportunity to champion the politically incorrect cause and do real damage to the PC movement. Instead he has consistently taken to emitting an unabashedly vulgar stream of consciousness, only to then hide himself behind the hollow guise of political incorrectness.
Were it Trump alone who failed to recognize the distinction between Trumpian political incorrectness and true political incorrectness this would all be insignificant. However, Trump’s conflation of these methods has spread rapidly across both sides of the aisle. On the right Trump has succeeded in igniting latent frustration within the Republican constituency, transforming people’s irritation with the restraints of PC into a belief that Trump’s boorish and abrasive behavior is acceptable, or even preferable as a method of political discourse. This has caused serious divides within the party, as influential Republicans have fallen out on both sides of this issue.
Fortunately, some – such as the aforementioned Senator Ted Cruz - have remained steadfast to the true, civilized intentions of the counter-PC movement and have rejected – some diplomatically, others less so – both Trump and his false brand of political incorrectness. Yet many others have been seduced either by the supposed merits of Trump’s style or by an unquenchable desire to defeat Hillary Clinton. Key Republican figures drawn into the Trump camp have manifested in two forms: That of Chris Christie – the full buy-in to Trump’s unrefined approach – and that of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – the tentative, if not reluctant endorser. Ultimately the approval of party leaders is allowing for the redefinition or, at least, the blurring of values for party at large. Many Republicans, both within and without the political arena, now fail to see the difference between revealing hard but important truths and claiming that a frustrated reporter had “blood coming out of her wherever.”
In turn, this conflation has been adopted by leftists who throw all political incorrectness – whether Trumpian or true – into the same bucket. Perhaps sensing political opportunity, or otherwise genuinely, the left has seized on this, as Trump has given them a face at which to point their fingers and say, “See? I told you Republicans were terrible.” One searing example of this is Time writer Mark Hannah - a liberal - who just last month wrote, “The opposite of political correctness is not unvarnished truth-telling. It is political expression that is careless toward the beliefs and attitudes different than one’s own. In its more extreme fashion, it is incivility, indecency or vulgarity. These are the true alternatives to political correctness. These are the traits that Trump tacitly touts when he criticizes political correctness.” While Trump’s culpability does not fully absolve the ignorance of Hannah’s statement, Trump is ultimately responsible for dismissals of any and all merits of political incorrectness, such as we see here. The failure of Republicans to recognize the difference between Trumpian and true political incorrectness, and to reject the former, has resulted in the knee-jerk reaction of many Democrats to lump the two together. These misperceptions have diluted political incorrectness and thereby robbed the American people of their most powerful tool with which to counter the PC movement.
To be clear, these consequences are not a win for the left and a loss for the right. Rather, one thing both sides do agree on is that the development of PC culture has gone too far. According to the Washington Post, in a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll conducted last October, “68 percent agreed with the proposition that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct.” In fact, the piece goes on, “It was a sentiment felt strongly across the political spectrum, by 62 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 81 percent of Republicans.”
The PC movement is seen as a pressing issue throughout the country and on both sides of the aisle. The ramifications of our failure to distinguish between Trumpian political incorrectness and true political incorrectness are to the detriment not of one party, but of the American people.