A version of this article appeared on print in our January 2017 issue.
The outcome of this year’s presidential election left millions dumbfounded. Many asked themselves: How did we let this happen? How can we undo the morning of November 9? Unfortunately, there is no rewind button, no way to reroute the fate of the United States.
All that remains are the intangible tools of reflection. People can look back and think about how we all got here. Many are unwilling to admit wrongdoing, and those on the left are unwilling to acknowledge that their own actions may have fed into the rise of a demagogue.
These said actions qualify as political correctness. And political correctness helped elect Donald Trump.
Political correctness has many different meanings, and manifests itself in various ways. For some, political correctness means just being kind, polite, and using manners during a political discussion. I am not talking about that type of political correctness. That is simply common decency, which is necessary and appropriate.
I am talking about the kind of political correctness that censors conversation, generalizes entire groups of people, and poisons the notion of logical debate.
When Hillary Clinton said that half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables,” she echoed the popular notion that all of Trump’s supporters are racist, sexist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. These four words are the metaphorical stones nestled into the cozy pouches of slingshots used by many on the left. They are also the words used to generalize half of the country.
It is politically correct to point out racism and sexism when we spot it, but political correctness gone rogue becomes a weapon when we start using those words to generalize large masses of people.
Yes, of course, those previously mentioned “slingshot” words accurately describe some people. There are many foul people out there in political time-warps who support Trump because he spouts the wildly archaic -ist and -phobic rhetoric with which they strongly agree.
But automatically labelling a Trump supporter as any of those four buzzwords– without any evidence– is the end of debate, the end of persuasion, and the end of decency.
British comedian Tom Walker recently gave his thoughts on Trump’s victory in viral video. Mimicking the abundant blanketing tactics used during this election cycle, he said, “If you’re on the right, you’re a freak, you’re evil, you’re racist, you’re stupid, you are a basket of deplorables.” He then asked, “how do you think people are gonna vote if you talk to them like that?”
Walker highlights inefficacy of these tactics, asking, “when has anyone ever been persuaded by being insulted or labelled?”
He’s correct. Inappropriately calling people racist, sexist,whatever, will never yield anything positive. But that’s what’s easy, and that’s how you can overpower and silence anyone in an argument. That’s how you win.
The second you begin to instinctively believe all of your political opponents to be racist sexists, is the very second when you decide that their personal experiences, economic and social standing, and actual beliefs are irrelevant.
Many who supported Trump for economic reasons, like the coal miners and steel manufacturers of Pennsylvania, saw Trump as their last chance, a man they did not morally approve of, but a man they thought could revitalize the industries that made their small towns in Pennsylvania so lively.
For instance, Anthony Miskulin, a 37 year old of Huntington Beach, California, shares a house with 4 other people. Struggling to pay off student debt with a tiny sales salary, Miskulin voted for Trump hoping the economy would be improved.
“My vote for Donald Trump, it wasn’t out of bigotry. It wasn’t out of hatred. It was about survival,” he said, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times
These folks are not looking for some great white uprising, or a total annihilation of liberal ideals. They are searching for help, and Trump was the only candidate who promised it.
According to the frequently used transitive statement (generally found on Twitter and Facebook) “To vote for Trump is to be racist,” all of the aforementioned people are racists. But they are not.
Calling supporters such as Miskulin racist will never convince them to vote against Trump. Calling them stupid for thinking Trump will keep his promises will not either. People become incensed when they are insulted; they feel angry. That will only increase their support for Trump, and thus, encourage those around them to vote identically.
PC culture run wild has been more divisive than unifying, and certainly has failed to provide the atmosphere in which diversity of thought is encouraged. Fair, slur-less dialogue sways voters, not labels. If we want to change people’s minds, we must avoid name calling and branding. Treating our political opponents poorly must end before we can unify this country.
Conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos described Trump as “an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness.” Robby Soave of reason.com added, “Trump won because he convinced a great number of Americans that he would destroy political correctness.”
Trump, a man without a filter, never gave political correctness the time of day. He is blunt, uncensored, and unthinking in his knee-jerk reactions to current events through Twitter. This is how he came to defy political correctness–from its mildest to most extreme forms.
People were sick of the labels, slurs, and insults, so they elected Trump hoping he would successfully “destroy” the rogue PC weapon.
Racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia. I do not think I am going out on a limb when I say that many of us posses a bias that causes those words to pop into our heads when we think about Trump supporters. Those hatreds and fears should be called out and chastised when applicable, but if we do it to everyone by default– and without evidence–we are only perpetuating a culture that bred Donald Trump.