February 10, 2016

Does Growing Opposition to Political Correctness Help Explain Trump's Popularity?

Donald Trump (8567813820) (2).jpg
By Gage Skidmore - Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0
It is easy for me to understand why many people insist that our political system is broken, that their votes don't matter, that real reform is virtually impossible due to polarization and gridlock, and so on. I don't happen to share their sentiment that voting doesn't matter, but I can certainly understand why someone would feel this way. It is also easy for me to understand why some people outside the U.S. continue to look at us with puzzlement. We have long been an outlier when it comes to our strangely high levels of religious belief, and now we appear to be a political outlier in some ways.

I keep seeing people outside the U.S., mostly on Twitter, mocking us because of whatever Donald Trump said lately. They cannot seem to believe anyone would take him seriously as a candidate and that there must be something wrong with a country that seems to be doing so. I understand their point of view. I'm not convinced that Trump is much worse than the rest of the Republican candidates, but I can understand why they would be puzzled that he seems to rise in the polls every time he says something many regard as outrageous or offensive.

Of the various reasons some Trump supporters give for why they support their candidate, I heard one that surprised me the other day. One Trump supporter told me that he had decided to support Trump on the basis of Trump's stated opposition to political correctness. While I share Trump's unfavorable impression of political correctness, I was surprised to discover that someone might decide to vote for a candidate on this basis. When I asked the Trump supporter about it, he replied that he was fed up with political correctness and that he appreciated that Trump was speaking out against it. Fair enough. For this voter, Trump's positions on most of the issues were less relevant than his opposition to political correctness.

We've all heard of "single-issue voters" (i.e., people who use various litmus tests in deciding which candidates to support). Abortion is probably one of the more common. I've heard many right-wing Christians say they would never support a pro-choice candidate and many left-wing secular voters say they would never support an anti-choice candidate. For some people, it seems that political correctness could become something of a litmus test.

I'm not sure what to make of this, and perhaps nothing should be made of it. At the same time, it does make me think that it is at least possible that we are beginning to see a groundswell of opposition to the excesses of political correctness. Across the Internet, I do feel like I am seeing far more people expressing opposition to it than was the case 5 or 10 years ago. Perhaps it is even playing a role in Trump's popularity.

I can't help being reminded of how atheism and secular activism seem to flourish following prolonged periods of overreach by Christian extremists. Maybe something similar is beginning to happen with political correctness.