“Confront the soft bigotry of low expectations”
–George W Bush
is the editorial/admin staff of Creative Politics, and the pen name used for the original Federalist Papers making the case for the US Constitution in the 1780s. The founders of Creative Politics are a father and son team, both left-handed.
One of the most divisive topics in American politics has been “political correctness.” In fact, “telling it like it is” or “saying what everyone’s thinking” (as opposed to merely spouting whatever comes to mind, as cranial sphincters weaken with age) is one of the key qualities giving the current occupant of the Oval Office potentially as much as 46% of the vote (we’ll never know) in the last election.
But division is definitely not politically correct, especially not with all the challenges we face–politics is about compromise, or better yet, synthesis between opposing ideas and ideals. We do need a kind of political correctness, but to check our current slide, it needs to correct politics, not just people: it needs to be what’s correct for politics today.
Part of our Talk, Talk, Talk series, with the premise that creativity in politics begins with words. About political phrases that belong in time-out, mantras and mottos for our time, emojis we could use, neologisms needed, and much more, all with dialog–with you–built in.
As a rule, political correctness has been primarily about language, and this is far more appropriate than its detractors’ ridicule; it’s an acknowledgement that words have power, and this is exceptionally true in politics, which is why it’s always been such fertile ground for neologisms, novel metaphors, and similies, as if the field were attempting to suck up not just all the oxygen in the room but all the marrow from the bones on which human communication rests. In fact, we’re trying to do that ourselves.
But as the term implies, the philosophical underpinnings of political correctness have less to do with creating new language than jettisoning terms and phrases that are standing in the way of political progress together by dividing, distracting, and/or deceiving us, compelling us to act against our best interests and the interests of our country. We’ve come up with a few particularly insidious IDEDs we believe really need to be defused (as true political correctness is wont to do) on the road back to unity, including, ironically, the term “politically correct” itself.
At the risk of more ado–linguistic surgery can get messy–here are our initial nominees (replete with validating rage), along with their proposed replacements, with hopes that you’all will add to the list:
“Politically correct.” As good a place to start as any. Ever hear anyone other than a white male utter this phrase, especially with sneering derision? We didn’t think so. The reality is that what white males call “political correctness,” the discomfort they feel at being on life’s tightrope for a change, is how every other gender and ethnic group has felt when dealing with them for hundreds of years, framing every word, making every move with trepidation, creating an ever-growing tragedy of loss from what was unsaid and undone for fear of how the young master might respond. What’s wrong with white men having to “check themselves” like every other human has had to? The sooner our blanched-skin brothers stop using this phrase, the sooner we will be able to come together as a people and enjoy the proven fruits of diversity that have been sitting on our table, untouched, since our country began. Replacements: “Enlightened” “self-aware.”
“It is what it is.” No it isn’t. No. It isn’t. Yet how many times have you been in a conversation with someone about a challenge you’ve been struggling with when you reach impassion and then, suddenly, breaking into the silence, someone intones, in a profound baritone or deeper, with sage look and Gallic shrug visible even if you’re on a phone: “it is what it is.” It’s tantamount to blasphemy is what it is. We humans know far too little about virtually anything to ever be invoking this phrase. If the problem is one you just don’t want to take on, say so–that’s honest and truthful. If it can’t be solved without you, a deeper and even more honest answer might be “I yam what I yam.” But even such acceptance comes with obligations–just because your leg is broken doesn’t relieve you of the need to walk, and the same goes for your brain. Replacement: “I don’t know, let’s find out.”
“Agree to disagree.” Sorry, but at this point, in our country, in our world, that’s a luxury we can’t afford–the problems we face are too big and coming at us too quickly for us to be doing anything but finding ways to work together, finding solutions. In this era, politicos who’re focused on turnout, “running up the score,” and outvoting “them,” murmuring “there are more of us” to spur themselves on, are like marathoners with torn ACLs who think they can run regardless because, after all, the majority of their body is healthy. We need every Who in Whoville to get on the same page. Replacement: “To be continued.”
“Double-down.” What it sounds like: a gutsy move in a high stakes poker game. What it is: a cowardly refusal to admit you were wrong. Actually it’s worse than that. Increasingly, “doubling down” has become doubling down on doubling down on doubling down until the speaker gets to political China where mistakes turn upside down into truth. Which makes clear what words for the phrase should be used instead. Replacement: “Lie bigly” (in honor of the master double-downer)
“New normal.” You’d think we’d have learned from where “move fast and break things” has led us that just because someone does something new doesn’t make it normal. It’s diabolically true that once someone does or says something unspeakable, even if they’re utterly condemned, it will be done again (we’ve been learning this since the Nazis), just as good deeds become the least you can do in the eyes of their recipients forthwith. But that doesn’t mean we have to give it the human seal of approval (“it’s normal”), let alone egg it on. And the phrase in question does seem to nearly always be used in the context of a clearly negative development, not about something we’re proud to have achieved, which makes it acquiescent and defeatist, which is not new, old, or ever normal in America. Replacement: “interesting.”
“Tribalism.” Is no excuse, and that’s what it’s being used for. Allegedly, we can’t see eye to eye or even see the same set of facts because we’re tribes now. At the level of superficiality we Americans enjoy with respect to almost anything (which is usually a strength for us–you’ll never catch us still po’ed about something that happened on a bridge in the 12th century), it’s laughable for us to think that any group of us has the same bonds of culture, tradition, and faith that a real tribe does, or the limitations this imposes. It may be the direction we’re headed, but we’re not there yet, and we’d better not arrive, because up until recently, how was this word invariably used? That’s right: someone would be talking about a country in the developing world, usually Africa, and how poorly it was doing, and how it can never seem to get its act together. And how would the conversation usually end? With one word, and a sad shake of the head, and that word was not colonialism. Tribalism means something fixed, immutable, hopeless. We can’t have it. Replacement: “Otherism,” because at least fear and distrust of The Other is not only something we all know is wrong, but something psychologists and countless works of fiction have told us for decades is something we can do something about.
“Partisan.” It’s really touching how politicians go out of their way to help us common folk with our media literacy problems, always letting us know that what might seem to us like a reasonable argument, or a view passionately held out of life experience and knowledge, is really just “partisan,” “feigned outrage,” and/or “political posturing.” We hate to break it to you, fellas, but calling people “paid protesters” doesn’t really increase the GDP. Could the country benefit if politicians actually grappled with perspectives other than their own, and told their supporters to do the same, rather than using dismissive descriptors like these? Why don’t we give it a try for a while, and see what happens? Replacement(s): “Worth considering” or, at least, “a different point of view.”
“Post-truth.” As in: the “era” we now live in, as in all facts are fungible. If it weren’t so dangerous, it would be ironic, even a little amusing, that the more often journalists use this phrase, usually in dismay, the more they contribute to one of the central processes behind it: The Big Lie, which succeeds only through endless repetition. So stop it, people. It’s actually a positive that we all now understand how difficult it is to know the truth, just like it is that even those who most fiercely proclaimed climate change a hoax now acknowledge the problem is far worse than anyone has officially been talking about. But just as the right response to that reality check is not to conclude that there’s nothing to be done but party like it’s 2099 and make the problem worse, the difficulty in finding the truth is not a reason to believe it doesn’t exist or stop looking. Replacement (in honor of the conspiratorial outlook of the most fervent post-truthies): “the truth is out there.”
Do you want to “correct” us on anything above? Are there additional words and/or phrases you think should be added? Tell us here or in comments below for a chance to win a free Creative Politics t-shirt. Or click here to see what fellow community members have already tossed over the transom.
Creative Politics synthesizes the best of liberal and conservative ideals with technology and history to generate policies, strategies, applications, and actions for the post-modern era that are well outside the beltway, and well beyond just talk. All Creative Politics blog posts are collaborative, living documents, the way Madison and Hamilton would create them if they were writing the Federalist Papers today. We welcome, nay urge, your feedback in the comment/discussion section below, and will be using it (with credit) to make what you just read more and more real–thanks much for your time and insights; they will go unpunished!