Abby's Road: LePage, Trump give political outsiders a bad name

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Gov. Paul LePage last week made national news when said the state’s heroin epidemic involves dealers who come here to sell their wares and to impregnate “white girls.”

The insinuations behind the statement were that drug dealers are black men, Maine’s “girls” are white and unwitting, and there is no local drug trade.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump leads the Republican field for president. Over the course of his campaign, he has equated Mexican immigrants with rapists and proclaimed that African-Americans are primarily responsible for the deaths of white Americans. He has voiced his support for a database to track all Muslims in America as a means to combat terrorism.

When the rest of us note that these types of one-to-one correlations are at best false, the speakers act as if we’ve missed the point. By their logic, we should be thankful that they are saying what’s in their head, allowing it to leave their mouth without filter. They use it as a positive measure of comparison, deriding the popular practice of reading poll-tested, pre-scripted remarks from a teleprompter.

As if the hallmark of a great leader is whether he uses some form of note cards. As if thinking before speaking is shameful. As if the way a statement will be received, or perceived, is completely irrelevant in considering whether the statement should be made.

Part of their off-the-cuff ethos depends heavily on their pride that they are not “politically correct.” They have claimed the role of political outsider, and found that the role is comfortable. To them, outsider status means not having to play by the insider’s rules, including rules about word choice.

We can all cite examples of political correctness gone too far. A Nevada school district asked teachers not to call boys “boys” or girls “girls” because the expressions were deemed too “gendered.” A school official in Portland, Oregon, suggested that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches carry racist connotations.

But taking something to an extreme does not mean that the underlying practice is itself extreme. Trump has filed for four corporate bankruptcies, making him the top filer in recent decades. It is not likely he would take kindly to the argument that his own record suggests corporate bankruptcy protection doesn’t work because companies do not learn their lesson the first time they restructure their debt.

Political correctness, at its non-extreme, means avoiding forms of expression that further marginalize the disadvantaged. It means declining to perpetuate unfair generalizations. It means communicating with some sensitivity and capacity for nuance.

Trading on stereotypes is not a form of enlightenment, and misguided speech is not the aw-shucks result of an acceptable intolerance for political correctness. Re-branding either as evidence of heroic independence from the establishment is a decoy, like saying during a job interview that your biggest weakness is how seriously you take your work.

When LePage suggests that all drug dealers are sex-crazed black men, his multi-layered mistake should not be forgiven because someone once called a short person vertically challenged.

Nor is it fair for Trump, LePage and their ilk to cast thoughtful speech as a waste of time, worthy only of a career politician. My son is not allowed to use “unkind words” on the playground because of the negative results they yield. He’s 4. Grown-ups should know that we speak carefully because we’re part of a human community, not because we’re all veterans of the political machine who have lost the ability to answer questions directly.

Yes, the political machine is tiresome. But political correctness is not what makes it tired. Predictable, meaningless grand-standing and pandering is what makes it tired.

For “outsider” status to be valuable, the outsider should spurn intransigence, not thoughtfulness. Provocation should be of the intellect. Words should mean something. A promise should be backed by an idea, an idea by a road map, a road map by reality.

The hallmark of a great leader should be that he or she appeals to our best selves, not our lowest common denominator. We are better than the knee-jerk reaction, the inflammatory sound bite, the brutish short-cut. So we should expect better. That’s the most admirable way I can think of to “Make America Great Again.”

Abby Diaz grew up in Falmouth and lives there again, because that’s how life works. She blogs at whatsleftover.com. Follow Abby on Twitter: @AbbyDiaz1.

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  • jack bauer

    Ms. Diaz,
    I found some thoughtful comments on being an “outsider” and what really makes a “promise” in your column. Thank you. But, interestingly, the title of your column is flawed in a couple of ways. First, by juxtaposing Trump with LePage right after LePage created controversy is a little to much like guilt by association. Based on the content of your column, I doubt that was your intent. If it was your intent, then you used a tired, cheap trick not consistent with your other reasoned viewpoints. Secondly, the title paints with a broad brush by proclaiming that Trump and LePage give “outsiders a bad name.” When I think about how you compare Trump with “insiders” who supposedly give greater thought to their word selection, hence the use of the teleprompter, as proof of your point…then I am left wondering why these insiders (Mr. Obama) can’t seem to use words like…radical Islamic terrorists…to describe the people who are seeking to destroy our way of life. Thus, you’re inadvertently supporting the case for an outsider.

    • AverageJoe99

      Would you describe the KKK as “radical Christian terrorists?”

      • jack bauer

        Your question is not taken seriously. If you are interested in discussing the KKK, please direct your inquiry elsewhere. My expertise lies in the realm of counter-terror. And unless you have no issues with what is happening in France, Belgium, Pakistan, Somalia, UK to name but a few…then I hope you will direct your mental efforts into how to protect America. Putting this as succinctly as I can, it is imperative to fight the enemy outside our borders. If you doubt this, then just open a newspaper and look at what’s occurring in the aforementioned countries and you’ll get a taste of what we have in store. Of course, we already have had several significant attacks on our soil…point being that we want to eliminate (or at least reduce) the number of attacks going forward.
        Mr. Trump’s views are not extreme. They are a stolid response to what has happened to this country by terrorists and how to prevent such attacks from happening in the future. 9/11 occurred over 14 years ago. There is no more time to devote to what to call the enemy. It is way past time to act decisively.

        • AverageJoe99

          Rhetoric must be taken seriously. Sorry you can’t see that. The KKK is radical. They purport to be Christian. And the are terrorists. Would you so describe them? Or would you decline to do so as to do so would reflect poorly on Christians? Maybe Venn diagrams would help you.