...for all the efforts to dismiss Trump as an entertainer, in truth it’s his opponents who are more likely to be playacting, reciting their politically correct and cautious lines by rote. The political market for improvisational candor is as large as it was after Vietnam and Watergate, and right now Trump pretty much has a monopoly on it.Steve M. of Crooks and Liars wrote in response:
Candor? You can use a lot of words to characterize Trump's rhetoric in this campaign, but the one thing he's not giving us is candor -- certainly not about himself, and certainly not about the vast majority of the issues.... We know he's lying when he says he has a "foolproof plan" to beat ISIS. We know he's lying when he says he'll get Mexico to pay for a border fence. We know he's lying about his own net worth. We know he lied in the last debate about his efforts to establish casinos in Florida.In my last post I marveled at how quick so many people are to attribute honesty to Trump, but it's especially striking coming from a liberal like Rich. It shows how deeply ingrained this way of thinking is in our culture--this habit of equating sincerity with a willingness to outrage. Commentators like Rich overlook the fact that some celebrities seem to have a pathological need to put themselves in the headlines, and that they achieve that goal by deliberately stoking outrage. It's a tactic that usually works very well, because outrage is to the media what a flame is to moths.
Why do so many people mistake this tactic for honesty? I think it comes from a sense most people have that if they were placed in front of a TV camera and were to speak aloud every thought that passed through their mind, they'd start offending people before long. I'm reminded of a bit from a Steven Wright routine:
"Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" Yes, you're ugly. See that woman in the jury? I'd really like to sleep with her.One thing most people figure out sometime after their 6th birthday is that an essential part of functioning in the world is avoiding saying what you really think about other people. You learn not to tell someone you find them annoying and would like them to leave; you learn not to tell someone your assessment of their sexual attractiveness or how that colors your perception of them; you learn not to say you feel immediate anxiety at the sight of a young black man walking down the street; you learn not to say transgender people make you uncomfortable.
Since many people avoid saying these sorts of things out of fear of shame, embarrassment, and ostracization, they automatically assume that the only possible explanation for why someone might break these taboos is honesty and courage. They fail to understand the topsy-turvy world celebrities live in, where it can be remarkably easy to lose one's sense of shame when doing so can be the source of a lucrative career. And it's especially seductive to think of such celebrities as bold truth-tellers if the things they're saying happen to agree with your own private beliefs.
For the record, I do think there are aspects of our culture that have gone too far in trying to suppress feelings of prejudice on such matters as race, religion, and gender. We've made bigotry into such a supreme evil that many ordinary, well-meaning people feel they have to pretend no such feelings exist inside of them when it would probably be healthier if they got it out into the open. You can call this problem "political correctness" if you like. But confronting these feelings is only a good thing if your ultimate purpose is to grow past them. Most attacks on PC, including Trump's, are based on the idea that these feelings should be expressed because they reflect sound judgment and an accurate perception of the world--and, further, that we know that's true simply because they've been suppressed. Their taboo status is their justification.
The attack on "political correctness" began in the 1980s as a critique--and a largely legitimate one, in my view--of the stifling atmosphere on many college campuses in America. But it has since devolved into a rallying cry in defense of ignorant and reactionary beliefs. When someone says "I'm not politically correct," what they usually mean is that they're refusing to rethink their beliefs in the face of other people's negative reactions to them. It's a way of celebrating a primal and simplistic outlook and treating any challenges to it as censorship.
What PC originally referred to has hardly any relevance to a figure like Trump. His views aren't being shut down, and he isn't going to starve for having expressed them. And however entertaining his candidacy may be, I can't bring myself to call his taboo-breaking courageous, not when he's getting exactly the kinds of results he craves: he's the center of attention, he's riding high in the polls, he's generating all the headlines. It should be patently obvious that he's saying what he says because he knows what buttons to push. Bashing immigrants in a Republican primary doesn't take courage; defending immigrants would. Now that would be a true example of "political incorrectness"--except nobody uses the term that way. Instead, we use it only to describe the outrageous and offensive, and to wallow in the delusion that it automatically shows authenticity and courage.