“I DON’T frankly have time for total political correctness,” Donald Trump said at the Republican presidential debate last week. “And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.” We agree — if political correctness is understood to mean self-censorship of controversial but legitimate views, for fear of social ostracism.
Where we part company with Mr. Trump is his apparent belief that calling people who disagree with him “pigs,” disparaging their looks or launching crude insinuations seemingly about their menstrual cycles amounts to some kind of brave rebellion against convention — rather than self-indulgent vulgarity. Mr. Trump seems to have confused political correctness with decency and civility; we need less of the former but more, much more, of the latter.
Keep that in mind the next time someone piously informs you that, whatever else you can say about him, Mr. Trump has touched a nerve, or tapped a feeling, or struck a chord. Frustration with politics transcends party these days, though in the case of Mr. Trump’s campaign, the nerves, feelings and chords in question belong to the much-aggrieved Republican Party “base.” It’s angry, we are told, because it sent a GOP majority to Washington which promptly betrayed its promise to repeal Obamacare and otherwise turn policy to the right.
A couple of points about Mr. Trump’s following and its anger: It does not represent a majority of the GOP, much less the country; 23 percent of Americans identify as Republicans, and Mr. Trump is the choice of about a quarter of them, for now. Furthermore, their anger is unfocused and, to the extent it’s rooted in racially tinged perceptions of illegal immigration or of the nation’s first black president, repellent. And finally, even the most justified political anger is not a political program.
Anyone — we’re tempted to say any moron — can grab a torch and run in front of the mob. What takes talent is what you might call political anger management: to identify legitimate complaints and turn them in a constructive direction, on behalf of a governing prescription. Mr. Trump, with his simplistic demands for a massive tariff on Chinese imports, or his insistence that the Mexican government is deliberately sending criminals to the United States, shows no sign of possessing such a capability. He shows no sign of acknowledging the need for it.
The truth is that Mr. Trump is not telling people the truth. The problem with the GOP is not the corruption or pusillanimity of the party’s leaders; it is the implausibility of the Republican base’s demands. Yes, Republicans control Congress, but what part of “even Republicans can’t agree on everything,” or “presidential veto,” or “political reality” does the “base” not understand?
Come to think of it, any politician of either party who promises to fix or change or overthrow Washington through sheer force of personality or ideological purity is misleading the voters. Yes, the political process is flawed, maybe even broken, but it’s all we have. Serious presidential candidates will be spending the next few months explaining how they propose to make it work on behalf of people’s real-world needs and interests. They’ll be trying to redeem American politics, not debasing it.
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