How the P.C. Police Propelled Donald Trump

By assailing sensible conservatives as sexists, racists, and imbeciles, they paved the way for a jackass who embodies their worst fears.

01.04.16 5:01 AM ET

The American left created Donald Trump.

When I say “the left,” I do not mean the Democratic Party—or, solely the Democratic Party. Rather, the pestilence that is the Trump campaign is the result of a conglomeration of political, academic, media, and cultural elites who for decades have tried to act as the arbiters of acceptable public debate and shut down any political expression from Americans with whom they disagree. They, more than anyone else, created Donald Trump’s candidacy and the increasingly hideous movement he now leads.

These are fighting words, not least because no one really wants the blame for creating the Trump phenomenon, and understandably so. Democrats want to perma-glue Trump to the Republicans so that the GOP will never get his stink off the party even after he’s been defeated. Republicans, for their part, can’t post enough pictures of Trump and the Clintons, or play enough clips of Trump noting that he voted for President Obama and showering praise on Hillary.

This is what parties do, and it’s natural for both the Democrats and the GOP to see who can hang Trump on the other. Of course, it all misses the point: Trump is too uncontrollably narcissistic to be genuinely attached to either party. As much as Republicans point out the money he gave to Hillary Clinton, for example, the fact is that Trump would have given money to Yuri Andropov if he thought there was a photo op in it. (Exhibit A: his creepy, un-American attachment to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.) Democrats can try to tar the GOP with Trump, but Trump’s a GOP newcomer whose views on abortion, health care, and taxes are mostly anathema to actual conservatives.

It’s pointless to try to explain Trump in terms of political platforms because Trump himself is too stupid and too incoherent to have any kind of consistent political views about anything beyond hating minorities and immigrants. Nuclear weapons? “With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.” Drugs? “That whole heroin thing, I tell you what, we gotta get that whole thing under control.” A random word generation program could do better.

To understand Trump’s seemingly effortless seizure of the public spotlight, forget about programs, and instead zero in on the one complaint that seems to unite all of the disparate angry factions gravitating to him: political correctness. This, more than anything, is how the left created Trump.

I am not referring here to the daily political correctness that became normal after the 1970s, the reflexive self-editing that we’ve all learned to do, almost unconsciously, in the name of being nice to other people. This early “correctness” was always awkward and artificial, but it wasn’t overly onerous. Richard Russo penned a satire of academic life in the 1990s called Straight Man in which one of the professors reminded his colleagues so often to include female pronouns that his nickname was “Orshe,” as in “he, or she,” and while that kind of person might be annoying, much of that stuff was actually rooted in well-meaning ideas about inclusive language.

Today, however, we have a new, more virulent political correctness that terrorizes both liberals and conservatives, old-line Democrats and Republicans, alike. This form of political correctness is distinctly illiberal; indeed, it is not liberalism at all but Maoism circa the Cultural Revolution.

The extremist adherents of this new political correctness have essentially taken a flamethrower to the public space and annihilated its center. Topics in American life that once were the legitimate subjects of debate between liberals and conservative are now off-limits and lead to immediate attack by the cultural establishment if raised at all. Any incorrect position, any expression of the constitutional right to a different opinion, or even just a slip of the tongue can lead to public ostracism and the loss of a job. (Just ask Brendan Eich.) There is a huge vacuum left by this leftist attack on speech, and Trump is filling it.

Many liberals, I know, will scoff at this because they believe that American public discourse has shifted irretrievably to the right. But that’s because to them, political discourse in the United States is already where they think it should be: firmly centered on liberal ideas. They see conservative objections as aberrations, not as the views of half the population. Liberals won America’s culture war—and they did, even if conservatives undeniably won the contemporaneous economic war—and so liberals don’t really notice what they consider to be nothing more than mopping up operations on abortion, gay rights, immigration, and other hot-button issues.

Gay marriage is a good example. Liberals wanted gay marriage to win in the Supreme Court, and it did. Leftists wanted more: to silence their opponents even after those opponents completely lost on the issue. Ugly language that good liberals would normally deplore emerged not in the wake of defeat, but of victory: actor and gay activist George Takei, for example, actually  called Justice Clarence Thomas a “clown in blackface” and said Thomas had “abdicated” his status as an African American. That’s heavy stuff, and it would likely scan better written in Chinese on a paper dunce cap.

I could reel off many other examples. When The New York Times tells the rubes that it’s time to hand in their guns, when The Washington Post suggests that Jesus is ashamed of them for not welcoming Syrian refugees the week after a terrorist attack, people react not because they love guns or hate Syrians, but because their natural urge to being told by coastal liberals that they’re awful people and that they should just obey and shut up is to issue a certain Anglo-Saxon verb and pronoun combination with all the vigor they can muster. And if they can’t say it themselves, they’ll find someone who will, even if it’s a crude jerk from Queens who can’t make a point without raising his pinky like a Mafia goon explaining the vig to you after you’ve had a bad day at the track.

These brutish leftist tactics radicalized otherwise more centrist people toward Trump not because they care so much about gay marriage or guns or refugees any other issue, but because they’re terrified that they’re losing the basic right to express themselves. Many of these people are not nearly as conservative or extreme as the white supremacists, nativists, and other assorted fringe nuts who are riding along on Trump’s ego trip. But they are cheering on Trump because they feel they have nowhere else to go. And for that, liberals—especially those who have politely looked away as such methods were employed in the public square—must directly shoulder the blame.

The great mistake made by both liberals and their most extreme wing on the American left is to assume that ordinary people, once corrected forcefully enough, will comply with their new orders. This is, of course, ridiculous: Americans do not magically become complacent and accepting multiculturalists just because they’ve been bullied out of the public debate. They will find a new vessel for their views, and will become more extreme with each attempt to shut them down as the issue moves from particular social positions to the far more encompassing problem of who has the right to tell whom to shut up, and to make it stick. Nixon’s “Silent Majority” increasingly feels itself to be a silenced majority, and Trump is their solution.

Note, for example, how Trump turned the incident in which Black Lives Matter activists humiliated Sen. Bernie Sanders to his own advantage. He didn’t bother drawing partisan lines or going after Sanders. Trump and his supporters couldn’t care less about any of that, and Trump until that point almost had almost never mentioned Sanders.

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Instead, he made it clear that he’d never allow himself to be shut down by a mob. That, for his loyalists, was the money shot, especially when Trump pretty much dared BLM to disrupt a Trump event, in effect inviting them for an ass-kicking. A lot of people loved that shtick, because they want to see someone—literally, anyone—stand up to groups like BLM, even if it’s in defense of poor Bernie, because they worry that they’re next for that kind of treatment.

For the record, I despise Donald Trump and I will vote for almost any Republican (well, OK, not Ben Carson) rather than Trump. I’m a conservative independent and a former Republican. I quit the party in 2012 because of exactly the kind of coarse ignorance that Trump represents. The night Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on the thoughtful platform of colonizing the moon, I was out. If in the end God turns his back on America and we’re left with only the choice of Trump or Hillary Clinton, I will vote for a third candidate out of protest—even if it means accepting what I consider the ghastly prospect of a Clinton 45 administration.

But I understand the fear of being silenced that’s prompting otherwise decent people to make common cause with racists and modern Know-Nothings, and I blame the American left for creating that fear.

With that said, we have to consider the GOP elephant in the room. If regaining their voice is all that Trump supporters really want, then why haven’t they turned away from him as his statements have become increasingly insane? Trump reveled in the endorsement of Putin, an avowed enemy of the United States; if Obama had accepted a similar endorsement, conservatives would have impeached him. (Recall that when the U.K.’s David Cameron said a nice word about Obama in the 2012 campaign, people who no doubt now approve of Trump’s bromance with Putin went berserk at this foreign interloping from one of our closest allies.) What’s it going to take?

Trump’s staying power, however, is rooted in the fact that his supporters are not fighting for any particular political outcome, they are fighting back against a culture they think is trying to smother them into cowed silence. What they want, more than any one policy, is someone to turn to the chanting mobs and say, without hesitation: “No, I will not shut up.” How long this will go on, then, depends on how long it will take for those people to feel reassured that someone besides Trump will represent their concerns without backing down in the face of catcalls about racism, sexism, LGBTQ-phobia, Islamophobia, or any other number of labels deployed mostly to extinguish their dissent.

In the end, the significant cadre of kooks attached to Trump will likely scare the normals away from their flirtation with all this little-league brown-shirting. But the point remains that this is happening not because of an overly rightist GOP, but because American liberals, complacently turning away from the excesses of the left and eviscerating their own moderate wing, have damaged the two-party system to the point that an unhinged billionaire demagogue is raking in support from people who are now more afraid of leftists controlling the Justice Department than they are of Putin or ISIS.