Political Correctness: The Good, The Bad And The Donald

September 9, 2015

By Kris Hammond at Washington Examiner

Donald Trump has thrust the issue of “political correctness” to the center of the Republican presidential primary campaign. Extreme political correctness is a growing problem, but rather than thoughtfully address that important issue, Trump goes out of his way to make racist, sexist and xenophobic remarks.

For ten years, I served as a Department of Justice attorney investigating and litigating employment discrimination claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits harassment of any employee based on race, sex, national origin or religion. Many of Trump’s statements from the past and during his political campaign disparage women or minorities in a manner that, if frequently uttered in the workplace, could create a hostile work environment and legal liability for the employer under the Civil Rights Act.

For example, recall Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s questioning of Trump during the first presidential primary debate about a series of statements he had made in the past that disparaged women’s appearance or sexuality. Trump could have downplayed and rationalized those statements given his celebrity past (entertainers should receive more leeway than government officials). Instead, he threatened Kelly, saying: “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be [nice] based on the way you have treated me.”

Trump later acted on his threat by seemingly insinuating that Kelly’s menstrual cycle caused her to ask him unreasonable questions. Then Trump retweeted a Twitter follower who called Kelly a “bimbo,” prompting his supporters to bombard her account with hostile, often misogynist tweets. Kelly’s debate question is worth pondering again: “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”

More recently, Trump released his immigration policy advocating for the repeal of birthright citizenship in order to combat the alleged plague of what he called “anchor babies” born to undocumented immigrant women. The term “anchor babies” has xenophobic and anti-Hispanic overtones, which is why the conservative-leaning Hispanic Leadership Network sent a memorandum to Republican members of Congress in 2013 advising them to avoid using the term. Trump dismissed ABC reporter Tom Llamas’ objection as a frivolous attempt to impose “political correctness,” but Trump’s continued use of the term will taint a worthwhile discussion of immigration policy with the stench of intolerance.

Meanwhile, Trump pays no attention to the serious threats posed by political correctness. For example, on August 26, Vester Lee Flanagan shocked the nation by murdering Roanoke, Va., television reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward on live television. Flanagan targeted Parker for execution out of revenge for supposedly racist comments — in reality, innocuous remarks such as “the reporter’s out in the field” — that she made when the two worked together. Once a promising, well-liked employee, Flanagan in his later years developed a victim mentality and lost the ability to distinguish between real and imagined slights. Extreme political correctness destroyed his career and contributed to the deaths of three people.

Extreme political correctness can destroy lives in other ways. A new state law requires California’s university students to obtain ongoing, verifiable “affirmative consent” to sexual activity. As Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Executive Director Robert Shibley has written, “California’s law effectively places the onus on the accused to prove to a college panel or a single administrator that they received continuous consent to any and every sexual act in question. If a student can’t produce that proof, he or she is a rapist.” Nationwide, students are often denied basic due process protections, such as the right to have an attorney present, during sexual misconduct hearings that could forever damage their education and careers.

Extreme, misguided political correctness requires a principled, courageous response. Instead, Trump uses the phrase “political correctness” to attack common sense civility, which requires an environment free of sexual, racial or ethnic harassment. In so doing, Trump distracts attention from genuine threats to life and liberty.

Trump offers the worse of both political worlds. He offends key constituencies with offensive references while failing to illuminate and offer constructive solutions to the genuine problem of political correctness.

Republican primary voters deserve a candidate who practices common sense civility and thus possesses the credibility — especially among the Hispanic and female voters whose support will be an essential part of any Republican presidential campaign victory in 2016 — to combat extreme political correctness. Any voter who seeks an effective response to excessive political correctness should consider supporting a savvier candidate than Trump.