The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump ran against political correctness. Now his team is begging for politeness.

Maybe the president needs a safe space.

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway made the rounds on TV recently, asking for a little decorum. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

For someone who offered no apologies after he mocked a disabled reporter, gleefully described the joys of grabbing women “by the p—y” and defended the size of his penis during a televised debate, President Trump seems to be developing a newfound respect for playing nice — at least, on his terms.

Trump took on the “anti-PC” mantle during the GOP primary, often relishing the opportunity to bash what he considered the excesses of our “politically correct” media landscape. Asked during a Republican presidential debate by then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly about calling women he dislikes “fat pigs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals,” as well as telling a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” that “it must be a pretty picture” when she is “on her knees,” Trump said this:

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

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But while private citizen and candidate Trump lamented this (seemingly imagined) social prohibition on calling Rosie O’Donnell ugly, now that he’s in the White House, Trump and his staff seem to be developing a more nuanced perspective on the issue.

For example, last week saw a flurry of controversy surrounding Stephen Colbert’s joke about Trump’s mouth serving as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “c— holster” — but no one was more scandalized than the formerly anti-politically correct team Trump. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Colbert’s joke was homophobic, or the figurative equivalent of calling someone a patsy. What is for sure funny about the episode was watching the folks who would normally defend Trump for, say, accusing Kelly of having “blood coming out of her … wherever,” suddenly become fragile prudes over a late-night TV joke.

“I won’t dignify those comments with a response,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Fox News. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, went further, telling the network that the joke was “not funny.” “[This] is about showing basic respect to the president of the United States and the office of the president,” she said.

Trump himself had wounded words for Colbert: “You see a no-talent guy like Colbert. There’s nothing funny about what he says. And what he says is filthy,” he told Time magazine, “And you have kids watching.”

Of course, Colbert isn’t the only entertainer to wind up the Trump White House: When Snoop Dogg released his music video for “Lavender,” it included a scene in which the rapper uses a toy gun to pretend to shoot a clown who has a strong resemblance to Trump.

The right has its own version of political correctness. It’s just as stifling.

The implied violence is cartoonish at worst, but Trump — who boasted during the campaign that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without taking a hit in the polls — was aghast.

“Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama?” Trump tweeted at the time. “Jail time!”

Would he, though? Some may recall that controversial right-wing rocker Ted Nugent made headlines after bringing two machine guns onstage during a 2007 concert, calling then-presidential candidate Barack Obama a “piece of s—” who should “suck on a machine gun.” Nugent wasn’t arrested or jailed for his remarks, but he did receive an invitation to the Trump White House in April (where, he claimed, he decorously opted not to pose for a photo putting his middle finger up at the official portrait of Hillary Clinton). I’m beginning to sense a pattern.

Likewise, after Trump’s bombshell firing of FBI director James B. Comey, Conway made the rounds on TV to implore rude and nosy Americans not to pry into the matter; questioning the timing of the firing, she said, was “inappropriate.” Of course, perhaps Trump’s long-running beef with the media could finally be put to rest — if, as Conway told CNN’s Jake Tapper in February, the mean reporters could just show Trump some respect. But maybe all the president needs is a safe space of his own.