WASHINGTON – The Republican presidential candidates and the far-right echo chamber have made “politically correct” an all-purpose dismissal for facts and opinions they don’t want to hear.
Take Donald Trump’s claim that when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, “I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” columnist, Glenn Kessler, found no evidence to support Trump’s claim and gave him “Four Pinocchios,” reserved for the most bald-faced lies. PolitiFact gave the statement a “Pants on Fire” rating, denoting extreme mendacity. But when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pressed the GOP front-runner to explain himself, noting that “police say it didn’t happen,” Trump resorted to what has become a familiar dodge.
“I know it might not be politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down,” Trump said.
Ben Carson, running second in the national polls, is even fonder of the political-correctness allegation – so much so that it could be considered a central theme of his campaign. It is unclear whether he actually knows or cares what political correctness means. The phrase is just more verbal romaine to add to the word salad that is Carson’s discourse.
He used it when challenged on his stance that a Muslim should not be president, even though the Constitution explicitly states there can be no “religious test” for public office. “Political correctness is imposed by the secular progressives and those who wish to fundamentally change our society,” he said. “Therefore, they make things off-limits to talk about, but you know what? I’m going to talk about it anyway.”
In other words, he considers the framers of the Constitution a bunch of “secular progressives,” since they’re the ones who put a candidate’s faith off-limits. That’s not the loopiest thing Carson has said (his attempts to discuss financial reform are in a class of their own) but it’s in the top 10.
The renowned neurosurgeon took the same route Sunday when Stephanopoulos – who had a busy morning – asked him to react to Trump’s call for the United States to resume harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, including waterboarding.
“I agree that there’s no such thing as political correctness when you’re fighting an enemy who wants to destroy you and everything that you have anything to do with,” Carson said. “And I’m not one who is real big on telling the enemy what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.”
But Carson is a medical doctor who took an oath to heal and alleviate suffering. Or maybe he believes that Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, was just another PC lemming, blindly following the secular progressives who are leading us to our collective doom.
Chris Christie, asked about his view that the United States should accept no Syrian refugees, said we should not bow to “political correctness, the elites in Washington or the editorial pages of major newspapers.” Ted Cruz, asked this summer whether he thought the term “anchor babies” was offensive, told reporters “we need to stop this politically correct nonsense.” Mike Huckabee, after making a joke about transgender people that some found offensive, responded that “everybody wants to be politically correct, everybody wants to be loved by the media and loved by the left and loved by the elitists.”
And it’s not just GOP candidates who have the anti-political-correctness bug. Many conservative commentators have been quick to condemn the “politically correct” Princeton University students who demand that the school remove symbols honoring Woodrow Wilson – a one-time Princeton president – because of his racism.
These critics ignore the historical fact that Wilson was racist not just by today’s standards but by those of his time. He wrote that African-Americans were an “ignorant and inferior race.” He lavishly praised the Ku Klux Klan and pined for the Confederacy. As president of the United States, he ordered that integrated federal government workplaces be segregated; NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois wrote of one black clerk who “had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions.”
Yes, I’m being politically correct. But also truthful.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.