On Monday, Liberty University did something increasingly peculiar for a college campus these days. The conservative Christian school hosted presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a declared socialist who supports woman’s abortion rights and gay marriage, in an auditorium of 12,000 students and faculty. Attendance was mandatory.
It is not that it is strange for a politician to visit a college for a stump speech before the primaries by any means, but that it was this candidate at one of the most conservative universities in country certainly got a lot of attention. Why? As NYMag’s Jesse Singal was quick to point out: today’s PC watchdogs on college campuses (mostly students) are eager to and capable of preventing any voice being heard that might be “traumatic” to certain members of the audience.
Singal also makes it clear that many members of the Liberty University audience, “deeply and viscerally believe that abortion is murder. And here was a speaker who didn’t agree with them on that — he was, from their point of view, in favor of mass murder. And yet they let him talk respectfully, they asked him questions, and it seemed like everyone was able to have a civil conversation (albeit a mandatory civil conversation).” Singal goes on to make a point that here was a moment where a conversation on a college campus was ripe for causing “trauma,” where many who are offended by Sander’s political stance would not get a trigger warning if certain issues were brought up, and where everybody got through the ordeal just fine.
To critics, today’s PC campus culture is more intent on treating college students (most of whom are old enough to enlist in the army) as if they were emotional infants rather than teaching them the many problems with the modern world and how to fix them. When speakers are turned away from colleges because student groups refuse to give them a podium out of fear of how some students might be affected by the speakers’ opinions, critics react by saying modern political correctness is more demagoguery than thoughtfulness.
This is unfortunate because political correctness is too often misrepresented by its supporters, and in their effort to make their campus a safe space for a group of marginalized students, they might have incidentally made the nation’s presidential race a safe space for a blowhard racist, misogynist and “not politically correct” guy Donald Trump.
Of course it isn’t fair to put all the blame on a bunch of politically active 18-22 year olds for the rise of Trump over the summer, but it is impossible to look at the things he says and the reactions he gets for saying them and not wonder if his pathos is a direct response to the PC movement of recent years.
Trump has called Mexican immigrants rapists, mentioned how a female Apprentice contestant would look good on her knees, and railed on and on, and on and on, about various public figures’ looks in ways that aren’t just despicable, but also childish, tedious and dumb.
If it seems inconceivable for a serious presidential candidate to have been able to get away with saying such atrocious, insipid nonsense in the 2008 election, maybe it has something to do with “political correctness” not being such a hot topic that year.
One of the most revealing quotes that underscores Trumps’ appeal was said by the man himself at the first GOP debate in August, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”
Political correctness is about respecting people. That’s it. It isn’t about silencing dissenting opinions. It also isn’t about preventing victims of racism, sexism or homophobia from trauma, because the reality is that those victims have likely faced plenty of that by the time they have gotten to college (and they haven’t let it stop them so far). When Trump says he doesn’t have time for political correctness when he talks about women, he is saying he doesn’t have time to respect women.
Part of the problem is that when it comes to subjects most associated with political correctness (racism, sexism, gender identity and homophobia) the political part of being PC tends to overshadow the treat-others-as-you-would-want-to-be-treated element. This is why Trump’s statement on “the big problem” of political correctness was applauded after Megyn Kelly pressed him to explain his vacuous and depraved view of women (or more than half the electorate). They weren’t applauding a man who says terrible things about women: they were applauding the politician who has the courage to say terrible things about women.
This is also why Singal saw Bernie Sander’s presence at Liberty University as being so fantastic- seeing as his politics differ so greatly from the audience. And that is where the modern proponents of political correctness have failed. Those who have prevented Bill Maher or Condoleezza Rice from speaking on their campus, or incidentally convinced Jerry Seinfeld and many others that college campuses aren’t good for challenging conversation anymore, have made political correctness seem like a mandate of coddling- rather than a suggestion to behave respectfully if you don’t want to be chastised by those around you.
So for those who are sick of modern PC culture (and there are many) to the point when you actually admire someone as wretched Donald Trump because he insists that it is okay for him to be wretched, it is important to reevaluate what being “PC” means.
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