Among the many lamentable features of Donald Trump's ascendancy—and they are legion— two stand out as particularly alarming. One is the enthusiasm with which he endorses violence against his fellow Americans. The other is the degree to which he enables bigotry.
Trump has a history of swimming in those dank waters. He fed birtherist suspicions about President Obama long after such baseless rumors had been thoroughly debunked. Last year he tweeted a flagrantly false graphic claiming that 81 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks (the actual figure is 15 percent). The Republican front-runner also has claimed that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists, has threatened to deport 11 million unlawfully present immigrants, and has proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
These are broadsides, but Trump also fuels bigotry in other ways. In late February he asked a demonstrator at one of his rallies, "Are you from Mexico?" He has dallied with the KKK, is fond of referring to demographic cohorts as "the" ("the Muslims," "the Hispanics," "the blacks") and has defended two men who assaulted a Latino man as "passionate." (Are Latinos who assault Anglos "passionate"? Better not to ask.)
Offenses against racial comity like these are overt, but Trump might have done the most damage through his infinitely elastic definition of political correctness.
Conservatives properly complain about the left's profligate accusations of racism: Calling someone a "hard worker" is now racist, the new Ghostbusters movie apparently is racist, even undercooking rice is possibly racist, or at least "disrespectful" to Asian culture, at least at Oberlin College in Ohio. For social justice warriors on the left, seemingly everything is racist. It is the go-to accusation that short-circuits reasoned debate with an all-purpose ad hominem.
But what the left has done to racism, Trump is now doing to "political correctness"—applying it to anything he dislikes. This conveniently avoids having to discuss the actual merits of the issue at hand.
The other day a reporter asked Trump what parents should tell their children about his public use of profanity. Trump did not even try to address the question. "Oh, you're so politically correct, you're so beautiful," he replied sarcastically. "You're so perfect. Aren't you perfect? You're such a perfect young man. Give me a break."
Imagine for a moment how Trump supporters would react if Barack Obama sneered at someone like that.
It is not political correctness to wonder if a politician's coarseness could influence how children think and act. Conservatives wondered that very thing at great length when the country was discussing what Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky did with each other's tingly parts.
In fact, GOP contender Ben Carson resurrected the point back in December: "As a pediatric neurosurgeon, I deal with a lot of children, and I see them becoming coarser and wanting to know what certain things are that they're hearing about on television—things that they would've never known about as kids before. And a certain innocence disappears from our society. I'm sorry to see that happen, and I'm sorry that it was because of one of our presidents." Trump did not accuse Carson of political correctness.
There is evidence Trump's behavior is coarsening children, too. In a recent column in the Washington Post, Metro columnist Petula Dvorak described how Trumpian attitudes are trickling down: students from a predominantly white school holding Trump signs during a basketball game against a predominantly Latino school and chanting "Build the wall!"; third-graders in Fairfax telling their immigrant classmates they would be "sent home." Two students at Northwestern have been arrested for desecrating a chapel with swastikas and other hate-filled messages; they also spray-painted "Trump" in a stairway.
And it's not just children. Trump fans have been seen screaming "Motherf—ing tacos!" at nearby Latinos. Over the weekend a Trump supporter allegedly assaulted two minority students in Wichita, called them "brown trash," and promised they would be "thrown over the wall."
Criticizing virulent bigotry like that is not political correctness. Political correctness involves refusing to acknowledge uncomfortable truths out of ideological delusion or to avoid giving offense. But while Trump likes to portray himself as a courageous speaker of hard truths, he is anything but. To the contrary, he is a purveyor of lies.
It is a lie that most white people are killed by black people. It is a lie that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists—that Muslim refugees are terrorists, that Barack Obama was born abroad, and so on. Shouting them through a bullhorn does not make them any more true.
Trump fans who insist otherwise— who think you can make bigotry virtuous by being belligerent about it; who shout down and sometimes assault those who object—are not fighting political correctness. They are enforcing their own version of it.