Political Correctness: Where it Comes From and Why it is So Despised
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Since the Trump ascendancy only started in earnest some six months ago, reliable statistics aren’t yet available, but I think simple observation will tell us that there has been a coarsening of rhetoric regarding race relations in North America and a corresponding increase in hate crimes and violence committed out of racially motivated hostility. The tone and content of Donald Trump’s campaign has been breathtakingly, unapologetically, hostile to pretty much any group that isn’t white, male, and poorly educated. Hell, let’s not be politically correct here. That last bit should read: “ignorant white trash rednecks”.
The list of groups at which Trump has hurled abuse, or has simply demeaned by his casual bigotry, is virtually endless but includes (without being restricted to) blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, women, the poor, the handicapped, immigrants, veterans, and the Chinese. The individuals who have made his contempt list is even more extensive and includes pretty much anyone who has not expressed full throated adulation. Politics has always been a punishing scramble for votes and for power; it has frequently been ruthless, and occasionally really down in-the-dirt vicious. But in modern American history, there has never been a less admirable or more contemptible political campaign, or candidate, or political base. Notable for its open bigotry, the Trump campaign manages to find ways to explore new frontiers in hatred in every 24-hour news cycle. Trump’s astonishingly in-your-face bellicosity has attracted so much media attention that the value of the coverage has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
Donald Trump’s devoted followers, when asked what on earth they see in such a human being, usually respond with some variation on the theme of: “He tells it like it is”. And Trump has frequently said things like, “I don’t have time for political correctness” or “Okay, I’m not going to be politically correct, here”. That disdain for political correctness has been one of the things that his followers love about him. And that disdain is effective because people from either side of the political spectrum have been somewhat contemptuous of the PC rules for a long time now.
So what exactly is political correctness and how did it become a meme and, recently, a political football?
At one time, say thirty of forty years ago, the phrase was used ironically as a short way of referring to speech or actions that were intended to express an adherence to what society generally accepted as appropriate and non-offensive. As the word “negro”, for instance, made some people uncomfortable, the word “black” came to replace it in respectful conversation; later still, “African American” became the preferred way of referring respectfully to those who had been called “coloured” and far more insulting epithets. To call someone a negro wasn’t like using the “N word”, but it came to be heard as carrying some unpleasant baggage; it had become politically correct to use the preferred nomenclature. So at first, political correctness was just an effort to avoid hurting feelings and to remove hate speech and even casual bigotry from daily discourse.
Political correctness was a good thing. By adhering to political correctness, one could be fairly certain that one wouldn’t inadvertently use a word or phrase that would cause offense; the near universality of political correctness was eliminating hurtful speech from the media, from normal conversation; it caused people to consider the impact of their words on others. You don’t hear normal people calling women “broads”, or Italians “wops” in conversation or the media any more, and that is a good thing. The hope and expectation has been that as goes the language, so goes people’s thinking. If we were to eliminate the use of epithets entirely from the vocabulary through simple attrition, one could reasonably expect that new generations wouldn’t carry the sense of apartness and otherness from people with different religions, skin tones, or accents that those hurtful words emphasise.
Of course, in time, the pendulum swung and political correctness came to be a socially authoritarian bludgeon to use as a “gotcha” if anyone slipped and used a word that hadn’t been deemed acceptable. People were accused of political incorrectness if they addressed or referred to women as “ladies”, or if one said “Merry Christmas” in a situation of diversity of beliefs. Political correctness came to mean blind adherence to a dogmatic liberalism in speech and action; even liberals became annoyed with political correctness pushed to an extreme. They don’t come any more liberal than Bill Maher, and he titled his talk show “Politically Incorrect” and set out to demonstrate the aptness of the name.
But now Donald Trump has seized upon a justification for his overt expressions of racism and other forms of unabashed bigotry. He simply blurts out whatever hateful, cruel stereotype pops into his vicious and disturbed mind and tells his people that he refuses to be politically correct. They eat it up, because, at this point in history, PC is virtually universally seen as needlessly confining. Trump has succeeded in this way to remove any inhibitions regarding hate speech and persuading his followers that their inherent hatred of minorities and “others” of all types can and should be expressed freely, even jubilantly, under the excuse of possessing sufficient integrity as not to be politically correct.
Already American society is regressing to a time when it was socially acceptable to call fellow citizens by racial or ethnic epithets that most people thought had undergone mass extinction. Casual bigotry has returned to everyday speech and to political discourse. Trump refers to Senator Elizabeth Warren who has some Native American ancestry as “Pocahontas”; when told by a Native American journalist that she found it offensive, Trump said: “Oh really? I’m sorry. Anyway, about Pocahontas….”
The Klan and other hate groups have begun to be more overtly outspoken than they have been in recent years; in their newly acceptable outspoken viciousness, they are testing the limits of society’s intolerance. When David Duke, a Trump supporter and former Klan leader was speaking at a rally, he repeatedly referred to President Obama as “Sambo”. Even Fox, a year ago, would have edited that; now Fox doesn’t even remark on it in their report. By claiming that they are simply courageously disdaining political correctness, bigots are implying that they are saying what everybody feels but are to cowardly to say out loud. They are well on their way to making racially and ethnically motivated hatred mainstream. And they have been given permission and their marching orders from the Republican candidate for the presidency of the Untied States of America.
Yes, Mr. Trump, let’s make America great again, shall we?