The Lie of Political Correctness

“People were tired of walking on eggshells.”

If I had a copy of the Constitution for every time I heard that one — that it was the pushback against political correctness that got Donald Trump elected. That people loved he was willing to say whatever was on his mind — that this meant he wasn’t filtered and he’d deliver the truth. They mistook his lack of decency for honesty when really it was just — lack of decency.

Because that’s what political correctness is — decency. Kindness. Good manners. But good manners were given a bad name by people who couldn’t be bothered, or who wanted to score political points. “We can’t afford to be politically correct,” said Donald Trump. As if there wasn’t a much more nuanced, more intelligent, reason to avoid language like “radical Islam” that terrorists could use to recruit people to their side.

Here’s a secret: There are plenty of liberals who feel tentative about what to call whom, who find it slightly annoying when the appropriate names for a group changes or certain sections of a group break off and we need to learn a new name. But, slightly annoying in the way you realize you turned right instead of left ½ a block back and you need to make u-turn — a 30-second detour from the main destination. Really not a big deal.

Because “walking on eggshells” — a bit dramatic, but ok — is the small price we pay for being kind. Because what “walking on eggshells” means is not saying words that offend people. The vast majority of people are not out looking to be offended. The vast majority can differentiate between someone who just didn’t know from someone who is racist.

It’s not hard to say “American Indian” instead of “redskin.” It’s not hard to add a Q to LGBT. It’s not hard to not tell a racist joke. So I think for the people who hate political correctness to the point that they’re willing to vote for a shallow bigot just to make a point, it’s not about the anxiety of walking on eggshells. I’m fairly confident these same people do not walk on eggshells afraid they’ll mistakenly call their white neighbor, “Cracker,” or their local cop, “Pig.” What it’s really about is their desire to say what they damn well please. Maybe because they hold racist views, maybe because they think it’s funny when other people do. “I’m not a white racist, I just tell funny black jokes.” Either way, they don’t have the time nor the patience to be kind.

Racism still has a strong hold of this country. Passive or active, it’s strong enough to denounce political correctness, strong enough to elect Donald Trump, strong enough to forbid Sen. Warren from reading Coretta Scott King’s words on the Senate floor. Strong enough — but too fragile to bear the responsibilities of kindness.