Feature 04.26.2021 3 minutes

Political Correctness is (Even) Worse than Cancel Culture


Republicans should defend ordinary Americans, not affluent literati.

Sometime in the past year, Republicans stopped decrying Political Correctness and chose to make “Cancel Culture” the target of their invective. This is a misstep. Though ostensibly the same, the two are very different.

While we’d like to assume that this mistake is the product of misunderstanding, it appears to be another example of conservative cowardice. Cancel Culture is easy prey compared to Political Correctness. It sounds like a bad thing to most elites, so attacking it demands little risk. Political Correctness, meanwhile, has been so successfully installed into our social mores that defying it openly invites widespread moral condemnation.

What does it mean to “get cancelled”? When leftist activists first pushed to cancel people, they used a different term: deplatforming. The thought was that people who have ideas activists find objectionable should not be given a platform at major cultural institutions. Getting those people fired would stop the spread of noxious ideas and would serve as a kind of retributive justice.

Most people don’t have a platform from which to spread their opinions, nor do they particularly care to have one. The average American doesn’t trade in his political opinions, so the possibility of suffering material consequences for wrongthink is too remote to be a salient concern.

Fears of getting “cancelled,” as typically understood, are the preserve of public figures, not ordinary citizens. And the sooner Republicans realize this the better.

But though the average American may not have thinkpieces, he does have thoughts—thoughts that were commonplace in the recent past but that Political Correctness has deemed impermissible. These thoughts are typically impious toward the left’s Holy Trinity of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. We still call these former commonplaces “common sense.”

The Left is not “cancelling” people who express common sense from positions of celebrity, but hounding them out of public life altogether, and sometimes also harassing them in their private lives. Slander, defamation, financial ruin—all of these and more await those who violate Political Correctness with their pesky common sense. As a popular genre of TikTok and Instagram videos attests, haranguing dissidents at family gatherings is now not only acceptable but required practice.

To attack Political Correctness is to defend common sense—and the average Americans buckling beneath constant efforts to wrack them with self-doubt and trigger a crisis of moral confidence.

To attack Cancel Culture, meanwhile, is to defend media elites whose ideas have fallen out of vogue. It is to defend those who in many cases were once enforcers of Political Correctness, but who are no longer useful to the Left’s culture war.

Attacking Political Correctness speaks to the man who walks on eggshells when he is at the water cooler, or who fears moral reprisal from his children at the dinner table. It speaks to the daily experience of millions of people who find themselves policing more and more of their own thoughts.

These people need a tribune—not more Andrew Sullivans and Bari Weisses. They need politicians and local heroes who will stand up for them in a way that reflects their real and existential concerns. And though it may be less comfortable to defend them, the Republican party must do so to survive.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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