“The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things.” – Mike Huckabee
“That must be a pretty picture, you on your knees.” – Donald Trump
“Every time someone takes a sip of Guinness, a part of straight marriage dies.” – Bobby Jindal
As Americans we often make the joke that all politicians are outrageous and lie; it’s what we expect them to do. We plan for despicable statements, snarky comments, offensive lines and backstabbing remarks. In fact, one could argue that the American population is slightly disappointed if such drama doesn’t flood our news feeds. As Conor Friedersdorf soberly states:
“Over time, some level of mendacity became an expected part of the process; for American voters, it only seemed pragmatic to accept some lies from candidates, else who would there be to support?”
So when and where do we draw the line?
It seems that we are under a false impression that certain people are simply outside of the box, while the rest of us are silently kept in. We go about our workday in slightly hushed tones afraid that the Human Resources director is spying on us from beyond the water cooler. We have to make sure that we are being “politically correct.”
So what about political correctness in politics?
In the recent GOP Debate, Donald Trump attacked the subject of political correctness head-on by stating:
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
He certainly didn’t shy away from that declaration when he was asked about statements that have been construed by others as derogatory towards women (see quote above).
What would happen if a statement like that was echoed in the office of an ordinary American? Immediate action would be expected of course. After all, harassment laws prescribe that if an employment environment becomes hostile or makes an employee uncomfortable, employers most remedy the situation or risk lawful action. Most HR departments will use federal language regarding the Equal Opportunity Employer law and state that discrimination could result in disciplinary action, including the possible termination of employment. This language leaves punishment open-ended, an incentive for companies to tailor consequences on a case-by-case basis, effectively dissuading potential politically incorrect offenders from speaking up at work.
Furthermore, HR departments now not only have to keep an eye on inter-office politics, but also the political issues circling around the 2016 Presidential Election. The line has been difficult according to managing partner of law firm Fisher & Phillips in Denver, Todd Fredrickson:
“An employee who remarks about the outfit she bought for her son’s same-sex wedding could provoke a co-worker’s objections to gay marriage, or even an accusation that the subject offended someone’s religious beliefs. And that’s when things can start bleeding into a legal territory that can put employers at risk. A [political] conversation can morph into something that is actual harassment” of someone who’s a member of a protected legal class.”
So why are politicians allowed to say practically anything that pops into their heads?
One could argue that they are making a firm stand on their beliefs and agendas. Another could state that they are exercising their right to free speech. But according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – UDHR, Article 1
However, the First Amendment was put in place, among other things, “to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs.” According to Roger Pilon:
“Proposals to limit speech that does not ‘in express terms advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for federal office’ are constitutionally infirm for the same reason that the soft-money ban is infirm: they would regulate—and thus unacceptably chill—core political speech about the merits of policies and the proper resolution of public issues without a corruption-prevention rationale for doing so. To the objection that issue advocates exercise ‘undue influence,’ the answers are, that is their right, and we have no measure of just how much influence is ‘due.’”
It’s a bit of a jigsaw and a lawyer’s nightmare, but politicians certainly have shock value, money and protection of the First Amendment on their side, while your average American may in theory also have the latter, he/she does not have the former. And because they don’t have friends in high places who’ll threaten to sue anyone who attempts to quiet them, nor the bankroll to fund such protections, they live in constant fear of reprisal for expressing their opinions and ideas publically.
Unfortunately, this practice of self-censoring robs the nation of the vital discussions needed to promote progress. This sentiment is probably best captured by Justice Louis D Brandeis,
“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Maybe it’s time that a positive and open medium is created where the other 99% can express their political sentiments publicly without facing serious consequence for using First Amendment rights. What is your opinion?