Political correctness – which has been a hot topic locally as much as nationally – may not be on Tuesday’s election ballot under those words, but voters will be deciding its future every bit as much as they will determine who will occupy the White House for the next four years.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s differences on almost every issue are stark, but nothing separates them more clearly than their approach to communicating.
Through a lifetime spent almost entirely in the political world – the first part as Bill’s wife through his various elected offices from Arkansas to the White House, the second part as a U.S. senator, Secretary of State and presidential candidate – Hillary Clinton has become immersed in the politically correct thinking and language which almost all politicians of all stripes embrace.
Trump is the polar opposite. As a private businessman and a limelight seeker, he takes pride in his own outrageousness, a trait he refined long before he ran for president, including many appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show, where being politically incorrect is not just tolerated, it’s encouraged and cultivated.
Political correctness has gained an unhealthy stranglehold in the United States, with its watchdog and enforcer none other than the national media, which loves nothing more than to identify offenders of PC Law and hold them up to ridicule to the public at large. They see most Americans as a collection of thin-skinned Nervous Nellies who lie awake at night shivering in their beds at the notion that someone, somewhere, might be saying something critical or mean or inappropriate about them.
As a result, Americans have learned to be offended over things that, without our daily lessons, we would not otherwise think to be offended about. Our sensibilities have been trained to be shocked – shocked – at certain words, phrases or expressions that the PC Manual tells us are out of bounds.
Political correctness in its most extreme form – which is the form that has taken over our country – is a plague on society. But the fight against PC language should not be waged at the expense of common courtesy.
Ideally, our own natural sense of civility and decorum would probably land us somewhere between Hillary’s over-caution and Trump’s reckless abandon. In other words, it is good to be polite. It is good to consider the feelings of others. It is good to try not to be offensive, either in words or deeds.
But it is wrong to condemn normal, innocent deviations from the use of every correct word or every correct expression deemed acceptable in the PC Manual. It is especially wrong to condemn innocent mistakes as though they were premeditated attacks.
At a recent football game between the Greenfield McClain Tigers and the Hillsboro Indians, the McClain cheerleaders unfurled a banner that read, “Hey Indians, Get ready for a Trail of Tears, Part 2.” Few fans or players who were actually in attendance took much notice of the banner, either because they weren’t paying attention, or because they were more interested in who was going to win the football game.
But when a picture of the banner was tweeted, state and national media outlets immediately alerted a trembling nation to the latest violation of the PC Manual. For example, a headline on the website of Channel 4 in Columbus proclaimed, “Ohio cheerleaders spark controversy with racially insensitive banner.”
To be sure, the banner was inappropriate. It was insensitive to a page from history in which thousands of Native Americans, previously known as Indians, were forcibly removed from their homelands as part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. More than 4,000 died along the route, history records. It is a tragic event, and not the kind of thing that should be used as a rallying cry at a sporting event.
But it is also not the kind of thing that should generate hundreds of phone calls from across the nation to little Greenfield McClain High School from members of the PC Police Force who never heard of the school before, demanding action, or someone’s head on a platter.
The school apologized. Students and advisors alike clearly understood that a mistake was made, and most certainly will not make it again. No examples need to be made. No one’s head needs to roll. If there is one thing we as a PC Nation have learned, it is how to overreact to the slightest provocation, which in some ways reveals just how little we have to be upset about these days.
A similar thing happened nearly a year ago when Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings joined in a Facebook conversation about terrorism, race and a recent shooting at Planned Parenthood facility by opining in general, “When are people going to figure out that we are in a Revolution in this Country. Blacks have all but formally declared war on whites, ideological types are fighting with Planned Parenthood, there’s violence over immigration, Muslim extremism, and our own Government at war with its citizens.”
Expressing one’s opinion was once a safer thing to do than it is today. Even if people disagreed with each other, they understood that opinions are like, uh, bellybuttons. Everyone has one, everyone is entitled to one. And to Drew’s credit, he didn’t make his comments under some phony name, as some do in their own shifty way.
But in High Alert PC World, all hell immediately broke loose, and the mayor’s Facebook comments were fodder for the national media.
Drew apologized immediately, as he should have. But for some, an apology was not enough. Some demanded his resignation. We, as a nation, have forgotten how to say, “Apology accepted,” and move on. We want to hold onto our grievances and endlessly punish the offenders.
On Tuesday, America will not just be deciding between a Republican and a Democrat, or a billionaire businessman and a career politician. Voters will be deciding whether political correctness becomes an entrenched, irreversible edict, punishable by loss of employment, banishment from office or permanent estrangement from civilized society, or whether the respect for the right to express an idea, even if done so in an offending manner, is still among our First Amendment freedoms.
I have written before about how controlling language leads to controlling thought. I hope that after the votes are counted on Tuesday, freedom wins – and people begin the long road back to learning how to be a little less offended by someone else’s thoughts or expressions. I wish I was more optimistic than I am.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.