The crusade against "political correctness" has finally shown its true colors. No phrase has played a more prominent role in the current presidential campaign. Intended as an epithet, the label is typically used by Republican candidates to attack those who raise legal or ethical objections to the candidate's own positions.
The logic goes like this. Everyone knows that a certain policy -- e.g., torture of suspected terrorists, banning Muslim travel to the U.S., stepping up police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods, large-scale deportations of undocumented immigrants, building a wall on the Southern border, carpet bombing civilians in ISIS-controlled territory -- would further the national interest. Those who oppose such policies are motivated primarily by concern for the emotional wellbeing of ostensibly vulnerable minority communities. And by allowing concern for hurt feelings to trump sensible policy making, these proponents of "political correctness" are imperiling the nation.
The critics, in turn, reply that proponents of the above-mentioned policies are not really interested in advancing the national interest at all. If they were, they would know that these policies are more likely to threaten American security than to improve it. The true motives behind absurd proposals like banning Muslim travel to the U.S. are more sinister: namely, to curry favor with a segment of the American population that harbors deep suspicions about the nation's increasing racial, ethnic and religious diversity.
With the news that Donald Trump and like-minded commentators are attacking the decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, we can finally lay this controversy to rest.
At first glance, it is hard to imagine how anyone not directly related to Jackson could oppose the move. Our seventh president's list of sins is well known. He helped orchestrate the Cherokee Removal -- known as the Trail of Tears -- which resulted in the deaths of some 4,000 Cherokees, and managed to enrich himself and his friends in the process. He authorized postmasters to destroy anti-slavery literature. He owned some 300 slaves over the course of his life. One of his main policy accomplishments -- abolishing the Second Bank of the U.S. -- arguably proved disastrous for the nation's economy. Surely Harriet Tubman, the courageous abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor, better represents the nation's highest ideals and aspirations.
Not according to Trump. Within hours of the announcement, he had denounced the decision to drop Jackson as "pure political correctness." While Trump acknowledged that Tubman was "fantastic," she was apparently not fantastic enough to fill the shoes of a man who had graced the front of the $20 bill "for many, many years," and "who had a tremendous history of success for this country." If the government wanted to honor Tubman, perhaps it could put her on the $2 bill, he suggested.
A few hours earlier, Fox News host Great Van Susteren and former presidential candidate Ben Carson had expressed similar sentiments. Although Van Susteren insisted she was not opposed to honoring women on the currency, the decision to replace Jackson with Tubman was "stupid." Instead of "dividing the country between those who happen to like the tradition of our currency...and those who want to put a woman on a bill," the Treasury should instead pursue a compromise solution, such as creating a new $25 bill. Carson, in turn, declared Jackson a "great president," and suggested, like Trump, that Tubman be honored on the rarely seen $2 bill.
And here we see the essence of the anti-political correctness crusade. The genius of the epithet is that it allows the speaker to defend the status quo without engaging in rational argument. What was so "tremendous" about Jackson's record as President as to outweigh Tubman's contributions to the struggle against slavery? Trump wouldn't -- or more likely couldn't -- say.
Van Susteren didn't even bother to defend Old Hickory's record; the fact that some Americans "like the tradition of our currency" is reason enough to keep Tubman off the $20. Only Carson was able to identify a concrete achievement: Jackson was the last President to pay off the national debt in its entirety. Fair enough. But if fiscal achievements are the primary measure of presidential greatness, would Carson support honoring Bill Clinton -- the last President to balance the budget - on the currency?
The implicit message was this: It's fine to honor women or minorities, but not if this means dethroning a white male President from a widely used denomination, or even engaging in a serious debate about the moral legacy of the nation's early leaders.
One is tempted to say that the anti-political correctness crusade has morphed into that which it originally opposed -- that these conservative activists have become as censorious as the leftist activists who have recently made headlines by attempting to bar conservative speakers from college campuses. But that would be to assume, wrongly, that the crusade against political correctness was something else in the beginning.