During the grueling battle for the Republican nomination, and in the election campaign that followed, you could never be entirely sure when Donald Trump was on or off script. He constantly used the very opposite of the safe, focus-group-tested talking points of the political elites and the media who report on them. And he mocked and derided all those who played by the rules of political correctness, including progressives of all stripes and the establishment of his own party.
He did not merely get away with it: it carried him to the presidency.
So, will the ascent of Trump prove the death of political correctness? Will his presidency mark the eclipse of the written and unwritten laws that enforce PC across a great swath of public policy and beggar free speech? Or will he, as president, shutter his Twitter account, tone down his outrageous invective, and abandon some of the bold policy positions that helped win him the White House?
Certainly, while he has been tamer since his victory, there are strong reasons to expect he will continue to flout the liberal consensus. Among the most compelling is the fact that he can’t unsay everything candidate Trump said:
His vanquished opponents will forever be known as “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted”, and “Crooked Hillary”.
Regardless whether he bans Muslim immigration to America “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” can anyone forget that he threatened to do so or be certain that he won’t if there are further Islamist attacks? After all, this is the president-elect who also said of Syrian refugees “I can look at their faces and say, ‘Look, you can’t come here’.”
Will he deport all illegal immigrants and get Mexico to pay for the Great Wall? Doubtful, but after saying “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”, it’s still a safe bet that some big changes are coming to America’s southern border arrangements.
Will he deliver on some kind of national daycare program and pay equity, as his daughter Ivanka implied in her speech at the Republican National Convention? Doing so would seem starkly at odds with the rest of his anti-progressive agenda. But if he does it won’t be to satisfy feminist orthodoxy, judging from his lifetime refusal to kowtow to it, and illustrated by campaign comments like this: “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military – only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
Will President Trump “knock the hell out of ISIS”, as promised? They’re already losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and might be better off surrendering before he takes office, lest he deliver on his startling vow to “take out their families” and bring back waterboarding.
Will he curtail press freedoms, as some fretful members of the Fourth Estate predict? Probably not, because he plays the media like a fine fiddle, feeding them stories they can’t resist even as they serve his objectives, all the while deriding them as “liars”, “vultures”, or “sleazeballs”.
How about abortion, putatively the hottest “third rail” of politics? “I’m pro-life,” candidate Trump said, matter-of-factly. “I’m totally against abortion, having to do with Planned Parenthood. But millions and millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood…But I would defund it, because I’m pro-life.” Millions and millions of pro-lifers heard that and voted for him because of it. At the least, PP should be planning for some lean years of federal funding.
The president-elect’s website makes no mention of any of this. Maybe he’s hoping it will disappear down the memory hole. But in a post-election interview with CBS, he affirmed he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
To feminists there is no greater provocation than to identify with the unborn. And for them it could not have come from a more predictable and contemptible source – a self-confessed serial female groper.
So yes, Trump was rude, insulting and insensitive – seemingly the living, breathing expression of political incorrectness.
Does it diminish this assessment to recognize that he left some low-hanging fruit untouched? After all, he could have easily spoken to the grave reservations that many Americans have about the PC cause-de-jour, legal protections and pronouns and bathrooms for the transgendered. That would include conservative Christians, whom Trump eagerly and successfully courted.
On this issue, they were offered little by candidate Trump. Indeed, LGBTetc issues constitute one of the rare policy areas where he equivocates. In April, he gave the politically correct answer that transgender people should be free to use the washroom of their choice, saying that fellow reality television celeb Caitlyn Jenner would be welcome to use the women’s washroom in Trump Tower.
In May he said the opposite, asserting that “whatever you’re born, that’s the bathroom you use.” Eventually he passed the buck, saying states should decide.
He was similarly and uncharacteristically wishy-washy on gay marriage. In June he said he would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Marriage Equality Act and make gay marriage illegal again. Since the election, he has proclaimed gay marriage “settled law”.
Trump would be an even more exceptional politician if he kept all his promises, of course. But it’s fair to ask why he backed off on these gender and sexuality issues, not the others. There are at least two possible explanations.
First, Trump is by all accounts a meritocrat with a history of hiring and promoting capable people regardless of their race, sex, or sexual proclivities. He has also generously praised his homosexual friends like Elton John as “tremendous people.” It is entirely likely the thrice-married Trump doesn’t see issues involving bedroom and bathroom as being all that important in the grand scheme of things.
Second, it could have backfired on him in a way that railing on about Mexicans and Muslims could not. Plenty of reasonable people think tens of millions of illegal aliens is a legitimate public policy concern, and every day they are appalled by some new Islamist terror outrage. By comparison, who people sleep with and where they urinate seems trivial, and related political criticism can easily appear mean-spirited.
How Clinton-Obama validated Trump
Public civility is a worthy goal. But when excessive delicacy – political correctness – restricts speech too much, at some point voters start to wonder if their political leaders are really capable of leading, or are hiding something.
When 49 people were slaughtered in June at a gay bar in Florida by a self-declared follower of ISIS, Barack Obama characteristically hesitated to talk about terrorism and Hillary Clinton talked about gun control. The same Hillary Clinton who as Secretary of State tried to scapegoat a Coptic Christian filmmaker for the Benghazi debacle.
When Lou Dobbs revealed that President Obama’s vaunted reassurance to Americans that record numbers of illegal immigrants had been deported was based on manipulated numbers, it made the Democrats look devious and Trump look necessary.
And for workers, consumers and taxpayers, there was never a starker contrast between what the progressive elites thought and what Donald Trump thought than when climate change took centre stage. His brazen and repeated assertion that the “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” sounded pretty convincing alongside his complaints about China’s looting of American jobs and wealth. It also sounded pretty attractive compared to the Obama-Clinton alternative of Gaiacide unless the U.S. shuts down all its coal plants and taxes the hell out of carbon.
Even if Trump has abused science and economics to overstate his case, there’s a big constituency for a broader, fairer and more balanced discussion on climate-change policy. Too many jobs and too much money – on both sides of the 49th Parallel – depend upon how governments treat it. To declare the issue of global warming settled is to transfer the entire concept from the realm of science to that of religion – a religion regarded skeptically by millions who benefit from the fossil fuel industry.
Even in more liberal Canada, three quarters of respondents to a recent Reid poll said they think political correctness has “gone too far”. As if to prove their point, demonstrators who mocked Alberta Premier Rachel Notley with cheeky Trumpian chants of “Lock her up” at a December anti-carbon tax rally in Edmonton were subjected to a furious media and progressive frenzy of condemnation. The charges included routine allegations of misogyny and the new crime of “bringing Trump-style politics to Canada.”
Apparently it didn’t occur to any of the scolds that the chant was a jest, although it did carry the serious point that Canada needs to rethink its carbon tax policy because our main energy customer and competitor just elected a president who is apparently going to dig and drill for carbon like there’s no tomorrow, whether that’s a climatological possibility or not.
Making American debate free again
One reading of the Trump victory is that it marks the end of a long liberal delegitimization of how millions of Americans think. Whatever the progressive elites managed to superimpose on the façade of their country over the last several decades, Americans still identify with the working man in Norman Rockwell wartime paintings lionizing freedom, particularly of thought and expression. Talk down to him, silence him, call him a “deplorable” and pay the price: In the saddle today, under the horse’s hooves tomorrow.
Trump stood out in the GOP debates by saying, “The big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”
So once more, does the rise of Trump herald the fall of political correctness?
The big post-election street demonstrations in blue cities across the country suggest otherwise. So do the campus cry-ins and the resolute efforts of the liberal media to sandbag the president-elect on some of his controversial cabinet pics, his tangled conflicts of interest, and his dismissal of CIA and FBI evidence of Russian attempts to manipulate the election outcome. If anything, PC militancy may mushroom, at least in the near term.
But if Trump’s radical agenda succeeds in producing economic and security gains, the force of political correctness will almost certainly ebb.
If President Donald J. Trump is even half as politically incorrect as candidate Trump was, he will restore to the intellectual market many ideas America’s liberals thought they had framed out of bounds. And he will continue the liberating effect he’s already had on political debate in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. With any luck, we’ll be hearing less of “safe spaces”, trigger warnings”, “micro-aggressions” for a long time. And instead of obsessing about minority rights and the weather, policy debates will focus on serious problems.