Political correctness can definitely be taken to ridiculous extremes, as these cartoons show.
In previous posts, I’ve sometimes criticized political correctness. It’s true that in recent years, political correctness (PC-ness) has gone too far, and people are afraid to say what they mean because it might offend someone. PC-ness can be taken to ridiculous extremes. For example, a child today can get in a world of trouble — up to and including arrest — for something as innocent as drawing a picture of a gun. Companies are afraid to hire a white person who may be a better fit for a job if a black candidate is also qualified. People are afraid to say “Merry Christmas” because it might offend non-Christians, but they’re also afraid to say “Happy Holidays” because it might offend Christians (so what are you supposed to say??) Parents are afraid to discipline their children because someone might call the authorities and their children could be taken away. Of course, there are limits to what constitutes proper discipline of a child. Obviously, if you see a parent beating their child or hurling insults at them, this is abuse, not just discipline, and there should be consequences. But is it proper to report a parent for lightly slapping a toddler’s hand because she’s reaching for something that could hurt her or break? Yet such actions are regularly reported as “abuse.” Parents are afraid to be parents. We can’t say what we mean because someone might be offended, even if no insult is intended. During the holiday season, it might be better to just say nothing at all.
In spite of the problem of political correctness being taken to extremes, there is a place for it. Political correctness is really nothing more sinister than showing respect for others. It means practicing the Golden Rule, which we all learned in kindergarten and would behoove us to keep practicing as adults because it makes everyone’s lives so much easier and more pleasant, including our own. Political correctness is about being a good neighbor and a good citizen. It’s caring about the way others feel. When it’s not taken to extremes, political correctness makes our relationships with others and within our communities a heck of a lot easier. But people get all up in arms over the term itself. Why is that? I think the term “political correctness” irritates people more than the actual practice of it, because of its its associations with the “liberal elite,” a group that many conservatives distrust, dislike, and simply cannot relate to. But showing respect and empathy for others, even if they’re different than we are, is not about partisan politics. The Golden Rule applies to everyone and benefits everyone, regardless of political party, economic status, race, religion, or creed.
We have a president who takes pride in his lack of political correctness. He insults people and calls them names and calls this behavior honesty. Many of his followers think of Trump’s antipathy toward PC-ness as one of his greatest strengths, but the truth is, Trump’s version of “honesty” (something he definitely is not) is nothing more than schoolyard bullying, and most of what he says is not true anyway. His language and bullying manner not only hurts people who have done nothing wrong (other than being critical of Trump or his policies), it also encourages hatred and intolerance among his followers. Since Trump’s election, suddenly it’s okay for people to bully others who are not like them, since Trump does the same thing. It’s okay to demean and insult Muslims, Mexicans, women, gays, Democrats, the liberal media, and other groups Trump looks down on because Trump does it and seems to think it’s okay. It’s become okay to dehumanize and target people who aren’t the same as we are or who don’t agree with us.
Recently, I read there’s even been an uptick in school bullying since Trump got elected. Bullies everywhere and of all ages feel empowered because the president does it and seems to think there’s nothing wrong with it. Some critics of political correctness think it means stuffing your feelings and wearing a fake smile all the time, but that is just not true. We don’t have to go around grinning like idiots (was it un-PC to use that term?) and pretending to like people we don’t or be happy with situations that make us miserable, but that doesn’t give us the right to go around insulting and demeaning others for no reason other than that we find their differences offensive.
Sadly, this attitude about political correctness is very widespread today.
Trump is giving the world the wrong idea of what strength is all about. In his strongman world, dictators and authoritarian leaders are admirable because they rule with an iron hand and victimize and punish those who oppose them. Civilized discourse, peaceful negotiation, and compromise is seen as weakness. This is why he’s the only president in living memory who has not included the opposing political party in his decision making. In fact, all he does is insult Democrats (even though he used to be one himself), sabotages their efforts (as he is by refusing the pay Obamacare subsidies), and then blame them when things inevitably go wrong (“Obamacare is DEAD!”). This is a divide-and-conquer strategy narcissists and sociopaths like Trump are infamous for.
Real strength means showing respect and compassion for others. It means refraining from calling people insulting names when someone says something critical of you (as long as the criticism isn’t abusive), and maybe even learning something from it. It means lifting others up instead of working to oppress them and keep them down. It means encouraging people instead of trying to sabotage or insult them. It means being inclusive instead of exclusive. It means working to find common ground instead of encouraging divisiveness. And it means being PC sometimes too, if by political correctness we mean showing respect for our fellow human beings, regardless of how different from us they might be. Granted, political correctness is sometimes taken too far, but Trump’s dangerous lack of it is off the rails, and is a threat to our democracy and to the world. Civility is in short supply these days. If we really want to “make America great again,” we need to return to a culture of civility, common courtesy, and neighborliness.