by Benjamin Collinger
Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) was the most important moment for the GOP all week. Cruz chose not to endorse Donald Trump for president, instead encouraging Republicans to “vote your conscience”, a line that sounds as if it was lifted from President Frank Underwood in the series House of Cards.
The speech violated a key orthodoxy in American party politics: endorsing your party’s nominee for president even after losing the primary contest. In other words, Cruz’s failure to endorse Trump was politically incorrect. But rather than being greeted warmly by a party that has essentially run on a platform of anti-Political Correctness (PC) this year, he was booed off of the stage and criticized by notable party leaders and pundits.
If the GOP’s objective in being anti-PC was really to enable politicians to say things that others are unwilling to say and be truthful, Ted Cruz would have been embraced. Cruz refused to acquiesce to Trump like a “servile puppy dog” after Trump had insulted his wife and accused his father of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in addition to having a litany of policy differences with Trump. He acted on his principles and made a bold move to position himself for 2020. To simplify: Cruz was anti-PC and the party didn’t like it.
Why is this important?
The backlash to Ted Cruz’s speech at the RNC demonstrates that the GOP’s stance on PC is hypocritical, fundamentally built upon self-interest and conditional on political advantage. This instance is a microcosm of the GOP’s decision to abandon a coherent set of principles, especially in the wake of the Trumpian takeover. Before we delve into this argument, I would like to very briefly situate myself within the PC debate.
It is true that advocates on the left often use the “argument” of “not being PC” to preemptively crowd voices out from political dialogue. This tests liberalism‘s key assumptions in a very substantial way, and should not be ignored by either side of the aisle. But the right often fails to understand the impact of deploying certain words, phrases and styles of advocacy. Therefore, they may decry PC as censorship without understanding the reasons why those words, phrases or styles are truly unproductive in public discourse, or in the effort to convince others of their ideas. Fortunately, the alternative is starting at a point of mutual respect and listening that allows for debate on the issues themselves. The standards we should use to evaluate the deployment of PC (on case-by-case, and not one size fits all basis) revolve around whether a more diverse (internally, externally and/or organizationally) group of people are included in a dialogue that promotes respectful debate.
Ironically, Cruz was shunned for being anti-PC in the same way that liberals allegedly exclude conservatives from political discourse. This proves that the common standard of PC at the RNC is really based upon self-interested political advantage and party loyalty.
In most cases, being anti-PC mobilizes a key segment of the GOP’s base to vote. As Jamelle Bouie argues, Trump’s rise is attributable at some level to the racialized backlash against Barack Obama which the real estate mogul capitalized upon in order to gain popularity among whites worried about losing their preeminent status. Trump has succeeded in channeling the emerging belief among whites that Racism is a zero-sum game that they (whites) are now losing into a contending election strategy. The most obvious manifestation of this is the rhetoric utilized by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Not coincidentally, these opponents are often Trump supporters. This may enable the litany of Trump’s racially coded statements and/or outright racism. He has also been able to tap into authoritarian tendencies of a segment of American voters, all in the name of speaking for (some segment) of the American people. For these reasons, Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters’ opposition to “PC culture run amok” only exists for to take advantage of status quo resentments and deeply held biases. Yet when someone deviates from Trumpian orthodoxy, a clash ensues. Ted Cruz’s speech proves that being anti-PC isn’t really a coherent set of principles.
The Cruz PC Irony
The RNC’s most notable rallying cry (other than “lock her up!”) was its speakers’ insistence on using the words “Radical Islamic Terrorism” or something of the sort. Who is arguably the most notable advocate of these words to “identify the enemy”? It is Ted Cruz. He has utilized the rhetoric on a grim campaign page, in the primaries and in his daily work of governing. It is extremely ironic that Cruz, the leader of this most visible strain of anti-PC advocates, would be criticized after being consistently anti-PC (not endorsing Trump).
Moreover, the RNC’s adoption of Cruz’s credo is another example of selectively deploying anti-PC rhetoric only when it provides political advantage. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” mobilizes anti-Muslim sentiment among a base that is susceptible to clash of civilizations narratives that call an imagined enemy into being by spreading false notions of culture and international relations. Simply put: fear sells. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and terms like it come from orientalist reductions that have a tendency to criminalize the entirety of Islam. Not only is the discourse around “Islamic Extremism” problematic, but it has real-life consequences for how Muslims around the world are viewed and treated. Inflammatory discourse from politicians such as Cruz and Trump legitimizes hate speech, which allows for previously unacceptable policy prescriptions to seem part of a normal progression. Case in point: Ted Cruz’s argument to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” These trends in political discourse also result in discriminatory legislation, acts of hate-based violence and bias in public schools. This is just another indication of that being “anti-PC” is only designed to further a set of self-interested, and often xenophobic rhetorical strategies.
Party winding down?
If there is one thing that we can give Ted Cruz credit for, it is his consistency. In contrast, it has been quite clear that the post-Trump GOP may have no desire to adhere to a coherent set of principles. Portions of the anti-PC movement are really campaigns for political expediency–seemingly the only principle remaining in the party. This has the potential to be catastrophic, with criticism of Cruz’s failure to endorse Trump representing only the beginning of the GOP’s identity crisis.
Benjamin Collinger is a sophomore majoring in International Studies and Anthropology, and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Contemporary. Benjamin is a research fellow with the San Antonio Diversity and Inclusion Office, member of the Trinity University Debate team and Vice President of Trinity Diversity Connection. He is interested in international affairs, anti-discrimination law and long-form journalism. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and listening to podcasts. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @bcstlsa or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.