“Political Correctness” and Why I Hate the Phrase More than the Concept

At the beginning of the movie American Psycho, Christian Bale, in the title role, goes through his inventory of personal grooming products and explains his daily regimen involving said products.  When he tells the audience that there’s one word they’re probably thinking, the one word that came to mind for me when I saw it was “faggot.”

Last week, the popular Comedy Central @midnight had as its daily “Hashtag War” the handle of “HipHopCharities”.  One of the items that I added to Twitter that day, was United Niggaz College Fund.

At most amusement parks, there is at least one roller coaster where the track runs above the heads of the riders.  The safety restraints generally involve putting your arms through a vest-like structure that you bring in front of your chest, snap together, and then pull a belt up between your legs to connect to the vest-like structure.   If there is a diagram in the line to illustrate this, it generally has three arrows pointed at the human figures (two at the chest and one at the crotch).  You can easily give the pictures the caption of “if you’re unsure of the gender of another rider, look here.”

There are very few pictures of me out there in which I don’t have facial hair.  They do exist but they’re the rarity.  Although I have shaved it off a few times, I have had a mustache for the better part of the last 25 years.  My reason is simple: I use it to cover the scar above my lip from when I was two months old and had reconstructive surgery to repair the harelip I was born with.  

You don’t need to lecture me on the fact that each of the above paragraphs can be considered offensive to groups of people.  I know that and, quite frankly, if I were to write out a list of the slang words in the English language that I don’t use in non-academic/linguistic studies settings, the offensive language of the first two paragraphs are probably at or near the top of the list.   (Bitch and slut also would rank pretty high.  I also have a problem with the word “cunt” to refer to the whole person even if I don’t have the same problem with using the word to refer to the person’s hole….)

Harelip is a bit different.  I know that the politically correct term is “cleft lip” but that never really sounded right to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m a part of the group to which it refers.   In that regard, maybe I’m just subconsciously reclaiming the word for myself, much as the African-American community has done with the word nigger, the gay community is doing with faggot, and women do with bitch.  

I think it’s wrong to deny the existence of words designed to offend.  They exist and the ways in which we use them (or choose not to use them) speaks volumes to the content of our character.   And there’s a huge difference between language intended to elicit a laugh (as I hoped to do with my examples at the start of this entry), and language intended to demean or denigrate a person or group of people.  

The term “political correctness” has come to signify a cleansing of language so as not to offend other people.  Or, more accurately, language offensive to people who are already marginalized to some degree.  We know this because Donald Trump, who often brags about being politically incorrect, takes offense when someone attacks a group to which he belongs (remember when Ted Cruz complained about Trump’s “New York values”?)

It’s easy to offend people.   Maybe too easy.   Sometimes with our actions and sometimes with our words.  Sometimes with a carelessly thought-out statement and sometimes with language that’s designed to offend.   A simple byproduct of freedom of speech is that no one has the right not to be offended by something.   

I do think it’s interesting that people who complain about political correctness are also the ones who get offended when a football player refuses to stand for the national anthem, or when someone burns a flag in protest, or makes a statement supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Can political correctness go too far?  Sure.  But I don’t see any harm in recognizing privilege where it exists and self-regulation towards not marginalizing those who don’t share the privilege.   It’s why I’ve started calling myself a cismale, rather than just a male.  

Any more, though, it seems that people are accusing others of political correctness in an attempt to stifle some honest and, quite frankly, much needed discussion.  Those same people who complain about Colin Kaepernick or who think the Black Lives Matter movement is a terrorist organization when all they really want to see is cops who don’t kill people because of a broken tail light.  As though the statement “stop being so PC” helps anything.  

I’d rather they called me a harelip and told me to fuck myself.  At least they’d be honest about their intent and the fact that they can’t be reasoned with.  Then I could point out, accurately, that the white supremacist movement seems determined to provide counterexamples to their own arguments and be done with it.  

The Myth of Unity

In recent weeks, a lot of surrogates for the Donald Trump campaign have been making arguments in his favor that effectively say that he is the only candidate who can unify the country.

This is kind of statement is, to use a phrase steeped in a long history of political science, complete and total bullshit. (Although, in Trump’s case, he has unified a fairly large percentage of the country against him…)

That’s not to say that Hillary Clinton will unify the country either. But she’s not talking about it. She has probably learned something from watching both her husband and Barack Obama get stymied by the Republican Party on just about every major initiative they proposed. In both 1992 and 2008 the republican leadership in congress stated that they had a single goal: to make the democratic president a one-term president.

While they failed in that goal, they did a great job of sowing disunity despite the more than conciliatory tones of the presidents themselves. (Indeed, President Obama can be criticized for his somewhat idealistic attempts to appeal to and appease the opposition more than his supporters.)

In a true democracy, unity among the electorate on just about any topic, is an impossible goal. It’s why 55% of the vote for a given candidate is considered a landslide. To put that in perspective, in American football, a team that wins 55% of its games (in a 16 game season, winning 9 games is 56%) will probably end up watching the playoffs from their living room. Hockey and baseball teams with a 55% winning percentage have a slightly better shot at being in the playoffs. Basketball teams with that winning percentage might make the playoffs but will certainly go down in flames early on.

Disunity is a natural consequence of having different priorities. Donald Trump’s message does not resonate with me at all. This is at least partially because I don’t see immigration — legal or otherwise — as a pressing concern to our country. I happen to work with a large number of non-US citizens (both immigrants and people living in other countries) and they contribute quite a bit to a healthy and vibrant workplace.

I’m much more concerned about the environment, women’s rights, and healthcare. With regard to one sub-point within this list (and it overlaps all three items here), I am decidedly pro-choice on abortion. Other than drawing a line in the human gestational period after which the procedure shouldn’t be performed unless there were a danger to the mother’s life (and I’m certainly open to discussion of where that line ought to be; I should presume it might be around about a point where the fetus is viable on its own outside of the womb) I see no reason for any restrictions on the procedure. I might even come close to arguing that we need to perform more abortions every year.

That last part might come a bit too close to eugenics for my own comfort so I’m not quite going to make that kind of an argument, but overpopulation is a serious problem. So let’s just ask the question of how many more abortions would be performed every year if we were to lift all unnecessary restrictions.

The very fact that I take this position means that, if I were to seek elective office, there would be no shortage of people who wouldn’t vote for me. Depending upon the overall political leanings of the region I would represent, it might even doom my candidacy. (As might my atheism but that’s the stuff of another blog entry…)

One of my oldest blog entries on this site was about how the phrase “under god” in the pledge of allegiance undermines the word that immediately follows it: indivisible. Indeed, the very mention of a deity sows a great deal of disunity.

A shrewd political candidate should not be seeking unity. He or she should seek tolerance and respect, even for positions with which they disagree.

And we can start by having two functional political parties in this country. Right now there’s one functioning party and one that is constantly doing nothing other than wasting time investigating minor missteps by people in the other party.

Feeding the Persecution Complex

It has come to my attention that tonight, in an exclusive one-night engagement in select movie theatres, a movie called The Insanity of God will be screened for all paid ticket holders.   

I confess that I like the title.  When I looked into the movie, I quickly lost the initial hope that it might point out some of the more ridiculous claims of the bible (and maybe other religious texts, too).   You know, a reasonable and maybe entertaining follow-up to movies like   The God Who Wasn’t There or Religulous.   Boy, was I wrong.   

The movie is apparently based upon a book of the same title, referred to with the adjective of “best-selling”.   A quick check on Amazon reveals two unique incidents of the book through its various selling partners, one of which has five reviews and one with over 1000. (1,118 as of this writing).   By comparison, How To Avoid Huge Ships has more reviews, despite the sarcasm in most of them.   

Somehow I doubt that this book sells or has sold all that well, especially outside of the circles to which it has been marketed.  Maybe even within those circles.  

It’s weird.   I do agree that persecutions of members of minority faiths and the faithless around the world, is a serious problem.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in machete attacks on secularists in Bangladesh.  ISIL is committing genocide against Christians.   The Donald Trump presidential campaign is feeding distrust and hatred towards Muslims and Sikhs.   

But let me make it clear that Christian missionaries are not heroes and are not to be looked up to.   It’s one thing to practice your faith, but it’s something completely different to try to impose your beliefs where they’re not wanted, welcome, or even appreciated.   

It’s one thing to travel to a place that’s been ravaged by war, famine, or natural disaster and offer food, water, shelter, clothing, medicines, and other basic necessities.   That’s a good idea and should be encouraged.   But to attach a religious worldview — a message that basically says “believe in my god or suffer more” — to those gifts is rude, presumptuous, and makes people question your intentions.   

How about doing a good deed because it’s a good thing to do?   I know from personal experience that helping the needy, offering as little as a hand to a complete stranger, makes you feel sufficiently good and is truly its own reward.   For an easy (and quite simple) example, I keep a set of jumper cables in my car at all times.   Although I don’t know the exact number of times I’ve used them, I have overwhelmingly used them more often to get other people’s cars going than I have for my own car.  

When I hear stories of missionaries getting kidnapped, injured, or even killed while on a mission to some place in Africa or Asia, my heart goes out to their families and friends.   But their fate was somewhat predictable.  They were asking for trouble.   Kind of like wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to a Donald Trump campaign rally in Mississippi.   (Or even an Obama hope shirt).  

The insanity of god?   No.  More like the insanity and stupidity of some of his followers.  

The Privilege of George H W Bush

In my recent blog entry on presidential qualifications I remarked that the pre-presidency of George H W Bush rivaled that of Hillary Clinton today.   

While true, it underscored something that’s been nagging at me for nearly 30 years.  If you look at his resume in the box to the right of the preamble of the Wikipedia page about him, you see something very interesting: a lot of different posts for relatively short terms, at least until he was elected Vice President in 1980.   Indeed, by the time he was elected Vice President, he had lost as many elections (US Senate in 1970, republican presidential nomination in 1980) as he had won (US congress in 1966 and 1968).  From a pure electoral history, his resume was quite thin.   Add in the truism that people don’t actually vote for the vice presidential candidate on a ticket, and you can discount the elections of 1980 and 1984 as being not so much victories for him as they are victories for Reagan.  

Bush was the first sitting Vice President to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836, although Nixon does deserve the honor of being in between the two if you take out the word “sitting” and add in a footnote about not rising to the presidency following the death of the president.  (Take out the footnote and you can also add Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson.)

The path to the presidency is usually through elective office, not appointments to powerful positions.  Or, if not elective office, then career military service, usually after attainment of the position of general or admiral.   While Bush did have some elective office experience, it was pretty meager.  He served two terms in the House of Representatives in the minority party in both terms.  While this was before the so-called “Hastert Rule” which basically strips the minority party of having any say in what will get voted on, it still doesn’t wield a whole lot of clout, politically.   (At least Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was a senator…)

Bush’s path definitely was quite atypical by most standards.  

So when Nixon, and then Ford, nominated Bush for some very powerful positions, what was the basis of these appointments?  The answer seems fairly obvious: he was the son of a powerful senator.  Indeed, a mere four years passed between Prescott Bush’s retirement and George’s first election.   One wonders if the death of the father was at least partially a basis of the nominations of the son.  

George H W Bush had — and still has — enjoyed an exceptional amount of privilege in his life.   It led him to the highest office in the land at a pivotal point in world history.   I do find it interesting that, when future historians look at his term and his legacy, they’re likely to see it as mostly unremarkable.  His presidency can be summed up with the first Iraq war, most-favored nation trading status with China, and NAFTA.   And maybe Manuel Noriega.   He’s not likely to be viewed as a major player with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union.  

That seems fairly consistent with the fact that he struggled with what he called the “vision thing” for why he even wanted to be president.  

And that same privilege is what led two of his children to seek the presidency, one who achieved it and one whose failure to achieve it could be the stuff of a Greek tragedy.   

They don’t need to apologize for their privilege but nobody can deny that their privilege probably doesn’t guide them to the wisest decisions.  

This family should be the stuff of textbooks.  

What qualifies a person to be president?

There’s an article over at Slate that asks how liberals would respond if the choice for president were between a liberal version of Donald Trump (they use Sean Penn as their example but it could be anyone on the political left who is sufficiently famous outside of the world of politics) and the likes of Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum.  It’s a fascinating article and definitely worth the read.   

While I haven’t tried making that particular argument, it raises a good point.   I have been making two related arguments, though, that tie in a little bit with this, and that also represent arguments I wish those on the left would stop making.  

The first is with regard to Donald Trump’s qualifications to be president.   This has nothing to do with whether or not he should be president but instead to whether he meets the criteria put forth by the constitution: since he is over age 35, a natural-born citizen who has lived the last fourteen years in this country, and is not term-limited under the 22nd amendment, he checks off every necessary box to be president.  That says absolutely nothing about whether he deserves any votes, but he does qualify.   Then again, so do I.  So feel free to vote for me.  

The other argument is about Hillary’s experience putting her in a good position to be president.   Eight years as First Lady, eight years as a senator, and four as Secretary of State, and yes she does have a fair amount of experience.  (It’s questionable whether that makes her the most experienced in history, as President Obama said during the convention a couple of weeks ago; even in recent memory, George H W Bush rivaled her experience when you figure that he was Vice President for eight years, after having been head of the CIA, ambassador to China, and a congressman; and that’s not even getting into the fact that he was a senator’s son…)  But when it comes to the presidency, how much experience is ideal?  We have a lot of respect for many presidents who had relatively little experience (Lincoln, JFK, Obama and many others come to mind) and many of the presidents with the most experience actually rank among our worst (Buchanan, William Henry Harrison, Hoover).  The simple truth right now is that no amount of experience can truly prepare a person for the presidency.   There are only five people alive today who can honestly say that they’re currently prepared for the needs of the presidency.   Three of them are term-limited and therefore can’t seek the office and the other two are both in their 90s.   

The simple truth is that the American political right doesn’t actually have someone to vote for this year.   If Trump represents anyone, it’s himself (and white supremacists and Nazis).   And that could happen to the left in a future year.  Some might vote for Hillary.  Some might vote for Trump.  Some might vote third party and some might not vote at all.  Is that a consequence of the uneasy coalition that is the modern Republican Party?  Many pundits have been talking about the demise of the party for some time.   Not that I’d expect any party to be absolutely uniform in their views, but the religious and economic conservatives really don’t have enough in common to hold them together, other than saying they’re “not liberal”.  

Would I vote for Sean Penn?  I don’t know.  I voted for Al Gore in 2000 and sent him an email afterwards where I said that he should not take my vote as an approval of his campaign or candidacy.   I just felt that Bush would’ve been a disaster for the country.   

A postmortem on the 2016 election

Yes, I know that the general election is still 3 1/2 months away.  As I write this, only one of the two parties has formally nominated their candidate.  No general election polls are even remotely reliable at this point.  A lot can and will happen between now and when we actually vote.  

But, as often happens after an election, the losing party looks at why they lost, and makes recommendations for what must be done to improve their chances next time.  

Whatever else is true, the Republican Party didn’t listen to the recommendations of the 2012 postmortem.  They performed horribly with women and minorities and the recommendation was to do outreach to both groups.   And then they nominated a racist and sexist candidate this year who makes the 2012 nominee look reasonable to women and minirities.  

But this year, I think both parties would do well to examine the campaign seasons and recommend changes for 2020, without regard to the victor.  

Let me start with the republicans.  All of the 2012 recommendations apply for this time around too.  

One of the big problems they faced this year — which enabled Donald Trump to win as many state primaries and caucuses as he did — was the sheer number of candidates seeking the nomination.  At various points in time, the evangelical vote was split amongst multiple candidates (usually Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and/or Rick Santorum).  If it had only been one person, Trump would have had less of a chance of besting them all.  

Seventeen candidates is just too many people.   Yes, five of them dropped out before the Iowa caucuses (Perry, Walker, Jindal, Graham, and Pataki) but that still leaves twelve others.  I previously compared 2016 to 1988 based upon the sheer number of candidates of the party not in the White House.  A large pool makes the candidate who merely receives a plurality of votes the victor, and leaves him or her vulnerable later on.  I don’t know the magic number of candidates for a party, but it surely must be in the single digits.  And, interestingly, this didn’t give anyone the chance to vet the candidates properly.  Too many of Trump’s skeletons have come to light since he clinched the nomination.  

I imagine that the bigwigs of the Republican Party might also think that the idea of superdelegates as used by the Democratic Party is pretty appealing.   If the GOP’s rules had been the same as the Dems’, the candidate would have been decided at the convention.   The ones who wish Trump weren’t their candidate must be wishing they were dealing with the problems faced by the DNC right now.  

Which brings me to the democrats.   Let me state for the record that I think the general idea of superdelegates is a good one, although there’s room for debate about the correct number relative to the total delegate count.  The idea of superdelegates came about after 1968 and the chaos of the democratic convention in Chicago that year.   By design it shifted some responsibility of choosing the nominee away from the voters and more to the party itself.  

Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been in congress for over a decade representing districts in Florida and by all accounts, is a good hardworking representative.  And she’s a great example of the “Peter principle”, which holds that people will rise to the level of their incompetence.  She was out of her league running the DNC and anyone who argues otherwise, hasn’t been paying attention.  The circumstances that led to her departure never should have happened, period.  If Obama, who really wanted to campaign on behalf of the democratic nominee, stayed out of it until Clinton clinched the nomination, Mrs Wasserman Schultz should have done the same.  

Some ideas for both parties:

Get rid of “open primaries”, where people not registered as a member of a given party can still vote for that party’s candidate.  We can never know how many partisans for the other party voted for either Trump or Sanders because they wanted to sabotage the other party.  

Level out the timing of the primaries.   Why spread it out over such a long period of time?  

While we’re at it, disallow campaigning too long before the primaries begin.  (Open for discussion, the definition of “too long”.)  Someone who joined the race as late as Bill Clinton did in 1992 wouldn’t stand a chance any more.  Ted Cruz is already running for the 2020 nomination.   Does it need to last this long?

And maybe some day, we can do away with the parties entirely.   I’d rather see a national primary with a larger field of candidates (from all parties), and then the top two vote getters (without regard to party affiliation) face off in November. 

Not the blog entry I had planned to write

After the Wikileaks website released the emails that revealed that some people in the DNC had tried to derail Bernie Sanders’s campaign I went back and reread my blog entry from last February, in which I asked his supporters what makes him different from the more progressive democratic candidates since 1968 (although in hindsight, I should’ve probably mentioned Jesse Jackson in 1988).  And I realized something: when you compare Bernie to the other names on that list, Bernie is probably my least favorite of all of them.  

So I planned to write a blog entry talking about how the DNC certainly doesn’t owe him any favors.  After all, he’s still an independent in the Senate so an argument can be made that he shouldn’t even have sought the nomination of a party to which he didn’t even belong.  (At least Trump registered as a republican first…)  And the money he raised only funded his own campaign, while Clinton supported the DNC and countless house and senate races throughout the primaries.   

I was even prepared to point out that the idea of having primaries across the country to allow the voters themselves choose the nominees of both parties are actually a relatively new invention so there are always ways to tweak and improve the greater process.   Hell, I even planned on writing that the email that toyed with using Sanders’s alleged atheism against him (if he is an atheist, I see that as a plus anyway) was nothing more than an idea that was rightly thrown away.   In both my professional and personal dealings, I’ve pointed out that there’s no such thing as a bad idea when brainstorming.   When we move beyond brainstorming, is when we discard ideas like that.  

The arguments I planned on making here were supposed to be more of an indictment of the two-party system that has pretty much dominated American politics since 1828.  

But today’s news changed that.  Not the news that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has announced her resignation as chair of the DNC.   That was expected, to be honest.  It was no secret that she personally favored Hillary Clinton, so at best, her impartiality was questionable. 

Buried in some of the reports that she was out, though, is the story that she is taking on a role as an “honorary chair” of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign.   

I want to reserve judgment here.   I don’t have all of the information I need.   After all, I don’t know what an “honorary chair” of any specific committee is supposed to do, as opposed to the official chair or committee leader.  But this just looks bad.  

George W Bush rightly deserved criticism for nominating cronies — either his own friends or friends of his father — to influential positions within his cabinet without regard to their ability to do the job at hand.  Neither John Ashcroft nor Alberto Gonzales was qualified to lead the Department of Justice.   I’m not sure what made Tom Ridge qualified to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security.  (Although I will admit that he surprised me that he wasn’t as ineffective at that job as he was as governor of Pennsylvania…). And of course, there was the former horse trainer who knew nothing about emergency management.   Heckuva job, Brownie…

If we wish to criticize Bush for those nominations, then yes, we should also criticize Hillary Clinton for doing the same with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  It just looks bad.  

Maybe I’m overreacting.   Maybe this is just supposed to allow DWS to save face and bow out more gracefully.   Maybe she won’t actually do anything of any major import.   Maybe now is exactly the time to do this, since Hillary hasn’t yet had her own post-convention “bounce” and the election is still more than three months away, so she can easily make the corrections she needs to make.  Time will tell on all of this.   At least for now, though, this just looks bad.