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Always Projection: The Invention of Political Correctness


Jon Chait:

The conservative movement has long dismissed the value of neutral expertise — environmental scientists, arms control analysts, budget forecasters, or any other meddlesome nerds who question the simple verities of right-wing politics — as biased. Conservative media is built on this insight, constructing an alternate information ecosystem, in which only conservative sources can be trusted.

This is the lede to an article about how Donald Trump becoming the only approved source of knowledge about Donald Trump is a natural if not inevitable result of the (de)volution of conservative media.

Jon is a good friend of mine, and I agree with him about politics 96.3% of the time.  The view he’s taken in the past on the phenomenon of political correctness, so-called, makes up about one-third of the other 3.7%. I’m hoping that the last three years has led him to re-think at least some of the things he wrote in this widely cited piece at the beginning of 2015, when Donald Trump was just an annoying washed up pseudo-celebrity from the 1980s.

Because one thing that the Trump disaster has made, as Richard Nixon used to say, perfectly clear, is that, in contemporary America, is that concerns about left-wing political correctness are at least 96.3% pure moral panic, whipped up by opportunistic right wingers, who have been playing exactly the same game ever since the term was invented for such purposes on October 28, 1990 by the New York Times.  That date isn’t an exaggeration.  Uses of the term “political correctness” in the Nexis U.S. news database:

1970s: 2

1980s: 21

1990: 42 (25 after Richard Bernstein’s 10/28 article).

And then . . .

1991: 1,057

1993: 2,598

1995: 3,182

1997: 3,199

2000: 3,899

2002: 4,821

2004: 3,778

2006: 5,042

2008: 4,392

2010: 5,136

2012: 4,390

2013: 7,173

2014: 7,080

Then America really started getting great again:

2015: 15,118

2016: 23,424

Adding the search term “Donald Trump” explains almost all of the latest wave of media interest in the almost completely bogus concept of left-wing political correctness.

As for right-wing political correctness — that’s a very different matter.

If we define “political correctness” as:

(1) Exquisite sensitivity to perceived insults to the legitimate practitioners of grievance politics; combined with

(2)  A radically closed system of ideological conformity, that ruthlessly punishes deviations from correct opinion, then we have, in one corner, a sophomore at Oberlin writing to the school newspaper about how the Kung Pao chicken in the cafeteria is a form of cultural appropriation, and in the other, the president of the United States constantly employing the state propaganda network painstakingly constructed by his party to tell white people that they are the real oppressed class in America today, because, among other indignities, they have to tolerate hearing about that Oberlin sophomore’s sophomoric tendencies on Fox News and affiliated media.

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