Jonathan Chait wants to save liberalism. By extension, he wants to revitalize the Democratic Party by expunging the rot that seems to have invaded its core.
Chair knows that the horrors that are being committed in the name of political correctness are dragging down the Democratic Party. Perhaps at some point the party was happy to have the support of the radical left, but the situation has gotten out of hand. Democrats lost a lot of elections a few months ago. If things continue this way, the Democratic Party might go the way of the Whigs.
Chait does not mention that the American electorate breathed a new vitality into political correctness by electing Barack Obama to the presidency.
When Obama became president, political debate was no longer about ideas. In social media and universities those who opposed Obama were slandered and defamed.
Let’s not forget that Obama used to pal around with radicals like William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi. It’s not as though America elected a good liberal Democrat to the presidency.
Now, with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton looming, the debate will no longer concern Mrs. Clinton’s thin resume and barely visible accomplishments, but about the sexism of those who oppose her.
Among other points, Chait echoes an argument that I have occasionally made against the fashionable notion of trigger warnings. The point bears repeating:
Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering. Indeed, one professor at a prestigious university told me that, just in the last few years, she has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity toward even the mildest social or ideological slights; she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma — or, more consequentially, violating her school’s new sexual-harassment policy — merely by carrying out the traditional academic work of intellectual exploration. “This is an environment of fear, believe it or not,” she told me by way of explaining her request for anonymity. It reminds her of the previous outbreak of political correctness — “Every other day I say to my friends, ‘How did we get back to 1991?’ ”
Several columnists have challenged Chait’s idea that political correctness is antithetical to liberalism. I tend to agree with him that it belongs on the radical left:
But political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.
If political correctness is a symptom, of what is it a symptom? Chait suggests that it is symptom of ignorance and stupidity. Those who cannot engage with ideas, who cannot participate in political debate resort to calumny, slander and defamation.
After noting that he himself is a white male, Chait despairs at the fact that the radical left considers his identity to be the only important point about his ideas.
If you consider this [my] background and demographic information the very essence of my point of view, then there’s not much point in reading any further. But this pointlessness is exactly the point: Political correctness makes debate irrelevant and frequently impossible.
In many ways this reflects what is called identity politics. The value of someone’s work, especially in academia and the media depends more on the person’s racial, ethnic or gender identity than on any intrinsic merit.
Political correctness is simply the radical version of identity politics. It refuses to debate ideas, disparages the notion of intrinsic merit and promotes people who owe their jobs to their identity, not to what they have achieved.