During the 2016 election, dozens of voters told me they would vote for Donald Trump partly because they were sick of “social justice warriors” and political correctness. “There is no saying ‘Hey, I disagree with you,’ it's just instant shunning,” a 22-year-old told me in a long exchange on the subject. “Say things online, and they'll try to find out who you are and potentially even get you fired for it.”
Nothing was less popular among this cohort than those who targeted someone’s job, or took glee in their denying them the ability to earn a living, over their speech or political views.
And yet, as best I can tell, they are silent this week. There is no appreciable backlash among President Trump’s supporters to a Kentucky rally where he gleefully bragged about his role in publicly shaming a man for his political views, and the ongoing inability of that man to find a job because of his call-out.
The man is Colin Kaepernick, who became a subject of controversy during his time with the San Francisco 49ers. The quarterback would protest during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem, declaring that "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Many Americans took offense at the politically incorrect protest.
Today, Kaepernick is a free agent. It isn’t clear whether his bygone protests have prevented him from being signed or if he’d be having trouble finding a new job regardless.
Nevertheless, Trump is taking credit. In the past he has criticized Kaepernick. “And you know, your San Francisco quarterback,” Trump told that rally. “...it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that. I said if I remember that one I’m gonna report it to the people of the Kentucky. Because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag.”
The crowd cheered.
“Social Justice Warrior” is a pejorative some use for people whose progressive advocacy on race, gender, or other identity issues strays into excessive attacks on perceived enemies. At that Kentucky rally, Trump behaved like a Social Injustice Warrior. And those who cheered him demonstrated that they have no principled opposition to political correctness––just a desire that their sensitivities dictate who gets punished. They just happen to be more sensitive to perceived insults to the U.S. flag than perceived insults to African Americans or Hispanics or gay people or women.
President Obama offers an instructive contrast. Though frequently criticized for political correctness, he didn’t use the bully pulpit to shame any individual on the right or left for peaceful political protest (unless you count calling Kanye West a jackass in a remark not intended for the public after the rapper hijacked a Taylor Swift awards speech, among other shenanigans). Obama did once intervene in a political controversy when criticizing a police officer who handcuffed Henry Louis Gates in front of his house. But far from trying to get that public employee fired (then gloating about his dire job prospects), Obama invited everyone involved to a “beer summit” to smooth things over. Many on the right criticized even that gesture as an abuse of the bully pulpit—and no one can deny the singular power of the president and the unusual responsibility those who hold that office ought bear.
Perhaps I’ve even forgotten or failed to unearth another example of two from Obama. Yet many who upbraided Obama for criticism of individual citizens that was extremely rare and uniformly non-punitive remain untroubled, or at least silent, even as Trump regularly uses the presidential pulpit to bully private citizens, going so far as to openly brag about his personal role in keeping them unemployed!
Weeks ago I noted all the ways that Trump’s tenure is distorted by his embrace of political correctness. Add the attack on Kaepernick to his hypocrisy-filled rap sheet.