Trump’s pose against political correctness

Eric Mink is a freelance writer and editor and teaches film studies at Webster University. He is a former columnist for the St.  Louis Post-Dispatch and the Daily News in New York.  Contact him at [email protected].


Until 16 months ago, the core question of the 2016 presidential campaign — over and above matters of justice and fairness, peace and war and the survival of the planet — was whether we the people of the United States of America would choose a qualified woman to lead our country for the first time in 227 years of elections. 

But on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced he was running for president, and ever since then his bizarre insurgency has been the campaign’s driving story. With barely a month left until Election Day, the self-branded real estate marketer is in serious contention for the role of Most Important Person on Earth.

Media and political speculators have been trying to make sense of his erratic run as we’ve gone along, but this sort of thing, whatever it is, tends to resist instant analysis. More thorough and maybe more enlightening explorations of the Trump phenomenon are likely to persist for years, creating scores of higher education jobs in the political and social sciences.

What continues to puzzle me, though, is something much more ordinary: the disconnect between what Trump supporters see in him and what’s actually there.

I don’t mean the peripheral stuff like Trump’s unproved boasts that he’s a billionaire and brilliant in business, the disproved notion that he’s a champion of working class and middle class Americans or his definitively proved serial lying.

I’m talking about the quality many Trump supporters cite as the main reason they’re backing him: that he condemns and defies political correctness. Trump speaks his mind and speaks the truth, his supporters say. And if that offends some people, well, that’s their problem, not his.

This idea resonates with a lot of Americans, particularly white folks whose families have been in the United States for generations, people who were born here, raised here and have tried to work hard to improve life for themselves and their children. Instead, they feel themselves slipping backward and becoming invisible, watching as American culture is appropriated by people of different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds from theirs, including relative newcomers to this country. 

Political correctness, as they see it, means they’re not allowed to complain about any of this.

That racial resentments simmering below the surface stoke some of these perceptions is as difficult to quantify as it is to deny. Even so, political correctness, as a controversial social force in a country with a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, raises legitimate issues well worth discussing and debating.

But that’s not what Trump is doing. He is not a rebel out there breaking rules handed down by elites to control what we say. He is not standing up speaking inconvenient truths to power. He is not demanding honest discussions of deeply contentious issues.

What he’s doing is defying common decency. 

Trump wasn’t challenging political correctness when he suggested that a reporter asked him a tough question because she was in her menstrual period; when he made a sexually suggestive remark about oral sex to a woman during a TV show; when he called women he considered unattractive dogs and pigs; when he distributed an unflattering photograph of the wife of a competing Republican candidate; when he insulted a young woman who was heavier than Trump thought she should be and then, in a pre-dawn Twitter frenzy and without any proof, posted a public message implying that she had made a sexually explicit video. 

Trump wasn’t championing free speech when he made fun of a reporter who was born with a muscular disorder that distorts his joints and arm movements, or when he mocked the appearance of a political rival after she was diagnosed with pneumonia and dehydration. 

There was no political correctness angle to Trump’s comment that Republican Sen. John McCain — who survived torture during more than five years in a North Vietnamese prison and who refused an offer to be released before other American prisoners — was not a hero because he had been captured. It wasn’t defiance of political correctness that led Trump to insult the parents of a Muslim-American U.S. Army captain who had been killed in combat in Iraq.

Trump wasn’t striking a blow against political correctness when he falsely claimed to have seen a nonexistent TV report about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 or when he said people of the Muslim faith should be banned from entering the United States based on their religion.

Political correctness wasn’t at issue when Trump said a California federal judge born in Indiana could not rule fairly in a case involving Trump because the judge’s parents had been born in Mexico, or when he claimed that the Mexican government was deliberately sending immigrants illegally into the United States “and I’m not just saying Mexicans, I’m talking about people from all over that are killers and rapists.”  

Rebellion against political correctness had nothing to do with Trump promoting for years the false, racist claim that Barack Obama was born outside the United States and could not be a legitimate president, or saying “laziness is a trait in blacks,” or saying he “hated” that some African-American accountants handled money in his casinos, or distributing a fraudulent chart that originated with a white supremacist website falsely blaming black people for murdering the vast majority of white people who died in crimes.

Trump wasn’t taking a brave stand against political correctness when he said he only wanted Jews to count his money and when he distributed an image that combined a photo of Hillary Clinton with pictures of a pile of cash and the Jewish Star of David.

Decent people don’t reject these statements and actions because they’re politically incorrect. Decent people object because these things are indecent, ignorant and wrong. They object because it is un-American to attach generalizations to people based on their faith, ethnic background and race. They object because it’s dangerous to insult, demean and dehumanize fellow human beings and because the world has seen the savagery societies can unleash on those no longer regarded as fellow human beings.

Decent people object because these things betray the American values that bind us together, however imperfectly. They object because what binds us together is not the place of our birth or the color of our skin or the faith we profess or the accent in our voice, but our belief in the equality of all human beings and in our ability to strive together to improve our society and our fallible selves and to watch out for and help take care of each other because … well, because that’s what decent people do.