The Day the Earth Stood Still
In the days since the election, reading my Facebook feed has become a lurid exercise, like picking the edges of a scab. Admittedly, reading Facebook posts and op-ed pieces might not be the best way to come to terms with what happened, but I simply can’t help myself; I’m an American expat who lives in Europe — for better or for worse, Facebook is the closest thing I get to standing in a square and soaking up the vibes of the townspeople.
So I peek through the windows to see what my family and countrymen are doing back home. I scroll through memes and comment wars and sign a petition or two. A theme has emerged: through the heartbroken high-road messages of love, the hypocritical gloating, the pleas to just “give him a chance!”, and the devastation, what I’m seeing is a lot of thinly veiled talk of a series of wars, fought on our own soil. Republican versus Democrat. Red versus blue. Urban versus elite. Christian versus everyone else; everyone else versus Islam. #allwomen against #allmen. Establishment versus newcomer; liberals versus white bigots; the unprivileged versus the privileged. Corrupt liar versus corrupt liar. Us versus Them.
As true as this might have been, I think it would be remiss not to suggest that as much as this election has been about Us against Them, this election has also been about Failure. The utter failure, specifically, of Political Correctness, which will, in the wake of this election, meet its death.
Like many ideologies, Political Correctness had great intentions. PC aimed to end discrimination by attacking the discriminatory words and hateful epithets codified into the English language. Suddenly, professions became neutral — we had no more stewards and stewardesses, now only flight attendants. Like swearwords, epithets became symbolized only by their first letters: the n-word, the r-word. The idea, being: teach people that these words are dirty, that they hurt people, cleanse them from the language, and they will learn that it is wrong to discriminate.
This was the first mistake — believing one could cure a disease by attacking a single symptom. Language mirrors culture, and culture, ultimately, mirrors biology. What is racism but the sentient brain’s attempt to express a biological impulse to shun what is perceived as genetically inviable? These are primitive, animal instincts to distrust members from other herds and promote intra-species breeding. What is sexism but societally-codified subjugation evolved from the biologically “practical” act of marginalizing the females because they’re smaller and weaker, bleed too much and can’t be counted on to be steady workers since babies keep putting them out of commission? That’s putting it politely. What is discrimination against those with special needs but nature’s way of avoiding the recombination of deleterious genes? This is biology. This is life in the Great Rift Valley. This is life in the Dark Ages. This is life in Victorian England. This is life in the Confederate South. This is…
This is life in the mind of primates who haven’t progressed.
At first, political correctness sort of worked. Rather; it worked on a particular category of person: mentally-evolved hominids predisposed to empathy. For many people, Political Correctness was their first glimpse into the painful experiences of people different than themselves, exposing them as human. PC then attempted to create new words that befitted the new order — after all, we still needed terms, if only for categorizational purposes. But there had been too much change, too fast. First African Americans; then women; then everyone else, all in less than 100 years. It was too much to take. Discrimination and hatred still loomed large in social memory. PC was only a bandage over a gaping sore.
Changing the words does nothing if the meaning stays the same. A word gains meaning from the inflection the speaker gives it. If you love carrots, you will sound happy when you say the word. If you hate carrots, you will say that word with a shudder and a hiss. The word becomes ugly. The word becomes a symbol for hate. This is why euphemisms for various groups change every few years; the wound just keeps bleeding through the bandage. And the movement just kept slapping more bandages on top, without even thinking about stitching up the darn thing in the first place.
Naturally, this perceived flakiness did nothing to help the legitimacy of Political Correctness in the eyes of the public. But apart from its inherent inefficacy, there’s another huge reason why Political Correctness has failed. For all its good intentions, Political Correctness has created an environment of repression and fear — ironically, the very environment it sought to erase.
I was born in 1980, making me part of the generation old enough to remember a watered-down version of how things used to be, but young enough to be trained fairly easily. And it was indeed a sort of training — for all my love of filthy swearwords, the n-word is the one word I cannot, will not say; like many people of my generation, I will react to it as though I have been branded with a hot iron.
To use a mythological parallel, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, we were given the Apple and suddenly, we knew we were naked and being naked was wrong. Where in primary school we had said “Red Indian” and “Indian file” we now had to say “Native American” and “single file”. It was now no longer okay to use the r-word, even though to us, it just meant “stupid” (like meat eaters ignoring the bloody reality of our meals, we had ignored the etymology of our slang; besides, everyone knew only a real dickhead would use it to mean someone who was actually intellectually disabled). It was no longer okay to tell Polish or Mexican jokes. It was no longer okay because that was discriminatory and discrimination was wrong. If we said the old words, there would be consequences — we would hurt others. We would be bad people. And, above all, we would be punished.
Nobody wanted to be bad. Nobody wanted to be punished. For those of us capable of empathy, it wasn’t a difficult transition — especially as PC evolved to include the rights of women and the disabled. Good work was done, in the sense that people became aware of these issues. That men were now being taught to respect women — and the evolved ones listened. But the fear was always there. What happened if you forgot, or got mad, and a word slipped out? What if you really hurt somebody? What if someone didn’t care and tried to hurt you? In a sense, the old words gained even more power because of how evil they became. If someone used them to describe me, I’d know they really, really hated me.
These were all possibilities, because the disease was still there, bubbling under that blood-stained bandage. We all knew it. Who among us can honestly claim that from 1990 until the present day their lives were completely free of hateful ignorance or sexual harassment? No, it’s not #allmen, but it’s certainly #allwomen. Who doesn’t have her own story? By the time I was in my 20s, sexual harassment seminars were the norm in offices like mine, which meant that if your boss put his hand up your skirt, you could take him to court. But would you? Because for all the threat of anti-discrimination lawsuits, rape culture was still very real. I mean, you, sir — are you refraining from making lewd comments to your secretary because you’re afraid she’ll sue you, or because you know it’s wrong? Are you going to call her a liar? Something tells me you are.
Which brings me back to repression. For all the empathetic, evolved hominids who intellectually accepted the new order, there were those who simply couldn’t. And — because we are always the hero in our own story — this translated to them as repression. They were being asked to repress their nature, their true selves. Repressing one’s true nature only leads to resentment and disaster — at some point, that energy has to erupt. With no outlet, it grows stronger and darker. And so, of course, in 2016 we still have racism. And so of course there are still rapes. Same-sex marriage is legal in the United States but we still have hate crimes against the LBGQTIA+ community. Roe v Wade has been law since 1973 but of course we still have people insisting that women be prohibited from making their own decisions. Church and State have been separate since 1776 and we still have people insisting that Christianity be the legal order of the land. And so —because it’s not working, because it can’t work — PC becomes harsher and more totalitarian than ever in an attempt to preserve its original values, morphing into the Word Police; anything you say can and most likely will be held against you. The sociopolitical repercussions to discrimination have become harsher, the controls tighter and tighter. Celebrities have it the worst, really — scrutinized obsessively by the public, they are consistently forced to apologize publicly for any perceived offense to send the message home that discrimination is not okay, whether it comes from a place of hatred or bubble-fed ignorance. What we are left with is a society where people are afraid to speak, because for all of its good intentions, for all of the good it has done to raise awareness of social issues, Politically Correctness does not, and cannot work because the evolution of an entire primate species cannot be fabricated or forced.
Enter Donald Trump; a heartless narcissist who says whatever he feels like saying! He doesn’t give a damn if people think he’s a bad person, he just says whatever’s on his mind and guess what — people get mad but he has never once been successfully sued. So it turns out that it’s all been a lie; if you’re really rich enough — if you’re really powerful enough — there are no real consequences to openly discriminating against others.
At the evolved, empathetic end of the Trump supporter spectrum, his comments came off as unsavory but (I imagine) at the end of the day, an establishment drone war criminal; was worse than a bigot. And PC had gotten way out of hand, we all needed to calm the F down anyway. As for his other supporters…
The 2016 Presidential election revealed our most partisan selves. Here before us were two choices: both had been revealed to be, in their own unique ways, corrupt liars with massive flaws. In the end, for however much agonizing we might have done, we chose the candidates that seemed best suited to protect our own values. There was a majority, and this is the result; our country’s highest position of governmental authority is now occupied by someone who would fail a middle school Civics test. Our most delicate political issues have been entrusted to someone who is shamefully ignorant in every aspect of politics and has never served a day in public office. You see! Anyone can do this job — absolutely no experience necessary! You can even say whatever horrible things you want, just as long as you’re rich enough!
Perhaps those of you evolved, empathetic hominids who voted for him really do believe that things will get better from now on. What can I say apart from, “For all of our sakes, I hope so”? I invite you — no, beg you — to recognize that your friends are terrified and instead of mocking them or coldly insisting that they “get over it”, be the Christian you claim to be and help them see that things will be okay. After all… for you to have voted for someone who gleefully hurts your friends and neighbors, you had to have really, really, really hated Hillary. In which case, how would you have felt if she’d won?
Make no mistake, however. Whatever your personal views on minorities might be, what a Donald Trump presidency means is that the bandage is off. The biologically-stunted primates have found their king and with that, the legitimacy they’ve so sorely missed.