We’ll say this much for Donald Trump: He has elevated the discussion. Elevated it by pulling it into the gutter, sure, but such is typical for a candidate who has madness to his method.
In a now-infamous exchange with Megyn Kelly of Fox News during the first Republican presidential debate, Trump said: “The big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”
Never mind the fact that the question had to do with Trump’s well-documented misogyny — or the fact that he has doubled down on that sexism with post-debate comments. No, Trump’s bombast apparently has struck a chord for many people, considering that he is the front-runner for next year’s Republican nomination.
Trump has no chance of winning that nomination. And it probably would be simpler to ignore him until he goes away. But this notion of political correctness is too delicious to sit upon the counter untouched, and so we’ll get out our knife and fork and dive in, fully aware that the discussion consists of little more than empty calories.
Take Trump’s comments. Kelly pointed out, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. … Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”
And he responded by suggesting that the country’s big problem is political correctness? Really? A desire to treat people with respect and calling others out when they fail to do so is the big problem with this country? Holding presidential candidates accountable for their comments is the big problem? I would think those are strengths of a civilized society.
Yet Trump has tapped a vein. Many people are quick to rail against what they view as political correctness, ignoring the fact that they often are defending abhorrent behavior. And in so doing, they often disingenuously try to draw a line between free speech and consequence-free speech.
The fact is that Donald Trump — or anybody else who says something that might be offensive — has every right to express his thoughts; but he should not have an expectation of saying it without being questioned and challenged and judged. Women you don’t like are dogs, slobs and disgusting animals? John McCain is not a war hero, because the heroes are the ones who don’t get captured? You are entitled to your opinion, but you better be prepared to own it.
The correct thing
For some reason, this has become a cause célèbre for conservatives, a fact that seems somewhat hypocritical. While some conservatives are quick to blame political correctness when an opinion they agree with is challenged, a recent Harris Poll showed that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats — 42 percent to 23 percent — to say that some books “should be banned completely.” They also are more likely to say that certain video games, movies, and TV shows should be banned.
Political correctness, apparently, is a big problem only when it targets speech that you agree with.
Of course, there are plenty of stories about political correctness run amok, and the art of being offended has grown into a cottage industry in this country. You certainly can take issue with Target stores deciding to label toys as gender neutral, rather than “boys” and “girls,” but that is far from the biggest problem in this country. Same for the wholly contrived “War on Christmas.” Same for attempting to defend the indefensible use of the Confederate flag. All too often, decrying such correctness amounts to little more than seeing a bogeyman in every crevice and shadow.
Because, in the end, the issue comes down to treating others with respect. It comes down to not referring to foes as dogs and slobs and to being cognizant of others’ sensitivities. That’s often not the politically correct thing to do — it’s simply the correct thing.