Column: The war on political correctness

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks onstage before speaking at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

If you’ve been paying attention to the Republican primary you might have noticed a few things. First, Donald Trump. Second, they really, really don’t like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. However, one of the more interesting issues is their problem with political correctness.

Trump and the rest of the Republican presidential field have connected political correctness to almost every issue imaginable, from Syrian refugees and the Islamic State to the media. And, if you listen to their rhetoric, you might think that political correctness is a massive issue in our country. 

So what is political correctness? Simply put, it’s agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.

Implementing this practice doesn’t seem all that bad. At the basic level, political correctness deals with not insulting an entire race by calling them rapists. In more involved instances, one might consider the use of “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” as a December greeting because by wishing someone “happy holidays” you cover many groups of people, not just those who celebrate Christmas.  

Personally, I don’t think these levels of political correctness are particularly “dangerous”. There are sensible reasons for not insulting certain nationalities or religions. It may undermine or damage our relationships with certain countries.

Groups such as ISIS are using Donald Trump’s dialogue in recruiting videos to convince Muslims that the West is their enemy. Republicans might say that being politically correct is “dangerous” or “killing people”. However, in this case, completely disregarding political correctness has given ammunition to the propaganda machine of the Islamic State. 

Likewise, saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” isn’t dangerous in and of itself. “Merry Christmas” may exclude certain religions but it is generally spoken in good faith, so I believe that while it is not politically correct, it is not wrong to say. The greeting of “happy holidays” simply covers more people, but even so, I don’t think people in this country should be offended by either saying. 

Taken to an extreme, politically correctness can be dangerous. Originally, political correctness referred to following the government view in the Soviet Union. If your views did not match the government’s, then it could be a fatal disagreement. Much like Orwell’s society in “1984”, an entire society in which we blindly accept what the government tells us is a nightmare. 

But is that what we have here? The First Amendment helps protect us from this scenario. So why, according to Republicans, is political correctness this great evil? One of their biggest problems seems to be that Obama is calling acts of terror the result of “violent extremism” instead of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Said Ted Cruz, Republican presidential candidate, “We have a president who is unwilling to utter its name.”  

This is the political correctness that is killing people, apparently. Republicans say the president is going too far to not offend Muslims and that this endangers America, but violent extremism is simply a more accurate term. There is nothing inherently violent about Islam. If a different religion or ethnic group had inhabited the Middle East, it is likely we would see the same kind of terror groups we see now. It is not their religion, but the instability, lack of security and fear that has given rise to these extremist groups.

Controlling language can be dangerous, but the GOP has overblown the issue of political correctness in this country as something to blame all of our problems on. Political correctness, as it stands now, is not a major problem in our country. I’d like to think that income inequality, climate change and national security are slightly more important, but saying so is an effective political strategy for Republicans, as a majority of people agree, it is a problem. 

Republicans are able to appeal to white men, many of whom see themselves as victims of incremental gains by minorities, by demeaning and belittling these groups. When sensible people then accuse the GOP of xenophobia and racism they complain that they are being criticized for being politically correct.

Let’s stop pretending that political correctness is some huge problem in the United States. If a person is espousing racist or sexist rhetoric we should not allow them to escape into the smokescreen of political correctness but rather call them out for what they are.


Jacob Kowalski is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.