Blindspots of political correctness

In electing Donald Trump as the new president of the United States, Americans have effectively brought reality television into actual reality – except there is no off-switch.

Understandably, there is shock in the US and the world over that the most powerful state has elected a charlatan.

Back in May when I wrote about Trump in this column, there were a few things I had to omit, partly because of space, and partly because of fear that I could get entangled in a messy debate around the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Writing about Trump was actually easy, but I had a palpable sense, that it was better to avoid Clinton altogether because at the time any criticism of her campaign strategies were conflated with her historic candidacy as a woman, a 600-word column could not tackle this adequately.

However, in the wake of her loss, there has been a lot of reflection and some, including myself, are pointing to the role that political correctness played in creating major blindspots in the Clinton campaign and support base.

Political correctness has to always be understood contextually, it is not a singular thing.

It is common for racists and sexists to accuse anyone who opposes them of “political correctness”.

In my definition, political correctness is when the organic and robust historic traditions of left politics gets strangled by the syrupy, feel-good, moralising ethos of the (largely white) global suburban classes who learnt most of their politics from theory at university.

It is a politics of wanting to be intellectually acceptable by “other smart people” by saying the right things, of not wanting to be seen to be “on the wrong side of history” when struggles break out.

It is a politics of homogenising left progressive debate by polishing up political language, fixing “terminology” while failing to grapple with contradictions in reality.

In the Clinton campaign, political correctness meant that to even suggest that Clinton could lose was a tacit endorsement of Trump and his politics.

The politically correct response to Trump was firstly to lampoon and laugh him off and then as time wore on, to relentlessly demonise him and his followers.

This created a political framework where lampooning and demonisation took the place of finer analysis of what was happening with diverse constituencies in the US.

As I said in my article then, I spent many late night hours immersing myself in Trump campaign Youtube videos, doing a kind of “digital ethnography”, watching how he commanded crowds.

Equally, I spent many hours listening to election analysis on alternative media such as The Young Turks, as well as liberal mainstream global media such as MSNBC, CNN and CBS et al.

I also watched right-wing Fox News analysis which was entirely a propaganda machine for Trump.

My concern was not the predictable right wing but with the predictability of the so-called mainstream liberals.

Generally, small alternative liberal media was largely pro-Bernie Sanders, critical of how the Democratic Party was failing to reach independent and ambivalent voters.

Mainstream media was, however, very markedly pro-Clinton, literally laughing off any analysis that gave the Trump appeal serious thought, and for the most part, ignoring Bernie Sanders.

Most interesting for me was how militarism and corporate capitalism, what we associate with the Republican Party, was openly endorsed by the mainstream media.

On one hand they presented a politically correct face by supporting the historic woman candidate, on the other they clearly advanced elite Washington economics that did not squarely acknowledge the financial crises faced by average US middle-class households.

This was a hollow message lacking in emotional grit and politically disingenuous.

The result was that on November 8 2016, economically embattled Democrat states, such as Michigan, turned their back on Clinton, paving the way for the grotesque “Trump Train” to grab an electoral college victory.