The PC Fairy Dust
Now that the campaign is pretty much over and everyone’s just waiting to see if Clinton can hit 90% on www.fivethirtyeight.com, I’m going to save all of my “save the world and vote” posts for 2020. I had some great ones, trust me, but no sense in wasting ammo, and by ammo I mean the few minutes a week I can scrape together to write while loving people watch my children on my behalf.
But there is, in my mind, still something that needs addressing: the very fake threat of political correctness, and the very real leverage its opponents have gained by railing against it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much against not saying what you really think or feel just because someone might be offended by it as the next person. But that’s just it. The next person and I feel this way regardless of our political opinions. Conservatives don’t hold the monopoly on free and direct speech that they think they do.
Let me try to prove my point. How politically correct was it when liberals, democrats, and radicals poured, rightly or wrongly, the hate on George W. Bush for eight years? As someone who voted for him the first time around because I bought into his brand of “compassionate conservativism” (and I liked the idea of Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice in the cabinet), I was offended and frankly worried by the growing sense in our culture that it was okay to not only criticize, but ridicule and insult a US President, and those of us who supported him.
But getting back to my question, the answer is it wasn’t politically correct at all. Therefore it’s foolish to think that liberals hold any sort of monopoly on political correctness, or that conservatives are the only ones willing to speak what they see as the truth regardless of consequence.
Trump built his political career on two major public statements that many wrongly hail today as some sort of “refreshing” truth-speaking. The first statement came in the form of a full page, all text ad that he took out in all of New York City’s major newspapers in 1989 headlined, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The second statement came in 2011 when he championed the false allegation that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
At the time while many were outraged at these false claims, many others felt that Trump was the only public figure bold enough to speak what they were thinking in private. Many felt that public figures and politicians were being too politically correct, holding back what they really thought or felt for fear of offending people and/or losing votes. And I’m sure a good number were. But just because a few won’t say things purely out of concern for their image or position, it is foolishness to think that all those who stay silent do so for the same reasons.
I mean, just look at the fruit of Trump’s supposed “truth-speaking”: in the case of the Central Park Five, it led to growing public support for the wrongful conviction of five young men of color. This was simple fear-mongering at its basest. Yes, let’s talk about demographics and crime, even at the risk of offending someone. Let’s get real about the problem of gun, gang, and drug violence in Chicago and in many parts of country (not all of them urban by the way), if it means we hurt each others’ feelings. But that’s not what Trump’s statement did. All his ad did was give voice to anger and hate, and misdirected it at five young men, leading to their wrongful imprisonment for six to thirteen years, released only after the actual criminal’s DNA was linked to the crime.
In the case of Trump’s championing of Birtherism, his supposed boldness was at its best conspiracy-encouraging, and at its worst simple racism. Does wondering if a political candidate is actually a US Citizen make you a racist? No. But the whole point behind our libel and slander laws is that you cannot try and ruin someone’s reputation without solid proof. This is one of the pillars of modern civilization, and it’s what allows millions and millions of people to live together in one country without things turning into complete anarchy (and no, we do not live in an anarchy contrary to what the fear-mongerers would have us believe).
But instead of thinking about what he was saying and carefully examining his claims, Trump came out, guns blazing, encouraging those who said and thought these lies in private to say them louder and more boldly. And there are still those who believe them, despite heaps of evidence to the contrary, evidence that almost assuredly never would have been demanded of a Caucasian candidate.
That’s the fruit of Trump’s so called truth speaking: dumber and dumber things said more and more loudly.
And this leads us back to the beginning: the reason why politicians and other public figures need to watch what they say isn’t because of “political correctness.” The reason why is that words have power. Kids can get unjustly imprisoned because of words. Lies can grow and take root because of words. Someone’s future can be ruined because of words.
So yes, as I said before, let’s get into real debates and talk about real issues without fear. And to that end, let’s not jump all over each other when we’re offended by what someone else says. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. But let’s also accept the consequences of our words and let those consequences give us pause. Before we make a claim, let’s seek to back it up with thoughtfulness and research. Before we talk about a whole race or group of people, let’s ask in humility, and let’s respond in kind.