Political correctness is in the eye, ear and mind of the beholder. For example, it wouldn’t likely be hard to find someone who in 2015 got bent out of shape over the answer to the clue “police van” in the New York Times crossword and in 2016 voted for Donald Trump. I’m guessing that most Irish-born people, of which I’m one, would be amused at the idea of a kerfuffle over “paddy wagon.” However, there’s little agreement on what constitutes “political correctness gone mad.”  

It hasn’t helped that sections of the media have circulated examples in the category that are entirely or largely fictional. The peculiar thing about the issue is that it’s been progressives and liberals who’ve fought censorship and historically pushed against the boundaries of the “safe spaces” of their day. And they still do -- Bill Maher continues to pursue the themes of his earlier show “Politically Incorrect” and Stephen Colbert mocks the “PC police.”

How come, then, conservatives use the charge with such apparent effectiveness? Well, a labor official, I believe it was, suggested an interesting intellectual exercise: substitute the word “respect” for “politically correct.”

Would you say someone is being “too respectful” when discussing a person or group? You see, in this country, the PC charge is most often used in the context of inclusivity and civility towards individuals or demographics that don’t vote Republican.

At the same time, conservatives build a wall around institutions or principles that they deem to be worthy of respect and all hell breaks loose if there’s any perceived attempt to breach it.

In 1964 LBJ posited in a TV ad that Barry Goldwater would blow up the world. The Democrats haven’t run a good one since; these days, it’s “Daisy Girl” 24/7 from the other side.

The old Clinton maxim “It’s the economy, stupid” might ordinarily have worked this year, but Hillary was running for a “third Obama term.” Maher has said that a President Romney would have happily run for a second term on the current state of the economy.

But the rules are always different with the Republicans, and their mastery of the dark arts gives them the edge.

You can’t help but admire the lack of scruples and the assault on logic. They’re joyfully shameless about it. But they’re also meaner and tougher and thus probably deserve to win as much as they do.

At a time when the GOP seemed in utter disarray at the top, Fox News kept the fire focused on the Democratic candidate and worked overtime to normalize their own. CNN and the other networks, meantime, had a vested interest ratings-wise in a close race and didn’t report important investigative work done by print and online media.

Now, we are increasingly slipping into the age of “post-truth” – which Oxford Dictionaries, in the aftermath of the Brexit and Trump upsets, has named word of the year.

Added to the problem is fake online news, which for instance was responsible for reports that both Pope Francis and Tom Hanks endorsed Donald Trump (their hopes were almost certainly in the other direction).

Back in the real world, Fox News keeps the faithful singing from the same hymn sheet, among them the kin of a prominent New York Times columnist.

Maureen Dowd told her readers about her Thanksgiving. “My little basket of deplorables, as I call my conservative family, gloated with Trump toasts galore, and Kevin presented me with his annual holiday column with an extra flourish.”

“The election was a complete repudiation of Barack Obama: his fantasy world of political correctness,” Kevin said early on in his piece for the paper of record.

Kevin Dowd is an “affluent, educated suburbanite,” in his sister’s words, and so Trump wasn’t his first choice in the primaries. But he was fully on board and on message after the nomination.

He added: “Preaching — and pandering — with a message of inclusion, the Democrats have instead become a party where incivility and bad manners are taken for granted, rudeness is routine, religion is mocked and there is absolutely no respect for a differing opinion.”

Like I said, shameless.

In Kevin’s alternative universe, no doubt, South Carolina’s Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t scream “You lie!” in the middle of an Obama address to Congress. That was Nancy Pelosi kidding around. She does a great Rebel yell, too, as part of her ventriloquist’s routine.

Kevin went on: “The rudeness reached its peak when Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by attendees of ‘Hamilton’ and then pompously lectured by the cast. This may play well with the New York theater crowd but is considered boorish and unacceptable by those of us taught to respect the office of the president and vice president, if not the occupants.”

Kevin, God bless him, finally found something to label “boorish” and “unacceptable” in the 2016 election season. It’s been a long 18 months for the rest of us.

In any case, the “Hamilton” cast members did not undermine the dignity of the office of vice-president. They were respectfully giving expression to the shock caused by the fact that someone with the attention span of a goldfish will have access to the nuclear button from January 20. It was also a legitimate protest against the naked use of incendiary speech by the man on the top half of the winning ticket.

Has a demagogue ever before been elected to lead a functioning Western democracy? Aren’t ordinary people, particularly those belonging to groups he’s singled out, right to be afraid?

And then there’s that wonderfully serviceable and slippery distinction between the “office” and the “occupant.”

To speak your mind and stand up for your fellow citizens is an attack on the institution your grandparents revered. But to promote the idea without evidence that the democratically-elected president of the United States (with clear majorities of the popular vote in 2008 and 2012) is secretly a Muslim and illegible because he was born on another continent – yeah, that’s just taking issue with the occupant.

Again, like I said, a different set of rules.

---

This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more stories, visit their website here

Conservatives build a wall around institutions or principles that they deem to be worthy of respect and all hell breaks loose if there’s any perceived attempt to breach it.Gage Skidmore / Flickr