David Gelernter, in the course of explaining the appeal of Donald Trump as the anti-PC candidate, offers an excellent diagnosis of what he correctly calls “the biggest issue facing American today.” Gelernter would have us dispense with the euphemistic “political correctness” and refer to the threat as “invasive leftism or thought-police liberalism or metastasized progressivism.” So far, so very good. He goes on to point our the depredations carried out by “invasive leftism” and its devastating effect on our very ability to engage in discourse, and, therefore, ultimately, to think: about the military (because social justice dictate gender equality, regardless of preparedness); about terrorism (because we can’t identify Islam and Muslim as the source); about history (because the past can be seen as nothing more than the depository of today’s hated oppressions, with the few exceptions of those “ahead of their time”). He points out how institutions and policies like the IRS, the EPA and affirmative action are informed by vicious and bizarre stereotypes about whites, Christians and traditional industries—that, again, go unquestioned, in any vigorous way, by anyone, including Republicans. Gelernter says a bit more, and could say much more, in particular about crime (racial disparities in the commission of which lead to campaigns to treat punishment as a form of racism) and the uses of gender equality (Title IX) to impose Stalinist style inquisitions in sexual assault cases at colleges across the country. He could have mentioned the real “elephant in the room,” immigration, which cannot be respectably opposed because that would imply a preference for “types” of people already here over those to come (and would then presumably retroactively privilege the earlier over the later comers among those already here). (Perhaps Gelernter’s own obeisance to PC constrains him?) He even points to the class content of PC, which leaves the “privileged” or salaried and investor classes with plenty of room to maneuver while sharply constraining (and demonizing) the waged, working (especially white working) class.
After all this, though, all Gelernter has to say is that the Republican political candidates should “fight” PC. As for what they would be fighting it in the name of, he only gestures towards “the old-time American mainstream.” As he correctly points out, “even Trump has just barely faced up to it.” But the old-time American mainstream didn’t prevent the emergence of “metastasized progressivism” in the first place, and the reason might be that it shared too much with it—indeed, what else could that progressivism have metastasized from, if not constituent elements of that mainstream? The truth is, you can’t argue about abuses of the civil rights legal and political inheritance without being forced to disentangle what from that inheritance is worthy of preservation. And you will then find—and I suspect conservative politicians and pundits recognize this intuitively—that, aside from simply ensuring every American citizen the right to vote, nothing from that inheritance is worth preserving—not the body of law, and not the anti-prejudice, anti-discrimination, blank slatist ideologies that have come to protect that body of law. Once you say that businesses can’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc., you must then answer the question: since, once it’s illegal, no one will tell us that they are discriminating, how can we tell? You can either sort through the minutiae of each individual case, with all the local and personal idiosyncrasies each case drags along with it, or you can simplify things by just saying that if 20% of the population in a specific area belongs to a specific group, if you have only 10% of that group among your employees, the burden will be upon you to prove that you are not discriminating. The choice will be very easy to make.
All of “PC” follows from this arrangement. The lies, the hysterical denunciations, the atmosphere of terror—everything, because the proportions will never line up according to the non-discriminatory model, so in the end every policy advanced, every word officially uttered, must tend toward an effort to explain that failure, apologize for it, target scapegoats for it, promise to remedy it, prove that it is being remedied, and so on. Who is ready to reject the entire model—in policy terms, to roll back almost all of the “achievements” of the civil rights era? No one anywhere near power today. So, the invasions and metastasizing and thought-policing will continue until more tectonic shifts take place. And they can’t really come from anywhere other than an unlikely alliance between a large, dissident minority with the salaried , professional classes and the white working classes. The working class can fuel the revolt, but only the more “disciplinary” classes can dismantle the legal and ideological apparatus and defend the primacy of the project or the inquiry over social justice.