Donald Trump’s adoption of the view that “political correctness” is the source of many of the ills of American political life is abundantly documented. For him and for commentators on the right, the term came to mean a tool by which “powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language.” Trump’s attack on PC resonates in American society, as Karen Tumulty and Jenna Johnson pointed out in January in The Washington Post. A year before, in January 2015, according to a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 68 percent of Americans agreed with the proposition that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
Although Trump has never defined what he means by “political correctness,” one can get a fairly good sense of it by recalling some of his most notorious remarks during the long presidential campaign. Take, for instance, the exchange between Trump and Megyn Kelly at the seventh Republican presidential debate. When Kelly reminded him that he had called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals, Trump’s answer was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people; I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time for it either.” In this case, Trump seems to assume that political correctness would constrain him from being openly gauche and boorish. At other times, he used political correctness as a sign of political bias or as the opposite of “common sense.”
In Hungary the term doesn’t have as long a history as in the United States, where debates over political correctness were taking place already in the 1980s and 1990s. Viktor Orbán was the one who popularized, and denounced, the concept.
A few days ago 444.hu put together a handy list of quotations from Orbán’s speeches over the years, to which I added a few of my own. Perhaps from the contexts in which the expression appears we will have a better understanding of what he himself means by political correctness.
The first references to political correctness can be found in Orbán’s speeches, interviews in 2012 when he announced that “in order to maintain the facade of political correctness we no longer talk about things that are essential to the very core of our civilization.” I assume he is referring here to such foundational beliefs as family values.
A year later he was more explicit. The context was the 2008 world economic crisis, which in his opinion resulted in “the long-term decline of Europe.” But because of political correctness “this question cannot be debated openly.” This is a very unusual definition of political correctness because what Orbán is saying in effect is: “I know that the long-term decline of the West is a fact. Although other people actually agree with me, political correctness prevents them from saying so.”
By 2014 Orbán equated “political correctness” with “the old political world,” which he hoped would soon be over. That old world is “a political system riddled with taboos, which deprives us of the opportunity for innovative and honest talk.” Here he goes so far as to equate political correctness with liberal democracy, which defines Europe and the Atlantic community.
In January 2015, early in the migrant crisis, he blamed “political correctness” for Europe’s inability to defend itself “against the cruel barbarism” coming from the outside. A few months later he freely admitted that he stands on the side of “political incorrectness.” In fact, he said he was speaking in the name of the whole nation. “The Hungarian people by nature are politically incorrect, i.e., they haven’t lost their sanity. They are not interested in bullshit [duma], they are interested in facts. They want results, not theories.” So, here we have an entirely new description of “political correctness.” It simply means the opposite of bullshitting, the opposite of idle chatter about ideologies and theories.
In May 2015, as the migrant crisis grew, “political correctness” became the scapegoat for the European Union’s, in his opinion, mistaken refugee policy. It is political correctness that “tries to convince people that there are no problems here, let’s open the gates wide and invite all who want to come.”
Two months later he accused western politicians of “coyly keeping under wraps police statistics, which prove that where a large number of illegal immigrants live the crime rate has risen dramatically.” In his view, “political correctness transformed the European Union into a kind of royal court where everybody must behave well. … Liberalism today no longer stands for freedom but for political correctness, which is antithetical to freedom.”
For someone who has been such ardent proponent of the fight against political correctness, it is no wonder that Donald Trump’s victory is an affirmation of the soundness of his own views. Originally Orbán’s support of Trump as a candidate rested on Trump’s vicious anti-immigration rhetoric, when within the European Union Orbán was being criticized for the fence he was building. Here is a man who thinks like him, a man of “common sense” who also wants to build a giant wall. He and many other Fidesz politicians, trying to explain away Orbán’s meddling in the presidential race, emphasized repeatedly that it was only Trump’s anti-immigrant policies that appealed to the prime minister. But after November 8 Orbán no longer had to hide his ideological affinity, over and above the migrant issue, with Donald Trump.
In his speech to the Hungarian Diaspora Council, about which I wrote yesterday, Orbán dwelt at length on political correctness, which is supposed to be “a voluntary restriction,” but which he didn’t experience as such. If he dared talk about the nation, he was labeled a nationalist; if he talked about “the dimensions of human existence and creation,” he was branded clerical, feudalistic, a man of the Middle Ages; if he talked about the family, he was typecast as a sexist and a homophobe.” He indicated that with Trump’s triumph “we can hope that we can escape from this spiritual oppression.” He expressed his belief that changes will take place in Europe similar to the transformation of American politics under President-elect Trump. What he has in mind, of course, is the coming ascendancy of parties whose worldviews are similar to his own. They would join him in his crusade against Brussels and would champion the idea of nation states. His opponents dearly hope that he is wrong and that his aspirations will remain unfulfilled.