More than any other buzzword, the term heard most throughout the 2016 election cycle was “political correctness.” The American public was obsessed with the idea of words and their connotations — what was, and wasn’t okay to say. Republicans and the burgeoning far-right vehemently opposed the notion that any words were off-limits, and gleefully insulted their opposition with reckless abandon.
Curiously, liberals did not fight back. Instead, a smug sense of detachment came over the movement’s key voices, and a new set of rules for how to delegitimize conservative arguments arose. We could certainly call them racist, homophobic and xenophobic, but attacks on their appearance, for instance, were uncouth. Liberals were above the right’s vulgarity, and they would beat them based on the tenets of decency and our superior morality.
This failed spectacularly. Though the ascension of some of the most vile characters in American politics to the executive branch was certainly not exclusively caused by our unwillingness to engage with their brashness, the fact remains that neo-Nazis and fascists will soon be in the White House — what’s more, they got there on a platform that is the literal personification of a middle finger.
Liberalism’s embrace of so-called political correctness was a step toward inclusivity, an attempt to create a unified body where the poorest and most marginalized members of society could feel they were represented. Leading party voices said time and time again that the outright phobias of the conservative establishment were not present in the Democratic party, and that the blue-minded would offer safe harbor to those affected by the right’s oppressive policies.
This has always been a ruse. The minimal progressive triumphs of the Democratic elite have always been outweighed by their neoliberal horror campaigns enacted both on and off American soil. The Republicans, in their outright oppressiveness, have allowed the Democrats to present themselves as the conscientious objector’s choice. It provided a perfect smokescreen for their own brand of oppression — Bill Clinton’s all-out war on black America, Obama’s indiscriminate targeted assassination campaign against foreign innocents, and much more.
But Democrats simultaneously want to be the party of politeness, the side of the coin that talks big about bridging income gaps and ending systemic oppression while maintaining an air of haughty superiority. The moderate left’s need to be the good guys, to always be on the right side of a manufactured morality regardless of whether or not it is strategically beneficial, pervades even as we watch a megalomaniacal rapist take control of the country with the most military might in the world.
They want to be nice, and for many that is a noble desire. There is no denying that the oppressed have been harmed by words. Trump’s rhetoric can be directly traced to the scores of hate crimes we have seen in the immediate aftermath of this election. And if the country were not currently headed for the brink of collapse, there may be an argument in favor of kindness.
But we are rapidly approaching destruction, sprinting toward Gomorrah as if the goal is to get there in time for annihilation. The time for niceness, the time to police how we fight back against those who seek to destroy us, has long passed. Liberals sat back and let the right take the piss out of them constantly, planning comebacks so that they fell in line with the tenets of respectability politics. Their gotchas, zingers and slays fell on deaf ears because they were not cutting. Conservatives mocked our attempts at verbal pushback because they weren’t anywhere close to mean enough to have any impact. They served only to benefit ourselves, to make us feel as if we were not only fighting their hatred, but doing it in a way that conformed to our own ideas about what is and is not okay to say.
The left’s inability to meaningfully antagonize will allow those rising to power to continue to call them weak. The first steps toward truly combat the coming fascism must involve not just outspokenness and protest, but vulgarity and cruelty. It is not in our interest to humanize our enemies, because they are not human. Their near-cartoonish evil affects the entire world, and their concern for our feelings on the matter has proven to be nonexistent.
The left must unify under the banner of mean-spiritedness — not against the middle American Trump supporters we underestimated, but against the conservative elite. They have insulted our appearances, ways of living, and values. We must use those same weapons against them.
Now is not the time to wonder if fat shaming Chris Christie is counterrevolutionary. When we discuss Steve Bannon, simply calling him a neo-Nazi will not do. He knows what he is — we must also call him a spineless, bloated, gas-filled corpse. Donald Trump is not merely orange, and calling him “Drumpf” will not phase him. He must instead be a repulsive, childish, damp, limp-dicked slimeball. We must ruthlessly mock their appearances, and disrespect them the way they disrespect us.
The truth is that insults alone will not destroy those in power, but they will certainly start to reveal their cracks. Signalling to our oppressors that we are no longer concerned with concepts they despise — feelings, respect, niceness — proves to them that there is something to fear in us. It is when they tremble that they will take the first step toward falling.
Michael Siebert is a 21 year-old journalism student at the University of Montana who writes about everything from queer issues to Montana state politics. https://twitter.com/michaelcsiebert