But one of the smartest things I read about Chait's essay was from the Rude Pundit:
Inside and outside the college campus, one reason why people dig in and call out every instance of potential offense is that it's a way to have some power in a time when power is being consolidated by fewer and fewer members of society. You might not be able to vote some sexist asshole out of office because you can't afford a Super PAC, but if, say, Todd Akin says something about "legitimate rape," you can make his life a living hell, for good reason. Speech in this way is an equalizer. Hashtag advocacy may seem facile, but its potency cannot be denied. And if you have carved out a space where your voice matters, like the classroom or a Facebook group (one of which Chait describes), then you are going to defend that, sometimes even to excess. The solution would be more power in general going to a more diverse and larger group of people, in our politics, our business, our lives.Chait says the current moment reminds him of the early 1990s, when, he says, speech was being policed (on campuses, at least) in much the same way it is now. If there were excesses then and there are excesses now, maybe it's because the times were similar: Then, we were in the third consecutive Republican presidential term, and there seemed to be no end to the Reaganite backlash, and we were also in a recession that left young people facing bleak job prospects; now, we have an economic downturn that's longer and more miserable, and while Obama's in the White House, he's been Bushite on a few things by his own choice and the country is run by Mitch McConnell, Rupert Murdoch, John Roberts, and the Koch brothers on many others. And did I mention relentlessly increasing economic inequality?
So, yeah, a lot of people feel powerless. They feel they've been kicked by powerful forces and can't kick back. So they kick the dog.
Chait says the last P.C. era ended with the Clinton presidency:
The most probable cause of death of the first political-correctness movement was the 1992 presidential election. That event mobilized left-of-center politics around national issues like health care and the economy, and away from the introspective suppression of dissent within the academy. Bill Clinton’s campaign frontally attacked left-wing racial politics, famously using inflammatory comments by Sister Souljah to distance him from Jesse Jackson....Chait may have the timing right, but I think his explanation is wrong. Under Clinton, the economy got better; maybe young people didn't feel they had any more political power, but suddenly they seemed to have a bit more economic power. A generation later, that seems long gone, though maybe there's a break in the downturn and things are finally changing. Until that time, it's understandable if the young are looking for something to kick.