We all know Donald Trump is #1 in the Republican polls by now. A certain percentage of people love his willingness to say things nobody else is saying. As a promoter of inclusiveness, however, I urge readers to keep a few things in mind concerning honesty, perceived truth, and political correctness.
1. There is a difference between telling the truth and just being offensive.
Whenever I ask Trump supporters what appeals to them most about his brash language and his unrefined tone, invariably the response is something akin to “he tells it like it is.” My followup question is always, “about what, specifically?” The routinely debunked Obama birth certificate claims? The “Mexican rapists” rhetoric for which he continually deflects requests for evidence? His repeated attacks on women?
There is a difference between “telling it like it is,” and simply saying things that get people riled up. To “tell it like it is,” you have to have facts on your side. And allow me to “tell it like it is” about Trump: he gets his facts wrong. A LOT. Here’s Politico’s fact check of Trump’s performance in the first Republican primary debate. And here’s his overall Politifact scorecard. And here’s FactCheck.org’s Trump page. Turns out, most of the time, Donald Trump tells it like it ain’t.
But this isn’t just about Donald Trump. It’s about our willingness as a people to pretend obvious liars aren’t actually liars. We resent the status quo, so somehow we convince ourselves if someone is discussing topics no one else is publicly, they must be right. Or perhaps in an age of “political correctness run amok,” disparaging people we normally don’t disparage has a certain ring of honesty to it. But make no mistake about it: being an offensive person doesn’t make you right, and making off-color comments publicly doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth.
2. We don’t generally like people who tell the truth. We like people who reinforce our existing beliefs.
Generally speaking, we don’t simply admire people who “tell it like it is.” Most conservatives don’t adore the 97% of climatologists whose facts point to global warming, liberals don’t admire gun activists who point out humanity is trending less violent overall, and people who barbecue aren’t the biggest fans of those who want to discuss the horrible conditions inside America’s meat farms.
No- we’d like to think we seek out the truth, but more often than not, we tend to avoid it to hold onto our existing beliefs. It’s called confirmation bias. It helps us avoid cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling of holding two conflicting beliefs side by side in our heads. Several studies have been done on this- it’s the major reason our political system is so polarized. For example, if we already believe John Doe is to blame for all our problems, and a politician states John Doe has screwed something else up, we are unlikely to check to see if he’s right. We simply accept it as fact and praise the politician for “telling it like (we believe) it is.”
3. “Political Correctness” is (mostly) in your imagination.
“Political correctness” is a catch-all term used as a punching bag for one’s inability to speak without consequences.
It’s like this: You want to say what you really think about a particular subject, but people will think less of you if you do. You blame “political correctness,” and everyone thinks you’re a hero because now you’ve fought back against “the system.” It’s a straw man to divert attention away from yourself and onto others. For a great example of this, see Trump’s response to Megyn Kelly’s perfectly legitimate questions about his offensive comments about women. Instead of taking responsibility for his comments and owning up to his stance, he blamed “political correctness,” so everyone would go bother someone else.
To tell it like it is: Trump does have a history of making disparaging comments toward women. The way he answered the question pointed out his disregard for those who felt excluded by his record. He clearly doesn’t respect them enough to give a straight answer. But if he can divert people’s attention away to “political correctness,” then he’s not the real bad guy. Don’t get me wrong- I agree that some liberals have gone too far policing acceptable dialogue in this country. But it’s perfectly reasonable to expect U.S. presidential candidates to avoid blaming tough questions they don’t like on the moderators having PMS. Trump is an offensive person. He can’t blame political correctness for that.
Historically, Herbert Kohl points out many of the first neoconservatives who began using the term in the 1990’s were former Communists who wanted to re-frame democratic ideals of inclusiveness as authoritarian when they got in the way of your right to be “sexist, racist, and homophobic.” That’s where it came from: an anti-democratic excuse to exclude and denigrate people. There very well may be a problem of liberal “thought policing” of discourse in this country. I offer no argument against that. But in our efforts to solve the problems we face, we can always choose words that include, rather than disparage. Anything otherwise is not “launching a heroic rebellion against the thought police.” It’s just being an offensive prick.