Laughing at the Grieving


Internet Denounces Dinesh D’Souza Over Vile Tweets On Florida Shooting Survivors (International Business Times via

The most effective social experiment in the form of a browser add-on I’ve seen is the one that changes the phrase “political correctness” to “treating people with respect.” I find these kinds of things too annoying to use myself, but whenever one of these add-ons becomes popular, I always peruse the screenshots that accompany any news stories that get written up, just so I can see examples of the better results. Some of the add-ons are funny, some are thought-provoking, and some are just plain dumb, but they’re an interesting way to parse language in a very basic way that can sometimes lead to not-so-basic results.

Like most people who were alive back then, I first became aware of the concept of political correctness thanks to its use by Dinesh D’Souza in his book Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. The right-wing media echo chamber was relatively nascent at that point, but it was still very effective at regurgitating D’Souza’s messages until they reached a mainstream audience. For my part, it took me years from the time I first heard the phrase “politically correct” to understood what it really meant, but I was a young teenager at the time D’Souza’s book came out, I was still forming my own political beliefs, and most of the adults I was around at the time, instead of giving me guidance , decided to remain the same unapologetic assholes they’d already proven themselves to be.

I’ve blogged before about how Rush Limbaugh referring to Kurt Cobain as “garbage” mere hours after his body was discovered really galvanized my politics, but that’s only the biggest example I could give of conservatives glorifying in the deaths of people they don’t like. Shortly after Michael Jackson’s death, one conservative shop owner famously posted a message outside his store telling everyone to “get over it.” The “Bury Obamacare with [Ted] Kennedy” signs that were so popular among some conservatives after Kennedy’s death should have nauseated anyone with a conscience. No celebrity drug overdose goes by without a litany of holier-than-thou tweets and Facebook messages from the usual cadre of censorious sycophants.

Meanwhile, these exact same people are now scolding anyone who dares to point out any of the problematic things the Reverend Billy Graham said during his life, claiming that doing so is being “disrespectful of the dead.” As with so many aspects of conservative rhetoric and ideology, there is a clear and brazen hypocrisy at work; they want everyone else to “respect the dead,” but only the dead whom they like. If they don’t like you, then your death can easily turn into a reason for them to celebrate. This has been evidenced not only when it comes to deaths of specific people, but also in the abstract, as when a crowd at a Republican presidential candidate debate in 2011 cheered the death of a hypothetical American who didn’t have health insurance.

It’s hardly like this kind of disrespect began when D’Souza and right-wing media started talking about political correctness, but that moment needs to be understood for the broadside that it was. Although conservatives were effective, at least for a while, in framing the idea of politically correct language as “special treatment” for some people, that has waned over time. It’s still a very strong idea in the currently-dominant strain of American conservatism, but as with other socially-based areas of contention (such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization), there is a clear generational shift occurring among all Americans, even those who identify as right-of-centre.

Still, there are those conservatives, young and old alike, who continue to practice a kind of deliberate and puerile political incorrectness that is patently designed to harm others, often for no other reason than because hurting other people amuses them. When political correctness first became a mainstream term, this was commonly seen when conservatives would deliberately refer to some African-Americans as “black,” despite (indeed, because of) the fact that these same people had said that they didn’t want to be called “black” any longer. That kind of deliberate disrespect towards someone else is nothing more than behaving like an asshole, and that alone should be disqualifying when it comes to participation in polite society. Never mind the hypocrisy of the same people insisting on language that reinforces their self-perceived superiority, most obvious every December when they rail against people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

These days, it’s the rights of transgender and genderqueer people to be respected, in deed and in language, that are the most visible examples of this battle, and it’s hardly a surprise that, just like the initial skirmishes over politically correct language some thirty years ago, they’re being fought so prominently on campuses across America. The same conservatives who were mocking African-American students who didn’t want to be called “black” are the same ones who are now working overtime to ridicule non-cisgender students, deliberately misgendering them at every opportunity and going to extremes to try to drive them off of campuses, if not out of public life entirely. Then as now, they’re using language that portrays their opponents as idiotic children, people who lack the mental capacity to see that the far-right conservative view of race/gender/whatever is the only “correct” way, and any attempts to challenge that view are attempts at “language policing” that “threatens” the fabric of American society.

This is why I have a hard time believing that Dinesh D’Souza was sincere when he posted purported apologies on Twitter after mocking the students of Parkland High School who have been so devastated by the shooting deaths of their friends and loved ones. That kind of contemptuous ridicule has been part and parcel of that swath of American conservatism for far too long. From political correctness to safe spaces, to the most basic notions of human compassion, making fun of leftists and trying to portray them as feeble-minded children (especially young leftists) is such a part of the right-wing rhetorical modus operandi that the only reason D’Souza’s tweets garnered any headlines was because they were so ill-timed. The timing is the only possible thing that I can believe D’Souza is genuinely sorry about.

However, as we’ve seen far too often these past few years, even a school shooting that produces mass casualties has a tendency to fade all too quickly from the American conscience, especially when the news is essentially being jammed with big story after big story by the far-right. The tenacity of the Parkland survivors has been nothing short of heartening, and I sincerely hope that they can meet every objective they’ve set for themselves, but regardless of how their story ends, it won’t be long before D’Souza, or other conservatives, return to the same demeaning tactics to bully those they disagree with, whether their next target is transgender students or gun control advocates or whomever they see as the next “punchline” for their base.  They’ve made it clear, for almost three decades now, that they’re not about to treat their political opponents with respect, even as they demand (and usually win) the same respect for themselves, regardless of how cruelly they speak and act. I sincerely doubt any of them feel sorry about that.

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