Attacking political correctness has been a frequent tool used by conservatives to discredit and mock the left for a long time.
Contrarily, demanding political correctness from the right has been a long-used tactic by the left to portray conservatives as insensitive and stuck in the past.
Now, the terms “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions” have been attached to the weapon of political correctness.
Figures like Tomi Lahren use terms like “snowflake” to attack those who disagree with conservative policies on account of them being too “mean.”
One of the first recorded times the term was used was as far back as 1973 when it appeared in a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the boundaries of federal jurisdiction.
However, as The Guardian reports, “the phrase ‘politically correct’ rarely appeared before 1990” in US magazines and newspapers. Then it appeared over 700 times in 1990, 2,500 times in 1991, and over 2,800 times in 1992 via these same outlets.
The term has since been used in a variety of ways from politically wise decisions to criticism of rhetoric.
The Pew Research Center released a poll in 2016 that found that most Americans (59%) believe “too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use.”
New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein warned in October 1990 that universities were threatened by “a growing intolerance, a closing of debate, a pressure to conform.” He argued that “a cluster of opinions about race, ecology, feminism, culture and foreign policy defines a kind of ‘correct’ attitude toward the problems of the world.”
In a 1991 commencement speech at the University of Michigan, then-President George H.W. Bush said, “The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land, and although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones.”
After a Muslim gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in recent years, Trump claimed that the left was willing to let Americans suffer in favor of political correctness.
He said, “They have put political correctness above common sense, above your safety, and above all else — I refuse to be politically correct.”
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump also stated during a debate on the campaign trail in 2016. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness.”
Political correctness should not be used as a weapon–on either side.
The battle over political correctness has brought to light the complete disregard for the delicate balance between free speech and civility.
The right lambasts liberals for their propensity to air on the side of restraint rather than “tell it like it is.” The phrase of political correctness has great weight and can quickly rouse a crowd and discredit an opponent’s argument. For someone to be accused of being “politically correct” is to be discounted on account of their weakness.
The left criticizes conservatives for their tendencies to use provocative and, at times, crude language to reach political ends. Conservatives often use their right to free speech as an excuse to use highly inflammatory rhetoric–and that is a reliable target for liberal criticism.
Political correctness should be nothing more than as follows: A suggestion to behave like a civil and respectful person.
It is not difficult to slightly alter your word choices to make someone else more comfortable. Using the term “sex-worker” instead of “prostitute” is an easy alternative to treat often marginalized people with respect. Using someone’s preferred gender pronouns is courteous and has no adverse effect on yourself, so why not go out of your way to make someone comfortable?
On the other hand, you should not use your right to free speech to go out of your way and offend people only because you can. Yes, you have the right to use derogatory terms and crass language, but it makes fellow human beings uncomfortable and hesitant to engage with you in the future.
Choosing to air on the side of respect should not come from a place of fear either. Often, I hear conservatives touting instances where they were afraid to stand up for their beliefs out of fear of being silenced. Additionally, many conservatives have a fear of offending their classmates or professors. However, through utilization of the tool of civil and respectful rhetoric, most conflict can be deterred.
Common arguments against political correctness
Conservatives are quick to use brief, talking-point arguments against “political correctness.”
Here are a few examples:
“Political correctness stifles dialogue.”
Yes, demanding political correctness can be a tool used by the left to shut down controversial views. However, choosing to use respectful terms and basing arguments on fact over emotion is a skillful tactic to engage in healthy debate.
“Political correctness makes us dumber.”
When used to silence opposing views, political correctness does, in fact, limit intellectual discussions on a variety of issues. When individuals, though, choose to engage in respectful dialogue using respectful terms over emotionally-driven rhetoric, old views are challenged and either strengthened or transformed. Respectful dialogue enables us to trade opinions and to understand where someone comes from.
“Political correctness violates freedom of speech.”
This argument alleges that behavior of “politically correct” speech somehow is mutually exclusive with exercising one’s First Amendment rights. While we should never be afraid to speak our minds no matter how controversial our views might be, respectful rhetoric choices enable our free speech to be effective.
Why should I care?
Most politically correct terms are derived from an attempt to be inclusive to groups that have been historically oppressed such as minorities, the LGBTQ community, or the mentally ill. Communication is crucial to solving social justice issues, and inclusive language enables us to move forward peacefully. When people discredit pleas and complaints by historically underrepresented groups, they impede progress by shutting them out of the discussion. If a group feels a certain way, it is valid regardless of what outsiders may think.
In an age of significant political polarization, coming together is the most important thing we can do to move forward as a country. Meeting others in the middle does not need to happen at the expense of your First Amendment rights, but there is nothing wrong with choosing respect over convenience.
Do you think that conservatives and liberals should come together and choose respect? Are there tactics those from both sides can use to engage in respectful dialogue without feeling silenced? Let us know what you think in the comments below!