Across political spectrums, the belief that political correctness is pushed on the country primarily from the left has taken hold. From “courageous” conservatives like Donald Trump to liberal comedians like Bill Maher, the new narrative holds that speech censorship is a left-wing enterprise.
But like so many facets of American life, political correctness is divided along racial, ethnic, political and social lines. Each side has their own ideas about what is and isn’t proper to say. Almost every politically correct issue depends on your vantage point. It takes two to do the dance: one to insist on a thing, and another to be offended by it. Either side can be accused of being politically correct.
The latest dustup in this arena came following Donald Trump’s comments about FOX News host Megyn Kelly. At the first GOP debate, Kelly asked Trump about his descriptions of women as “slobs,” “fat pigs,” and other sexist terms. Trump responded as he always does – with hypersensitivity and a petulant tantrum. He accused Kelly of treating him unfairly, called her a bimbo, and doubled down on the sexism by characterizing her as having “blood coming out of her… wherever.”
One of the most common refrains from Trump supporters is that he says what everyone else is simply too afraid to say. But both sides of the aisle were offended by Trump’s comments, and with good reason. Even RedState founder and FOX News panelist Erick Erickson – no stranger to criticism for his own remarks about women – was offended enough to disinvite Trump from an event.
So the potential to be offended certainly arises on both sides. To find out whether the left or right is imposing more political correctness, it’s important to look at each side’s sensitive subjects.
Despite being a scientific and moral issue, climate change is divided politically because the most ecologically destructive entities in the country are also some of the biggest and most influential, like the Koch network. Environmentalists developed a nickname to reflect the unscientific nature of their right-wing opponents’ position: deniers. The term paints them as crazy, conspiratorial, and outside of the mainstream, which – if an almost unanimous scientific consensus is to be taken as mainstream on matters of science – they certainly are.
Yet deniers protest the use of the word, feeling it marginalizes them from the discussion. In this case, it is definitely conservatives who are the whiners, demanding the rest of society cater to their outside-the-box views and trying to impose a political correctness.
Those who are out-of-step with mainstream science often try to bend it to their satisfaction. Schools that teach evolution in the biology classroom are accused of “telling only one side of the story,” and more than a dozen states have schools that do, or are allowed to, teach both intelligent design and evolution in the classroom. Of course, there’s hardly any theory in any field that is less controversial – at least among those who understand it – than the theory of evolution. It’s a staggering display of PC bullying that permits schools to teach garbage science to kids in publicly funded classrooms.
And these issues sincerely matter. They threaten to undermine America’s already deficient level of scientific literacy. The left-wing causes that have the right up in arms are, generally, far less consequential. They also come from a place of educating the majority on issues sensitive to an oppressed group.
Any partnership, orientation, or gender identification that isn’t straight man and straight woman is a lightning rod for controversy. Psychology and biology are, as science so often is, way ahead of the general population in this regard. But so-called values conservatives feel that people who identify as homosexual or transgender are really asking too much when they demand equality. Conservatives are insulted, for instance, that a person who dresses, speaks, and considers herself a woman, but was labeled male at birth, would use women’s restrooms.
Right now, the country is having a very difficult time, seemingly, determining what to do about this. Should we give transgendered people their own bathrooms, should we let them use whichever bathroom they want, or should we – as many states are trying to do – make them use, and punish them with the law if they don’t, the restroom that matches the gender their doctor gave them at birth? Only one option is the obviously decent one, yet politicians push for transgender bathroom bills to, as Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle said, “Protect women and children from going into a ladies restroom and finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.”
Too often simple, common decency is confused for political correctness. Calling the former Bruce Jenner by his post-transition name Caitlyn is the most basic decency one can extend to a fellow human being. It’s not an act of oppression on the person being asked to use the name. Refusing doesn’t make you a crusader against political correctness; it makes you an asshole.
Our sense of what’s politically correct is even more askew on race. It’s one thing to be a racist and quite another to accuse someone of being a racist. Perversely, this second act is widely considered an even greater transgression than the first. In conservative media, racist statements are routinely spun as no-nonsense truth-telling, while “playing the race card” is a cynical ploy of the left.
When the left attempts to constrain language, it’s often an effort to make it less hostile. The word “thug” is now pretty widely understood to be heavily racially coded. It’s used to characterize black activists, black criminals, and even ordinary, innocent, murdered black children. When white rioters turn over police cars after a football game, the media doesn’t use the word on them. Yet conservatives insist the word is accurate when describing black protesters in places like Baltimore.
Notice that whichever side pushes the effort to change language, it’s framed as either an attack on conservatives by liberals or a response to such an attack. Liberals force conservatives to share restrooms with transgender people. Liberals force Christians into a corner on evolution. Liberals accuse conservatives of being racist. This provides the basis for nearly all of our politically correct – and politically incorrect – language. It also allows conservatives to continue playing the victim and blame liberals for our PC culture.
Suggesting one side or the other is more to blame is difficult, because any of these issues can be inverted so that the opposite side is seen as imposing political correctness. Both the opinion that transgendered people should use the bathroom of their choice and the belief that cisgender people should be insulated from anything uncomfortable can be regarded as politically correct.
Much of the change in our national dialogue has been pushed by the left, no doubt about it. And liberals do, perhaps, have a greater tendency to protest certain jokes, especially those that rely on stereotypes. But many liberal-imposed changes have been for the best. They attempt to integrate into the mainstream and treat fairly those who are marginalized by accidents of birth. Conservatives, meanwhile, become uptight about things that have absolutely nothing to do with their lives: gay marriage, transgendered bathroom usage, and so on. And the politically correct values conservatives try to impose – granting climate denial an equal say, teaching intelligent design to schoolchildren – have profound and far-reaching effects.