A presidential contender in the United States, a man who in a different country might be dismissed as a fringe oddball and shunned, is the front-runner for the mainstream Republican Party’s nomination, partly because he relishes offending so-called protected groups.
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump continues to receive enthusiastic cheers at campaign rallies across the United States, even as he speaks harshly about Muslims, gays, women and disabled people.
His popularity has revived debate on the principle of political correctness (or PC), which avoids “language and behaviour that may offend particular groups of people”.
By deliberately maligning members of these groups, the self-absorbed Trump has been described as having a “politically incorrect” posture, which he is unapologetic about and which clearly endears him to conservative voters while nettling liberals.
But what exactly is PC, and why is it resisted so vehemently?
The origin of the term may point to why US conservatives get so worked up about what it stands for today.
It was first used by Marxist-Leninists after the 1917 Russian Revolution, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, to describe “adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”.
In the early 20th century, then, the phrase did not carry the negative connotations it has today.
It was not until the early 1990s that conservatives in the United States used the term in their own rhetoric to question what they saw as left-wing biases in the curriculum and teaching methods at US universities.
By the late 1990s, the term was used less and less, and was deployed mostly “by comedians and others to lampoon political language”.
This election season in the United States marks the dramatic return of the phrase to national politics in a country where “white working-class men see political correctness as a way of shutting them out”, in the analysis of US political commentator Bill Schneider, writing for the Reuters news agency.
Schneider explains: “White working-class men are enraged because they inhabit a world they don’t recognise. It’s a world with a black president, same-sex marriage, illegal immigration, empowered women, anti-police protests and radical Islam.
“They want the Old America back — when white men were in charge, gays stayed in the closet, women were compliant, Muslims were far away, and the police had unquestioned authority.”
WHAT IS PC?
In the United States and much of the Western world, where ideological wars are fought fiercely, when a speech, a piece of writing, or an artistic work is described as “politically correct”, the characterisation always implies something negative about its content. It is a term of derision.
Curiously, not so in our part of the world.
Here, politics at all levels is a shallow game of personalities.
In other words, it is not the survival of big ideas or the authenticity of beliefs that matters, but the political survival of men.
Critics can say all they want about Trump’s outbursts, but at the heart of his defiance is a readily recognisable fundamental theme: grown-ups resent being told by others how to speak or write about reality.
Political correctness means thought control, wimpy resignation to liberal ideology, intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy and must be resisted with all the might the mind and mouth can muster.