Presidential Campaign

For Trump, being politically incorrect is now ‘PC’

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From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has led the charge against political correctness. At the first Republican primary debate last February in New Hampshire, Trump commented in a response to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct (P.C.). I’ve been challenged by so many people and I frankly don’t have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”

{mosads}This approach has led to a litany of criticism since then aimed at political and religious leaders, ethnic and faith groups alike. Under the rubric of calling them out in the face of political correctness, Trump has continuously tested the boundaries of civic discourse.

But in doing so, he also has helped to create an unintended paradox: It now is politically correct to say that too many people are easily offended these days over language itself. The just-released survey of the respected Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Americans — nearly 60 percent — now believe that we are a nation that skews in favor of political correctness.

The minority view — what might be termed “politically incorrect” — would favor more care with language to avoid offending people. As the Pew report shows, among Americans overall, “there are few significant differences by age and levels of educational attainment. … Majorities, regardless of education level, think too many people are easily offended by language today.”

With this apparent reversal of perception, the notion of political correctness as a byproduct of majoritarian group-think deserves reconsideration. After all, the un-P.C. approach in light of this data would be to demonstrate more sensitivity to how language characterizes others in an offensive way. In contrast, doing the opposite would seem to be just another way of going along with what the majority believes — in other words, being politically correct.

In the end, it may be time to lay down the sword of political correctness for the rest of this campaign season because the concept itself seems to have lost its meaning. Or else, it may be time to follow the new un-P.C. path of focusing on how our political conversations can undermine the sense of well-being of those who are attacked, along with the well-being of our nation as a whole.

Brotman teaches political communication at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he serves as the inaugural Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Communication and Information.

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