Last week, Hollywood legend and sharp-jowled libertarian, Clint Eastwood sparked outrage for his professed support of Trump over Clinton, amongst other seemingly outdated notions. To keep it brief, he opined that just because Trump’s speeches caused offence, did not mean he was racist; rather that reaction reflected the values of a “pussy” generation, one built on overtly sensitised political correctness. This kind of “talk” (from Trump’s ever flabbergasted face) was not considered “racist” when Eastwood was young. So what has changed? The very discourse and face of civil rights, replied a host of people on Twitter and Facebook. Not a bad point at all, I must admit, but this particular confrontation interested me for the subject matter involved. Let’s face it, Trump could be (could) right on one thing; maybe we do have a big problem with political correctness. Let’s examine this, in light of this controversy.
When the Donald delivered his rousing question mark of a speech announcing his candidacy over a year ago, the internet went abuzz with rage over his remarks regarding Mexicans. Were they stupid? Undoubtedly, Trump displayed (and has since) a poor and dangerous attitude towards immigration; an attitude which, if given credence, could not only sever international relations but also disenfranchise the millions of people who still see America as that beacon upon a hill. Were they racist? There’s a lot of evidence to suggest Trump may be a class-A bigot and indeed his banning policy is a prime Hitlaresque example of discrimination but for the sake of discussion here; not inherently so. It is racist to condemn a race of people because of what they look like and for merely being different. It isn’t necessarily when you criticise their country’s policy or culture, among other facets, given ample reason. Caution, of course, must be advised because no nation of people should ever be identified with a single brush stroke, but when issues such as immigration can’t even be tackled for fear of backlash, a problem arises. For one, you limit the intellectual scope of debate. And for another, you hamper free speech.
Years ago, many hoped the internet and social media thereafter would break down social barriers and allow people of all creeds, colours, and religion to speak their mind, unburdened by censorship. These barriers have undoubtedly weakened but in their place, liberal constructs have sprung from those so sensitised to controversial opinions. We see this on a moronic level now. Last week, Eastwood wasn’t the only one grabbing headlines. An online petition too, was making the rounds, for the proposed closure of Rotten Tomatoes; a film review aggregate which collected an array of unfavourable opinions on David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. If people can’t even withstand a negative review of a film (and believe me it isn’t great), then what hope have we when it comes to topics which matter and should be discussed in an open forum; rape, religion, and emigration? As Mick Hume stated in his polemic Trigger Warnings, “[words] can hurt but they are not a physical weapon… Free speech is more important than hurt feelings.”
Now back to Trump. Do I agree with anything he’s said? Only perhaps with political correctness being a problem and that America’s infrastructure is crumbling. (The latter I can’t comment on in great detail however.) Overall, I think most people can succinctly point out though, without further reading, that Trump speaks with emotion and not logic, which undermines any gravity his claims may otherwise hold. The controversial subjects he brings to the table should be allowed to remain there however for the sake of free speech. If we disagree and find his comments repulsive, then why not point this out in an intellectually engaging manner? Like a debate, for example. Knee-jerk outrage only serves to energise his uruk-hai like supporters, which brings us neatly back to the generational divide old man Eastwood felt last week.
Culturally, America is being pulled in two directions. The liberals, I believe, are beginning to win this tug of war, even if it’s not politically evident. In recent years, social media and television shows such as Glee have been a great platform for the likes of the LGBT community. Where the race issue was once believed to be a shadow of its former pre-eminent self too, it is now at the top of our newsfeed, because of increased pressure from a generation with a growing voice. Most of us would likely agree that this is a good change of direction. On the other hand, many people in America feel betrayed by the direction their country is heading in. They’re tired of not being able to say what they want to and how they want to with regards to the hot issues, mentioned overhead. Is it not reasonable to say in this PC climate, that many feel suffocated? It’s not only with self-identified conservatives either.
Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have criticised this aspect of modern culture. The former, amongst others such as Jeff Ross, no longer frequents colleges because students often come across as too uptight. Bill Maher felt the backlash more forthrightly in late 2014, when students of Berkeley protested his address, due to his outspoken criticism of the Islamic religion. In another era, you would have thought Saddam Hussein was coming to flog his best moments’ memoir. Even opposing Katie Hopkins’ visit in this vein is pathetic (though that may simply have been for the quality of guest). Again it is worth repeating, if you have a genuine difference of thought it is worth taking that person head on with questions. If people had done that more calmly with Trump, then maybe he wouldn’t have been able to use increased media frenzy to push his way up the polls. Sensationalism sells, but it’s not always a dignified trade.
It is now 67 years since George Orwell’s classic 1984 was released and the Thought Police are becoming an all too eerie reality. In colleges, the very places which should stand as bastions of free speech and open mind, offensive opinions are being rejected without reflection. Whereas we have become a more inclusive society, we have also become one in some respects, that is tolerant of absolutely everything but intolerance. As Mick Hume asks, “[once} you make free speech a privilege and not a right, who are you going to trust to make the decision about where draw that line through free speech?” Eastwood may have the wrong idea about Trump but he’s got a reasonable measure of where American society’s headed, if only having lived so long. Political correctness, for all its good intentions therein, is not always the correct way to tackle the seemingly racist, bigoted, or plain mean.