In a polarized America, group works to bring back civil conversation

Several hours before last week’s Democratic presidential debate, a small group gathered in lower Manhattan for a heated discussion of its own. Crossing Party Lines: New York hosted a “table talk” on political correctness – a subject that polarizes Americans who support free speech without restriction and those who believe language offensive to certain groups has no place in society. 

Marcus Johnson, a co-organizer for Crossing Party Lines, went around the table asking the group whether the concept is liberation for oft-criticized groups or tyranny against those who speak without a “societal filter.”

“What does being politically correct mean to you?” asked Johnson.

Multiple answers quickly followed: “It’s derogatory!” “Censorship!” “Needed to keep the peace.”

Ron Litchman, former chair of the Manhattan Libertarian Party, voiced strong support for more free speech and less political correctness, regardless of how offensive it can be. “The mere expression of an unpopular idea is seen as inappropriate and doesn’t allow for better ideas to occur,” he said. 

Eric Albino, a history teacher at a Manhattan high school, described how political correctness is not typical censorship, but more about limiting hateful speech on a social level.

“Someone getting fired from their job for being racist is not censorship by the government or the company. It is the company shaming them for going against social norms,” said Albino. “There’s no law against being a jerk, but that doesn’t mean you should be a jerk.”

Political correctness is often used to avoid offense of or disadvantage to certain members of society, particularly minority groups or other groups commonly mistreated. Some believe President Trump’s lack of political correctness helped get him elected in 2016. 

In his presidential announcement speech in June 2015, Trump offered this description of Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crimes. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

At the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa in July 2015, then-candidate Trump said of the late Senator John McCain, who was captured and tortured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” 

And it seems that the president is not the only one willing to embrace political incorrectness. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted in late 2018 shows 52 percent of Americans are upset that they are not allowed to say certain things anymore in fear of retaliation – not from the government, but from other powerful players such as media and corporations. Only a third of respondents said it is better for the country to move in a politically correct direction and appreciate when people are considerate about what they say to others. 

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,”Trump said during a Republican primary debate in 2015. “I don’t … have time for political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”

Democrats have long been supporters of political correctness, fielding the most diverse group of candidates in history at the start of the 2019 campaign season. However, Democrats may face challenges running against Trump.  

Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business found that leaders who use politically incorrect speech are viewed as more authentic and less likely to be influenced by others. Assistant professor Juliana Schroeder, a co-author of the report, noted this finding in her research. “The cost of political incorrectness is that the speaker seems less warm, but they also appear less strategic and more ‘real,’” Schroeder concluded.  

Michael Rosenblum, the report’s lead author, noted there has long been a desire for less political correctness; President Trump merely amplified it. “It seems likely that the Trump campaign was able to tap into existing feelings about political correctness, while the Trump presidency has contributed to the existing partisan divide on feelings about political correctness,” he said. 

Researchers also found that since politically incorrect people appear more convinced of their beliefs, they may also be perceived as less capable of engaging in crucial political dialogue. Crossing Party Lines aims to leverage that perception to “foster civility and community among politically dissimilar Americans” by engaging them in face-to-face discussions. 

Pablo Alvarez, a Cuban and Puerto Rican American, has interest in writing anything and everything regarding politics, the environment, community stories and much more. He wants to write groundbreaking stories that matter to readers and have an impact on them.