From comedians to journalists, high-profile members of the left and right found themselves in Trump-related controversy in recent weeks. The incidents provide a useful microcosm to paint a bigger picture. When the political correctness of each side is analyzed one thing is clear: the left holds its own to a much higher standard than the right does. And while liberals spend much of their time infighting, Republicans are radicalizing further rightward and running away with the country.
Last week, comedienne Kathy Griffin posted photographs of herself holding a bloody effigy of President Trump’s head. Bipartisan outrage against her was swift. CNN fired Griffin from its annual New Year’s Eve broadcast. Trump tweeted, “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” Almost immediately, Griffin issued an apology. But the damage to her career, by her own admission, was already done.
Several observers were quick to point out similarities between Griffin’s picture and the rhetoric of guitarist Ted Nugent. Nugent once told President Obama to “suck on my machine gun” and told Hillary Clinton to “ride [a machine gun] into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” In 2012 Nugent used a colorful metaphor for the election, saying, “We need to… chop their heads off in November.” Donald Trump defended that remark as understandable anger and, more recently, even invited Nugent to the White House.
Two people, one on the right and one on the left, made statements about decapitating political opponents. On the left, the consequence was job loss and widespread condemnation. On the right, the consequence was a White House invitation.
Griffin was joined in her bad week by Real Time host Bill Maher, who dropped the ‘n’-word on a live broadcast of his show. In response to a quip by Republican Senator Ben Sasse that Maher visit Nebraska and work in the fields, Maher said, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.” Calls to fire Maher issued forth across the political spectrum – from Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson to far-right blogger Jack Posobiec.
It’s a shame that when Maher heard the phrase, “Work in the fields,” his impulse was to make a slave joke and use the ‘n’-word. But he’s a comedian whose sense of a “line” is beyond that of most; he has been fired from TV for a joke before. This time, though, Maher was quick to issue an apology. If he were to be fired, the secular, environmental left would lose a valuable frontline ally.
On the right-wing side a Breitbart staffer lost her job, allegedly over an anti-Muslim tweet sent out after the June 3 London Bridge attack. Katie McHugh tweeted, “There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.” It’s not clear how her tweet diverges from the website’s standard line, nor is it the only ignorant thing she’s said. Her tweets are a smorgasbord of over-the-top white nationalism, and she held onto her job for years.
Unlike Maher and Griffin, though, McHugh enjoyed a great deal of support. Alt-right fellow travelers defended McHugh and accused Breitbart of firing her to appease the “fake news media.” Ann Coulter tweeted, “Whatever the reason for firing, Katie McHugh is a great reporter.” So far, 132 people have donated to a crowdfunding page set up to support McHugh. One comment, from an anonymous $100 donor, is particularly revealing: “Fuck Breitbart. The Right takes care of its own.”
Political correctness exists on both sides, but the left tends to hold its own to their standards much more stringently. We need incisive commentary. Sometimes, in the course of delivering it, a line will be crossed. Bill Maher made a tasteless joke, but to burn him would be a loss. Kathy Griffin held a decapitated Trump effigy and was quickly disowned, but the right never loves Ted Nugent more than when he talks about killing Democrats.
While the left continues to enforce its lines, there is no amount of chauvinism, bigotry, hatred for the poor, or violent rhetoric – provided it’s aimed in the right direction – that will turn off the radicalized GOP base. And the further Trump is backed into a corner, the more extreme the right will become. It’s already gotten to the point where prominent Trump allies, including Brexit leader Nigel Farage and radio host Michael Savage, are openly calling for Muslim internment camps.
Given the runaway vulgarity of President Trump, knowing where to draw the line is more difficult now than ever. Politics is ugly and it makes strange bedfellows. Sometimes people on your side will be assholes. They may need to be called out. But liberals must learn to forgive the occasional transgression. What’s at stake is nothing less than survival of the species and the remainder of our limited democracy. Anyone on the right side of that equation should count as an ally.