Trump’s triumph against political correctness

Trump’s triumph against political correctness

One of the most divisive election campaigns in American political history is over. Donald Trump’s election as president shows that even U.S. politics has finally given in to the global trend of populism.

Looking back, this election will unquestionably be remembered for the offensive rhetoric of the candidates, but specifically that of Trump, in the name of fighting “political correctness.”

By definition, political correctness is based on the idea that people should be careful to avoid language or behavior that could offend a particular group of people. As a social norm, it provides a certain kind of verbal support for liberal cultural values and is often associated with well-educated elites. Thus, the concept itself has become a target for populist leaders who claim to represent the silent majority – i.e., the “ordinary people” – against the corrupt elite.

In the U.S. political context, Trump attacked political correctness in order to voice the resentment of white, working-class Americans who felt economically, demographically and culturally marginalized in a global world, and who tended to project this frustration onto different ethnic and religious identities. While analyses largely focused on the economic explanations for Trump’s victory, there was also a cultural aspect. Trump read the signs well and capitalized on the brewing anger and fear among traditionalist, conservative Americans who felt that their values were at stake amid rising American support for issues like gay marriage, abortion rights, gender equality and social diversity. This cultural backlash exposed itself as defiance of political correctness. Just like other populist leaders, Trump encouraged the “silent majority” to speak out about their discontent without fear of being condemned by others.  Even though his messages often crossed the line between bluntness and hate speech, Trump claimed to break apart the discursive shield of political correctness that had been fashioned by political elites to conceal the enduring problems in American politics. Ironically, despite his lies and contradictory arguments, Trump was perceived as the candidate who truly spoke his mind, in contrast to the overly cautious, self-controlled Hillary Clinton, who was regarded as a representative of the elite political establishment.

“I have a great education, I went to an Ivy League college, but I’m not politically correct. Being politically correct just takes too much time, it takes too much effort! We have to get things done in this country. You’re never going get things done if we stay politically correct,” Trump says on his campaign website. In the wake of elections, the most contested issue is whether Trump will moderate as he moves into the White House or stick to his aggressive rhetoric. Professor Emre Erdoğan of Bilgi University, who is also a founding partner at the Infakto Research Workshop, asserts that Trump’s anti-political correctness will only remain at the rhetorical level and will not translate into discriminatory policies, due to the structural constraints of the U.S. political system. “Deeply rooted institutions will act as constraints on Trump’s political behavior,” said Erdoğan.

“But one should also not underestimate the existing cultural backlash among Trump supporters against the elites. As the gap between the well-educated and less-educated widens in American society, political polarization will escalate. This is not a problem particular to U.S. politics; it is a larger trend we observe globally, which opens the way for populist leaders,” he added. So far, in his victory speech, with his statement of “being the president of all Americans,” Trump has implied a moderation in his tone that suggests a more inclusive discourse at home. Even his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. has been removed from his website, which is a positive development when Trump has just started establishing political dialogue with foreign leaders. 

At this point, Clinton’s advice resonates well: “Words matter when you run for president.” A discriminatory, offensive rhetoric will definitely harm U.S. political interests both inside and outside the country. If Trump, who relies on his negotiation skills and his ability to get along with people, really aims to pursue his political goals, either his goals or his language has to change. Otherwise, we’d better fasten our seat belts and get ready for the diplomatic turbulence ahead.