“Politically Incorrect” is the Politically Correct Term for Being Offensive

At TNR today, Gwyneth Kelly offers a good quick explainer on the term “anchor babies,” which is rapidly becoming the term of choice for Republican presidential candidates for the phantom menace of poor Mexican women heaving their pregnant bodies over the Rio Grande to give their children citizenship rights which will then be used to give the whole family legal status. Turns out the term, which was originally used in an entirely different context and wildly less pejorative sense for Vietnamese refugees, wasn’t used in the current manner until very recently. And there’s a good reason for that: it’s largely a myth that reflects all sorts of conservative stereotypes based on the pervasive fear that a whole colorful world is besieging White America.

But what is perhaps more troubling than the use of this term by presumably responsible grown-up men and women running for president is the way they are reacting to complaints about it: with snarling pride. In this as in other ways, Donald Trump is leading the way (per a report from TPM’s Caitlin MacNeal):

Donald Trump lashed out at ABC reporter Tom Llamas on Thursday after the network aired segments critical of the presidential candidate’s use of the term “anchor babies” to describe the children of undocumented immigrants.

During a Wednesday town hall in New Hampshire, Llamas grilled Trump on the term


“Are you aware that the term ‘anchor baby’ — that’s an offensive term. People find that hurtful,” Llamas said to Trump.

“You mean it’s not politically correct and yet everybody uses it?” Trump responded, adding that he would continue to use the term.

In this Trump is following the lead of Dr. Ben Carson, whose campaign is basically a comprehensive attack on everything “politically correct,” including dumb elitist inhibitions on torturing people. As I observed back in February:

If you are new to Carson’s act, you may not realize his whole shtick is a crusade against “political correctness,” a term he uses constantly and eccentrically to turn, well, basically, any disagreement with his faith in various right-wing conspiracy theories into instruments of totalitarian repression. Do you mock the Benghazi! or IRS “scandals?” Then by definition you are using “political correctness” to curb the free-speech rights of the real Americans who know threats to their freedom when they see them, without all that fancy-dan Ivy League stuff about evidence.

No, it doesn’t make much sense, but it seems to work well with Carson’s core audience. His inflated idea of “PC” takes the raw Palinesque hostility to “elite” attitudes and raises it to the level of a hermeneutical principle. And so I guess it’s not surprising that he’d regard the idea of “rules for war” as another pointy-heady imposition on the healthy kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out instincts of the citizenry.

The proudly defiant use of “anchor babies” by Trump, Bobby Jindal (who also scoffed at the “political correctness” of those who don’t like the term), and most ominously, even Jeb Bush, is a sign that the Carson virus is really spreading. Opposing “political correctness” has become a carte blanche excuse for being deliberate offensive, abusive, or even bigoted; it’s precisely the kind of unreasoning categorical “framing” that critics of “political correctness” complain about. Any day now, I expect to hear a spouse-beater whine that he’s being persecuted for not being politically correct. We’ll be lucky if “anchor babies” is the worst expression this strange attitude is used to defend.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.