Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Donald Trump’s improbable victory on June 8 exploded much of the received political wisdom, especially political correctness, that many Republicans had considered an immutable inhibitor of policy reform. Now we will see if the deeper structural changes of the past decades created by political correctness can be corrected.
As the rhetoric of the NeverTrumpers revealed, identity politics ideology about various subgroups in America had been accepted as truth. Many so-called conservatives endorsed dubious victim-narratives and group identities as realities that Republicans had to accept and adapt to. “Hispanics,” we were told, are the fastest growing minority, a demographic time-bomb that will shatter the Republican party unless it acknowledged their grievances and proposed remedies. Rhetoric criticizing illegal aliens was counterproductive and “insensitive,” if not racist. Hence in 2013 the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” put forth a “comprehensive” immigration bill that set a low bar for illegal aliens to become citizens, without first ensuring that the border be controlled or putting in place stringent mechanism for vetting applicants. Yet despite those drawbacks, many Republicans, believed that such legislation would create good will and future votes among “Hispanics.”
For obvious reasons, these efforts did nothing to increase the Republican share of these voters in 2014 and help Mitt Romney. The first problem is that “Hispanics” don’t exist. In reality there is a complex diversity of peoples from various ethnicities and national cultures. A recent Mexican-Indian immigrant from Oaxaca who picks grapes has little in common with a third-generation Mexican-American who speaks little if any Spanish and works for the DMV. A Honduran Indian dishwasher has no solidarity with a Caucasian Cuban lawyer.
Like everybody else, these groups have diverse interests that may overlap, such as wanting government to provide more social welfare transfers, and give them a similar interest in voting for Democrats. But, as the cliché goes, thinking that bringing illegal aliens “out of the shadows” was the prime concern of these diverse millions was dubious at best, and contrary to most polling data that put this issue low on the list of concern for Hispanics. That may be why for all Trump’s allegedly “racist” and “xenophobic” rhetoric about illegal aliens, he did slightly better among Hispanic voters than did Mitt Romney.
More important, this Republican dogma ignored the concerns of millions of ordinary Republican voters who worried about a porous border, increased crime, cheap labor undercutting wages, the fiscal strain on public services and state budgets, and the disorder caused by bringing into their communities peoples with radically different mores and cultural practices. And these ordinary Americans resented the accusations leveled by some Republican pundits and politicians that such concerns reflected nativism, xenophobia, or even racism.
Trump’s rise to the presidency began with a loud and blunt criticisms of the costs of uncontrolled illegal immigration enabled by the federal government’s lax border control, and by insane progressive policies like “sanctuary cities.” His promise to build a wall to keep out the “rapists” and “drug dealers” and to deport illegal aliens excited those denigrated victims of bad federal policy, and made them feel like they had a champion who heard their cries for change. And these same forgotten voters were angered by the Republican establishment’s politicians and pundits attacking Trump––and necessarily themselves––with the question-begging “racist” epithet straight from the Orwellian progressive playbook.
Furthermore, these forgotten Republican men and women understood that this is a progressive tactic used to emasculate their Republican counterparts and marginalize their concerns. Hence they were furious when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Trump’s identification of a judge as a “Mexican”–– a judge who belonged to a professional organization that used the racist “La Raza” tag in its name––“textbook racism,” sounding more like an MSNBC commentator than a principled conservative who respects the integrity of language.
This Republican establishment obeisance to progressive politically correct shibboleths had long angered millions of Republicans. It became particularly egregious in 2008 and 2012, when fear of appearing “racist” inhibited John McCain and Mitt Romney from vigorously attacking and exposing Barack Obama’s hard-left ideology, sinister friends and associates, bogus biography, and divisive race-baiting. For many angry voters, that squeamishness explained the Republican Senate’s mystifying confirmation of Eric Holder clone Loretta Lynch, a decision whose stupidity became obvious this year when Lynch’s politicized DOJ in order to protect Hillary Clinton, and obstructed and gamed the investigation into Clinton’s home-brew server by the FBI.
The readiness of some Republicans to throw around, like Paul Ryan, the question-begging epithets used by the left to enforce political correctness disgusted voters. They could see it was a reflex of the Republicans’ habitual “preemptive cringe” in the face of progressive attacks. Such cowardice likewise sickened the base and made Trump’s brash and vulgar rhetoric seem like a breath of fresh air. When “conservative” pundits like Bret Stephens writes of Trump’s “irrepressible bigotry, misogyny, bullying,” as Stephens whined after the election, normal people see rank hypocrisy. These pundits seldom got so passionate over Obama’s blatant race-baiting and his support for racist outfits like Black Lives Matter that incite riots and assassinations of police officers.
So now what? The political correctness so many nominal conservatives observe has burrowed deep into our culture and educational system, not just in curricula but in administrative offices and practices. It permeates federal laws like Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which puts the coercive power of the state behind the various speech codes that enforce censorship and punish offenders. We are now in the third generation of students who have been marinated in this ideology from kindergarten to university. Like the vicious rhetoric used to attack Trump’s policy proscriptions on immigration, this political correctness will inhibit politicians and make it more difficult to reform immigration, step-up deportations, and increase border protections.
This means Trump may find it difficult to follow through on the promises he made during the campaign. Congressional and Senate Republicans might prove less than cooperative. Will they pass legislation to strip federal funds from sanctuary cities that break federal law? Appropriate funds for improving border barriers and hiring more border patrol agents? Seriously crack down on employers of illegal aliens? All these measures would unleash a barrage of charges they are racists, nativists, and xenophobes, and anger some business interests that find cheap labor worth some illegality. Will they have the fortitude to take the abuse and vigorously repudiate it?
As this election has shown, populism can be a powerful force. But disappointed populism can be even more disruptive. If Trump’s actions cannot fulfill his promises, if the Republican Congress slips back into its bad habit of accommodation and timidity, then the current Republican revival will be short-lived.