In defense of political correctness
For a gay person like Milo Yiannopoulos to have become an icon of freedom of expression through his homophobic remarks could only be possible in Trump’s America, where anyone, from the president on down, feels entitled to make all kinds of assertions – no matter how false or offensive – with the excuse that not doing so would be to submit to the dictatorship of political correctness. Nobody, no matter how gay, should feel legitimized to say the things that Yiannopoulos has said:
“Homosexuals are not born that way. Nurture, not nature, makes one gay. We would all prefer to have heterosexual children to give them a happier life. Lesbians do not exist.”
Even so, there you have him: an idol of the new alt-right; a successful journalist, a lecturer at universities, and the recipient of a $250,000 advance on his autobiography. And it’s all because his own homosexuality allows him to say about gay people what many conservatives think but dare not put into words. The problem came when, being himself a victim of sexual abuse as a child, he took the liberty of saying something about pedophilia that shocked those very same conservatives: “Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty.
Trump himself has endlessly berated the unbearable weight of political correctness on his shoulders. After 49 people died during a shooting at an Orlando nightclub a year ago, the president proclaimed: “They have put political correctness above common sense, above your safety, and above all else. But I refuse to be politically correct.” Shedding his yoke, Trump dared to say that Muslims are invading America, and while it is true that the perpetrator of the massacre was a Muslim, it is also true that he was an American born in New York.
Where does all this unease with political correctness come from? The origin of the phrase goes back quite a while, actually. The concept was born in the 1960s counterculture and expanded on college campuses in the 1990s as a polite, correct and respectful way of addressing such varied topics as race, gender or sexual orientation. It was appropriated by feminists, environmentalists and progressives because they felt that the white heterosexual patriarchy had extended its own domination to the field of culture.
Under the mantle of political correctness, there is a belief that all human beings are equal. Thanks to those movements, it stopped being acceptable to say that women are the weaker sex, that homosexuals are deviants and that black people are inferior beings; these are things that may sound shocking today, but which were not being publicly censored just a few decades ago. Ultimately, we owe it to political correctness that two men or two women may kiss in public, that transgender children can choose their own name, and that race cannot be a basis for discrimination.
Think back to 2008: what better evidence of equality than seeing, at last, an African American in the White House? (Women will have to wait for now.) Not so fast: the US was not quite as prepared to have a black president as many of us thought.
At the Tea Party rallies against health reform held in Virginia in 2010, and which I covered, I was surprised at the proliferation of what we now call fake news or post-truths, but which back then were merely considered hoaxes. Those Republican voters, all of them middle-class whites, said they had read “on the internet” that Obama was actually born in Kenya or Indonesia. He wasn’t an American, he couldn’t be an American. Given his résumé – a Harvard graduate, a lawyer in Chicago, a senator in Washington DC – his race must have been the only motive for thinking such thoughts.
In fact, it was obvious that many of those Republicans who have now voted for Trump were privately thinking that the very existence of a black president could only be attributable to years of national drift caused by the unbearable dictatorship of political correctness. To them, Obama symbolized years of jobs outsourced to the Third World, redistributed wealth and closed factories and mines. He was the candidate of globalization, of dignity for the Third World, of pacifism and equal rights. He was the politically correct leader par excellence.
That’s where Trump comes into the picture. The business tycoon, who until then had been nothing more than a reality show buffoon, encouraged those falsehoods and turned them into his sole argument to run in the Republican primaries. The presidency of fake news was born out of a lie. In 2011, Trump forced the president of the world’s top power to make his birth certificate public to prove that he was born in Hawaii. Imagine the same situation with Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Unthinkable.
To Trump, we are not equal. The president is convinced that Americans are better, thus his slogan about “America First.” In his world, he cannot be a homophobe because he’s got gay friends; he cannot be anti-Semitic because his son-in-law is Jewish; and he is certainly not a racist because there is a black man in his Cabinet. Better not even mention his 2005 comments about grabbing women by their private parts, because his daughter is one of his main advisers, and he generally listens to what women have to say. Is that a good enough reason? Trump thinks it is.
And if the so-called leader of the free world behaves like this, why not a commentator such as Yiannopoulos? Or a media organization like Breitbart News? Or the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer? To a greater or lesser degree, they all lie using the excuse of political correctness, which they write off as thought control by the progressive crowd. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is free to think whatever they want, no matter how sexist, racist or homophobic their thinking may be. All that is asked of them is to know when to keep these thoughts to themselves.
English version by Susana Urra.