Political correctness – the emphasis of sensitivity over truth, and the sometimes watering down of straight talk to preserve people’s feeling, is in the news again thanks to the pugnacious and attention-grabbing GOP front-runner who told a crowd in Cleveland earlier this month “the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
I remember sitting in a lecture hall on the university campus when a special guest came in to tell me and my fellow educational psychology class members about this new and better and more humane way to communicate. Certain words deemed arcane and offensive were out. Other words thought acceptable were welcomed. Obviously Donald Trump wasn’t the special guest lecturer.
Frustration over irresponsible national debt and immigration policy has catapulted Trump to top place in the crowded GOP field, by double digits, nonetheless. It may be cathartic for conservatives to hear petulant talk in troubled times but such talk doesn’t translate into good policy or even make for presidential material.
Any candidate who demeans women and writes about their sexual conquests, labels an entire category of people as rapists and murderers, employs insults as a tactic and has made his fortune on the backs of people losing their wealth so he could build a tower in his name, is not a conservative. Consider him a sideshow, or maybe a product of the reality show generation, but please don’t call him worthy of the presidency. Nor is his disrespect and vulgarity rebellion to political correctness; it is rebellion to civility.
Trump has been likened to George Wallace, the segregationist presidential candidate of 1968 who exploited fear and suspicion to preserve a way of life that demeaned others’ humanity. Wallace channeled racial prejudice and his popularity soared in the South but will forever be remembered as something less than flattering. It was a sad chapter in our history, one that should be left in the books, not re-enacted.
Responsible citizens desire candidates who are, well, responsible – with both their words and deeds. They also desire candidates of character, not caricatures of them. Character is accumulated virtue – honesty, trustworthiness, kindness and courage. Lack thereof should disqualify a candidate from the public’s trust.
The idea that character is integral to politics, once widely held, appears out of vogue today. The most abrasive and boisterous candidate is 13 points in front of second place challenger and attracting millions to his message with more heat than light, more anger than hope, more George Wallace than Jimmy Carter.
Beware when the carnival barkers turned political operatives yell “nothing to see here, look over there,” and the hucksters turned policy experts who offer shiny new things to distract from conduct and character which is the real currency of politics. A candidate who speaks in broken English with the intent to mock another race doesn’t deserve serious attention or a platform.
Should voters fall prey to their dark side and be duped by the idea that character is secondary to Issues Needing Immediate Attention, they shouldn’t be surprised when an impeachment results over the quibbling of a preposition. Downplaying character in 1992 got us only the second president in our history to be impeached.
We expect reasonable candidates and political leaders to be careful with their words. We depend upon our leaders to tell us the truth, to act justly, treat others fairly and govern us with an even hand. Voters deserve better than a smack-down of their sensibilities. This isn’t a cry for political correctness – it’s a cry for civility and respect.
Letter from Richard Nelson, Executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center