Edward J. Erler
October 25, 2016
You didn’t hear it here first, but you’re not going to hear it anywhere else with more conviction: The 2016 presidential election is almost certainly the last chance to stop political correctness, Progressive Liberalism’s ingenious, phenomenally successful invention for suppressing political dissent. Both political parties, the academy, the media, and adherents of the administrative state bow to PC’s imperious rule.
Its standing as an irresistible orthodoxy is revealed when every heterodoxy is swiftly identified and punished. Of all the candidates, only Donald Trump has had the courage to attack political correctness frontally, and popular response to his heresies has been enthusiastic. Judging from the media reaction, there are clear signs of hysteria among the Washington ruling elites, both Republican and Democrat. If Trump wins in November, politicians, intellectuals, journalists, bureaucrats, and other administrative state minions will no longer be able to hide behind PC’s veil of deceit. Trump’s direct appeal to the people means that his success just might reestablish the fundamental founding principle: the consent of the governed is the source of the government’s “just powers.”
For many years the Washington establishment has been a cartel representing powerful entrenched interests. Though composed of both Republicans and Democrats, the latter have exploited the cartel’s powers most successfully, routinely castigating the hapless Republicans as the party of the rich. The Tea Party revolutions of 2010 and 2014 provided the GOP with a perfect opportunity to break up the cartel, but party leaders went out of their way to disdain their own constituents and placate the establishment. Smaller government? Immigration enforcement? Lower taxes? Balanced budget? Repeal Obamacare? Each would offend too many entrenched interests. After all, as Nancy Pelosi said in a rare moment of candor, there are no real differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Both, that is, have a common interest in maintaining the Washington establishment, even against the people’s demands, expressed in voting booths.
In National Review, a publication vigorously opposed to Trump, Jonah Goldberg recently remarked that Trump is incapable of thinking about the Constitution, having no ideas whatsoever about it. But Trump understands something important that Goldberg can’t or won’t: the people, not the media, political elites, or intellectuals, are the source of the Constitution’s legitimacy. Trump is appealing to the ultimate source of authority for the Constitution, “We the people,” not “We the intellectuals and political pundits.” If Trump wins, the pundit class’s opinions will carry even less weight than they do today. Goldberg’s subtle kind of political correctness regards direct appeals to the people as corrupting them, in the way that all populism is corrupting. Rather than reaffirm the primacy of consent, Goldberg prefers that the consent of the governed be screened and qualified by the pundit class.
If Trump fails in his attempt to defeat political correctness, no one—certainly no Republican—is likely to try it again. It is easy to predict the First Amendment’s fate if Trump fails.
Political correctness was neither inevitable nor irresistible, but Republicans refused to stop it at the beginning, when they had the opportunity. In his 1980 campaign Ronald Reagan promised to end affirmative action with the stroke of a pen by rescinding the 1965 executive order by Lyndon Johnson that created it. This promise was warmly received by the electorate, but Reagan failed to deliver: too many Republicans had become convinced that race-based entitlements would attract minorities to the Republican party. They never did, but Republican acquiescence in affirmative action made an effective opposition to political correctness impossible. Today, any Republican associated in any way with racism—however tendentious, outrageous, implausible, exaggerated, or false the accusation—will quickly surrender, often preemptively. This applies equally to every transgression against political correctness: homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and a host of other so-called prejudices. After all, there is no rational defense against an irrational fear, the definition of “phobia.” Republicans have rendered themselves defenseless against political correctness, and the established wing of the party doesn’t seem overly concerned, frequently joining the chorus of Progressive Democrats in denouncing Trump’s violation of one or another canon of political correctness.
“What is Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Mexican?” asked Trump in one of his rambling speeches, where he unexpectedly brought up the issue of the Trump University lawsuit. The adherents of political correctness were outraged, indignant at this crime against diversity. Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House, called Trump’s statement the very definition of racism. (Hispanics and Latinos, of course, deny that they are a race, but we needn’t dwell on that particular violation of political correctness.) Other Republican notables denounced Trump with similar vigor. Democrats, of course, reviled him even more stridently.
Trump didn’t explain his remark, but everyone understood what he meant—except the PC guardians whose purpose in life is not to understand. Yes, Judge Curiel is a natural-born American citizen, but at least part of the reason for his appointment by President Obama to the federal bench in 2011 was to promote diversity. (“I have transformed the federal courts from a diversity standpoint with a record that’s been unmatched,” Obama said earlier this year.) And the purpose of diversity is not simply demographic heterogeneity, but to realize the necessary and salutary diversity of viewpoints that comes from including and honoring a wide variety of life experiences. When judges decide cases “there can never be a universal definition of wise,” Sonia Sotomayor said in 2001, so “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Diversity appointees, then, are expected to make rulings reflecting the outlook of the demographic category or categories they represent. To point this out explicitly, however, raises troubling questions about the rule of law…which is why there is such PC animus against those who do point it out. Judges are supposed to be neutral, having no stake in the outcome of any decision, whether from personal or collective interests. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, courts are not designed to be representative institutions. Their neutrality depends on judges not representing interests.
Trump, of course, has not only promised to build a wall along the border with Mexico but to make the Mexican government pay for it. Judge Curiel, a member of the Lawyers and Judges division of La Raza, which is a radical Latino organization that has fomented riots at Trump rallies, has certainly heard about Trump’s plans. Curiel had also appointed, as a representative of one plaintiff in the Trump University lawsuit, a law firm that paid Bill and Hillary Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches given to its lawyers. Any fair-minded observer might wonder whether Trump could get a fair hearing from Judge Curiel. But political correctness disallows such reflections: they may be true, but they raise impermissible doubts about the benefits of diversity. The bipartisan outrage provoked by Trump’s remarks clearly demonstrates that the rule of law must yield to political correctness.
For the same reason, Progressive Liberals have viciously criticized Justice Clarence Thomas for refusing to represent his racial class on the Supreme Court. He sees his duty, instead, as following the rule of law and the Constitution. When the law classifies on the basis of race or attempts to promote racial class interests, he has written many times, it undermines the rule of law by violating the crucial principal that all persons are equal before the law. Progressive Liberals despise Thomas for arguing that “benign” racial classifications to benefit racial classes or groups are morally equivalent to invidious racial classifications designed to harm or disadvantage racial or ethnic groups. Race, an arbitrary, inessential feature of the human persona, has no role to play in the rule of law. Since rights belong to individuals, Thomas correctly insists, they are not conditioned by the racial class an individual happens to occupy.
Justice Thomas is so politically incorrect that he may not even be black. (We “cannot tell every story,” says the Smithsonian Institution about Thomas’s absence from the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.) If race is as much a political fact as a biological one, then the failure or refusal to promote a group’s interests and identity nullifies membership in that group. Conversely, Bill Clinton was acclaimed America’s first black president.
Because directors of the nation’s security agency have publicly stated that terrorists and their sympathizers will inevitably slip through our screening procedures, Trump has also proposed temporarily halting all immigration from Muslim nations that support terrorism. Most refugees lack adequate documentation; many have none at all. Unable to know their backgrounds, we must rely naively on unreliable sworn declarations of their intentions. Trump quite sensibly calls for halting the admission of all Muslims from those nations at least until we have a proven, highly reliable screening process. There is no advantages to taking on this risk, he argues, and the grave disadvantages are proven by the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks in Europe.
Trump has said setting up zones in the Middle East where refugees from terrorism can find safety would not only be a more prudent national security policy, but more humane for the refugees not uprooted from their culture and injected into an alien one. Such safe zones might also encourage Muslim countries to contribute financial support to their co-religionists.
President Obama, however, insists that America has an obligation to accept refugees from Syria and other Muslim countries. The real but acceptable risk, he calculates, is a small price to pay to demonstrate that we welcome refugees as part of our commitment to diversity. The president is relying on executive orders to increase the number of refugees the nation accepts. Hillary Clinton has endorsed his goals and policy, pledging to increase substantially the number of Muslim refugees. Fulfilling this “obligation,” she says, reaffirms “who we are as a people.” From Clinton’s point of view, the American character is defined by openness and tolerance above all. Thus, any suggestion that the American character is unique or exceptional is inherently invidious—xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic. By subordinating security to diversity, Clinton intends our Syrian refugee policy to be a test of political correctness. America must willingly, eagerly demonstrate its tolerance by putting its citizens’ lives on the line. Christian refugees, who have suffered comparable or worse depredations at the hands of Islamic terrorists in Syria but do not wish to destroy America and its way of life, are less valuable for this purpose and, as result, of less interest to Obama and Clinton.
Since Muslim refugees will join many other dangerous immigrants already here, security agencies have warned that the limited resources available to monitor terrorist activities already underway means that some will inevitably succeed. Americans will simply have to “learn to live with terrorism,” as the French were urged to do by their prime minister. The insufficient resources to watch potential terrorists guarantee the ever-expanding security state will be stretched beyond constitutional limits. Invasions of constitutional rights will be extensive, invasions of privacy ubiquitous. All Americans’ rights and liberties will be sacrificed because political correctness dictates that Muslims cannot and should not be stopped from entering the country.
Prominent constitutional scholars have argued that, in any case, it would be unconstitutional to ban Muslims from emigrating to the U.S. One Harvard law professor seriously suggests that the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests for holding public office would bar Trump’s proposal. Presumably, none of the refugees are seeking offices, but it is the spirit not the language of the Constitution that forbids considering immigrants’ religion. If that argument sounds preposterous, other experts invoke the First Amendment’s protections for free exercise of religion, or the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Such arguments extend these guarantees to the entire world, including potential asylum seekers. To the contrary, the Constitution gives plenary power to Congress to pass laws on naturalization and, by necessary implication, regulating immigration. The Supreme Court has always, correctly recognized this power as inherent in national sovereignty.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently urged Americans to prepare themselves for a “borderless world.” Everyone understands, however, that a world without borders is a world without citizens and the rights and privileges that attach exclusively to citizenship. Rights and liberties exist only in “separate and equal” nations, to use the language of the Declaration of Independence. They cannot exist in empires or world orders. Rights and liberties can flourish only in separate nations where the consent of the governed is the ground of legitimate government and where that consent is periodically conferred in regularly scheduled elections. World citizenship is a meaningless contradiction, the equivalent of saying a “universal particular.”
The universal homogeneous state will inevitably be a tyranny, hostile to the consent of the governed. It will be, like today’s European Union, ruled by unelected bureaucrats who govern by administrative diktat, as in the recent condemnation by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance of the British press for revealing Muslim perpetrators’ religious identity when reporting acts of violence. Hillary Clinton fully endorses the idea of a borderless world and has recently announced that she regards German Chancellor Angela Merkel her beau ideal of a statesman, and would consult her on the issue of refugees. If Clinton takes Merkel’s advice she’ll encourage women to adopt the hijab as a welcoming gesture and, as some other EU countries have already advised, urge that women be accompanied by a male while outside the home to avoid harassment or assault from refugees. Anything less would violate the politically correct imperative to respect other cultures’ customs and traditions, however repulsive and misogynistic.
Trump, then, appeals to citizens and endorses the borders indispensable to citizenship. Clinton looks forward to a world without borders and therefore without citizens, where administration will replace politics and where demanding individual rights will be repudiated as an anachronism left over from our racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic past. We should refuse to make the irrational, destructive sacrifices political correctness demands. The people are ready to make that refusal, even if the political classes will fight fiercely to preserve its status and privileges. Trump refuses to worship the false gods of political correctness. So should we.