The issue of political discourse—whether focused on tone or truthfulness—deserves serious discussion, and it is worth considering what is meant by the term “political correctness” as it is bandied about in today’s political discourse. When Donald Trump spoke about Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and when he used derogatory terms for women, we heard his supporters say that it is refreshing to hear someone who is not caught up in political correctness. Used this way, I think the term “political correctness” could be substituted out for “sensitivity” or “civility.”
In the most recent print edition of The Spartan, I read William Jacob’s diatribe on political correctness with interest and concern (“Fresh Perspective: Political correctness fails to convey meaning.” January 27, 2016). It seems that Mr. Jacob was rebelling against a powerful regime with the Orwellian ability to force a speech code upon American citizens. I believe, however, that in choosing examples of “political correctness” that strain the limits of reasonableness—e.g. “visually challenged” for ugly and “ ethically disoriented” for dishonest—Mr. Jacob sets up a strawman which he then valiantly knocks to the ground and sets ablaze.
There is no political correctness regime. There are neither political correctness police nor political correctness legislatures regulating public speech. In fact, as I peruse social media and listen to talk radio, I find no evidence of regulated speech whatsoever. That Mr. Jacob was able to land his opinion piece on this issue of political correctness in The Spartan is evidence that there is no political correctness regime on our campus. (I sincerely hope that Mr. Jacob feels free to continue voicing his opinion in print; we are all better for having a wide-array of public views aired and discussed.)
There are serious voices in the Republican party and in the conservative movement, e.g. the editors and contributors to The National Review, that are drowned out by the phony battle against political correctness fought on the Internet, the airwaves, and recently in our very own student newspaper. The problem with Trump’s statements about immigrants, for example, is not that they lack political correctness; the problem is that they are not founded in reality and that they are simply hateful. And the threat from Trump’s unfounded and insensitive statements is not that they will topple the illusionary political correctness regime, it is that they further erode civility in political speech and distract us from the real problems that Americans and the world face.