In conjunction with my column in last week’s edition about my ideas for a shift in focus of political correctness, I would like to challenge the attacks against political correctness being made by the alt-right and Donald Trump. If we think back a year and a half ago, when the Republican primary debates were being held, Trump got into a feud with host Megyn Kelly for asking about the disparaging remarks he had made about women in the past. He implied in a CNN interview that she only asked him those questions because she was on her period. When he caught fire for the remarks he took to twitter saying “So many ‘politically correct’ fools in our country. We have to all get back to work and stop wasting time and energy on nonsense!” and “Political correctness is killing our country, ‘weakness’.”
His attack on political correctness resonated with enough people to win him the majority of electoral votes last November. I do not believe that everyone who voted for him shares his sexist views. Rather, Trump characterized political correctness as a form of lying and censorship. In the same way that he said his “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment was “locker room talk” he convinced enough people that offensive language was the common, straight forward, and truthful way of communicating. In other words, he successfully pitted political correctness as the opposite of sincerity. This, of course, is not true, especially if we keep in mind my suggestion from the previous article of putting the exchange of ideas at the forefront of political correctness. A sincere understanding of people different from ourselves is the entire point of political correctness.
What Trump’s attacks really do is systematically disregard entire groups of people’s thoughts and opinions. Saying that Kelly was on her period shifted the focus from the questions she was asking to whether or not she should even be asking questions at all. Of course, the attack here was not just on Kelly but on all women, implying that anyone with a menstrual cycle is not fit to express their opinion.
Referencing my earlier article again, if a problem with the current culture of political correctness is that it suppresses a liberal flow of ideas, the critiques laid out by Trump and the alt-right are much more sinister still. Instead of an environment where people risk their social/political reputation for speaking certain ways, the alt-right’s response creates an environment where no matter how much a group of people speak up, they will not be taken seriously. In the former, the individual still holds agency over their freedom of expression. In the latter, agency is stripped away from the individual whose credibility is unjustly disregarded.
The connotations of political correctness needs changing, for it to survive the blistering attacks of the alt-right. This will require a shift from strict condemnation and suppression of that which we find offensive to open conversations with the very people who offend us. If we can prove that political correctness is the most sincere way of communicating, we can avoid a world where the president chooses which groups have a voice and which do not.