When liberals refuse to call things what they are and sub in carefully calibrated euphemisms instead, far-right conservatives respond with one of their favorite phrases. This, they say, is political correctness run amok. But now it’s the far right that’s refusing to call the cages holding immigrant children separated from their families “cages” — they’re “chain-link partitions” instead. This hypocrisy reveals how much of a sham the crusade against political correctness among the far right has always been.
The far right loves to skewer the left for covering up inconvenient truths with consoling language: In the oft-quoted words of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” But up against the decidedly inconvenient truth that children in detention centers are crying out for their mamas and papis, the right has responded with … consoling language.
Television and talk show host Laura Ingraham may have come up with the pleasantest description possible of the sterile rooms surrounded by metal fences where terrified kids squirm under astronaut blankets on floor mats: “essentially summer camps.”
The Border Patrol’s bureaucracy is playing the same game. The agency contacted a “CBS This Morning reporter on Monday to tell him they were “very uncomfortable” with his use of the word “cages” to describe those ostensible summer camps. It wasn’t that the word was inaccurate, they said. It was just that, though these might technically be cages, the children weren’t being treated like animals.
This is a paradigmatic case of convoluted logic and language designed to disguise a grim reality: The very fact that the Border Patrol is keeping these children in cages shows the administration is treating them like animals. The complaint that talking about cages makes the administration “uncomfortable,” too, is straight out of the campus culture wars, yet when liberals lodge this complaint, conservatives label them snowflakes faster than you can say “microaggression.”
No one seems entirely able to agree on what exactly political correctness is, but those on the far right often gripe about the policing of vocabulary as an example of the left’s penchant for shutting down disagreement. How dare you refuse to name radical Islamist terror, they ask? How dare you say “holidays” instead of “Christmas”? And what is up with these genderless pronouns?
This is a strong argument only when the stifled speech is actually an attempt at truth-telling in the face of censorship. Yet when the Trump camp cries out against political correctness, it usually has nothing to do with truth-telling or censorship at all.
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said during the campaign. And what was the politically correct autocracy stopping him from doing? Calling women “slobs,” “dogs” and “pigs.” But women are quite literally not dogs, or pigs. They’re women. Describing Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo” isn’t laying bare some suppressed reality — it’s nastiness for nastiness’s sake.
The same phenomenon appeared during the “shithole country” controversy. Commentators were in an uproar not because Trump was describing these locales for what they really were, as his far-right defenders insisted that liberals refused to do, but because he was implying that those who come from those countries are “shithole” people. And in any event, it’s possible to critique conditions in Haiti or El Salvador without invoking the human anus.
The pro-Trump right has weaponized “political correctness” to mean they get to say whatever they want, and those who disagree with them don’t. We’ve seen the first side of that equation plenty of times, and now, with the “cages” controversy, we’re treated to a crystal-clear example of the second.
So, in this instance, Ben Shapiro’s fans ought to reflect on how his mantra applies to them, too. Facts don’t care about feelings. They don’t care any more than the Trump administration and its euphemism-toting defenders seem to care about the children in the cages.