Donald Trump and Ben Carson popped the valves on decades of pent-up PC pressure.
oon we’ll all be camped in the fields of primary politics, as that great threshing machine called the American voter methodically separates the contender wheat from the candidate chaff. Let’s not go there, though, without recording 2015 as the year that political correctness finally hit the wall.
Many thought political correctness lived on in our lives now as permanently annoying background noise. In fact, it has been more like a political A-bomb, waiting for its detonator.
On Dec. 7, Donald Trump issued his call for a ban on Muslim immigration into the U.S.—“until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” It’s hard to recall a statement by a public figure that was met, instantly, with almost universal condemnation, including from most of the Republican presidential candidates.
Between that day and the end of 2015, Donald Trump’s support in the national opinion polls went up to nearly 37%, a substantial number by any measure.
Welcome to the revolt of the politically incorrect.
Forget the controversy over Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. This unique political campaign is about more than that. Donald Trump and indeed Ben Carson popped the valves on pressure that’s been building in the U.S., piece by politically correct piece, for 25 years. Since at least the early 1990s, a lot of the public has been intimidated into keeping its mouth shut and head down about subjects in the political and social life of the country that the elites stipulated as beyond discussion or dispute. Eventually, the most important social skill in America became adeptness at euphemism. It isn’t an abortion; it’s a “terminated pregnancy.”
Some keywords in PC’s history:
Identity, gender, gender-neutral, diverse, inclusive, patriarchy, workplace harassment, multiculturalism, dead white males, sexism, racism, organic, “privileged,” hate speech, speech codes, prayer in schools, affirmative action, respecting our differences, microagressions, trigger warnings. That’s just the tip of the iceberg—which political correctness slammed into with the Trump and Carson campaigns.
Ben Carson especially made PC an explicit tenet of his campaign. In a 2014 essay for the Washington Times, Mr. Carson wrote: “Political correctness is antithetical to our founding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Its most powerful tool is intimidation. If it is not vigorously opposed, its proponents win by default, because the victims adopt a ‘go along to get along’ attitude.”
The left found Mr. Carson’s PC concerns almost quaint. But the email traffic I was seeing last summer suggested the Carson anti-PC critique was a big reason for his surge among middle-class voters. My favorite Carsonism: When asked in the Fox News debate if he’d resume waterboarding, he replied, “There is no such thing as a politically correct war.”
When Donald Trump’s mostly working-class voters repeatedly said that “he tells the truth,” this is what they were talking about—not any particular Trump outrage but the years of political correctness they felt they’d been forced to choke down in silence.
American society has never been static. A fair-minded person would concede that many of these controversial subjects involve legitimate and complex issues. Politics exists to mediate them.
Mediation? We should have been so lucky. The left never modulated its PC offensive. The 2006 Duke University lacrosse scandal, a travesty of PC trampling on individuals, should have been a red flag. Instead the Obama Education Department imposed what are essentially kangaroo courts on American campuses to enforce Title IX sexual-abuse cases.
Policies like that don’t emerge from the marketplace of ideas, much less political debate. They come from a kind of Americanized Maoism. The left goes nuts when anyone suggests political correctness has totalitarian roots. But the PC game has always been: We win, you lose, get over it, comply.
But people don’t get over it, and they never forget. For a lot of voters now, possibly a majority, their experiences with enforceable, politically correct behavior, speech and thought have bred a broad mistrust of elites.
Average people think individuals in positions of leadership are supposed to at least recognize the existence of their interests and beliefs. The institutions that didn’t do that or were complicit include the courts, Congress, senior bureaucrats, corporate managers, the press, television, movies, university administrators.
Somehow, the standard model of political comportment—represented by most of the GOP’s presidential candidates—just isn’t up to dealing with a degree of voter social alienation that isn’t particularly rational at this point. So voters turned to “outsiders”—people more like them.
The election’s two big issues remain: a weak economy and global chaos. But for many voters, the revolt against political correctness is on. Hillary Clinton, hostage to a PC-obsessed base, must mouth politically correct pabulum. Donald Trump joy-rides the wave. An opening remains for an electable candidate who can point this revolt toward what it wants—a political win, at last.