Daily Planet, 12/2015
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” – Donald Trump
I confess this particular national problem hasn’t made my Top 50. But I’m not without opinions.
I’m in favor of political correctness, and I’m also against it.
Let’s start with some history – at the beginning, in the 1930s.
The Socialist Party of America pinballed its way from identity crisis to identity crisis for decades. Their presidential candidate did get six percent of the vote in 1912, but then it was faction against faction through the 1920s.
But American Socialists never accepted the radical ideas of the Communist International. In 1936, they backed FDR. Meanwhile, the Communist Party USA was in lockstep with Stalin, including support for his bloody purges – and they called for an armed struggle to establish an American Soviet state.
Socialists criticized the Communists’ slavish, unthinking obedience to Moscow. They called American Communists “politically correct.”
<comment> The Socialists used “politically correct” as a put-down. I agree with that principle. When somebody parrots an ideological line without testing its validity, they deserve disrespect.
Groups of all kinds tend to have ideologies, belief systems, creeds that they want their followers to adopt completely. They like political correctness.
In the world of politics, no group is as politically correct as conservative Republicans. There are conservative articles of faith, and millions of conservatives embrace them unconditionally. Why else would anybody be against environmental regulations that give us and our children a cleaner world? Why else would non-rich people favor huge tax cuts for rich people when the cuts mean poorer public schools?
In my experience, liberal-leaning people are far more open-minded, more questioning of liberal doctrines than are conservatives.
<resume history> In the ‘60s and ‘70s, America changed. The Civil Rights Movement, in particular, made us aware that we were using words that were no longer appropriate. We also stopped having black-face minstrel shows and the like. As I recall, this change was spontaneous. I don’t remember its being called “political correctness.”
<comment> I’m in favor of this, too. Avoiding these words signaled that we had grown as a people.
<resume history> But quite soon, inappropriate speech and attitudes became officially taboo on college campuses and in publishing guidelines. This was true political correctness. In 1972, Stanford University even switched their mascot from Indians to the Cardinal, their school color.
<comment> I don’t buy into legislated political correctness. It has certainly helped us discard words and attitudes that needed to go, but I like the 1990 Newsweek cover: “THOUGHT POLICE – There’s a ‘politically correct’ way to talk about race, sex and ideas. Is this the new Enlightenment – or the new McCarthyism?” I tilt away from censorship.
<resume history> Now we come to how the phrase “political correctness” has become part of Republican jargon. Sometimes they use it correctly, but sometimes, oh boy, it’s nothing more than a clumsy club to bash Democrats with:
Ted Cruz: “This is a president and administration that has turned a hard heart to the persecution and suffering of Christians abroad….And this bizarre, politically correct doublespeak is simply not befitting a commander-in-chief….”
Rush Limbaugh: “We’re led to believe everybody opposes it and disagrees with political correctness, but yet everybody’s scared to death of it. So who is it? Well, it’s the power structure wherever you happen to be.”
Comment on New York Times article: “Trump has started attacking the whole religion of political correctness to the cheers of the masses. Without that weapon, the left is simply powerless.”
<comment> Anybody who’s watched the GOP debates has seen every single candidate take positions completely in line with the current passions of the Republican base, even if they previously held other views.
What shall we call this phony devotion to the new Republican orthodoxy?
Right: political correctness.