Political vs. Patriotic Correctness and the Freedom of Speech


Freedom of speech, or patriotic breach?

Gemma Gabbett, Copy Editor

Freedom of speech and expression are embedded in American history and law–the First Amendment guarantees them. But is it legal call to someone a slur or tell them they deserve to die? How about burning the American flag? The limits to freedom of speech is a hotly-contested topic in today’s polarized political climate, and the terms “political correctness” and “patriotic correctness” have arisen to define left-wing and right-wing ideas on what should and should not be said.

Many people know the term “political correctness”, or “PC”, typically used to describe left-wing language, policies or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. It is often blamed for stifling freedom of expression, and current US President Donald J. Trump has consistently asserted that he is not afraid to speak his mind against the rules and restrictions of political correctness.

Despite their dissent with PC culture, the right-wing establishment also has its own regulations on what behaviors, speech and opinions are acceptable: “patriotic correctness”, coined by author John K. Wilson and rekindled for recent use by Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrahsteh. In an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, Nowrashteh defines patriotic correctness as “a full-throated, un-nuanced, uncompromising defense of American nationalism, history and cherry-picked ideals.”

Such nationalist outrage was seen when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, setting off a firestorm regarding the right to unpatriotic political protest.

“I give power to [Colin Kaepernick] for kneeling. Some people say celebrities shouldn’t get involved in politics, but they’re the ones who everyone looks up to, so I think it’s very important for them to be able to express their opinion,” said Vista senior Bailey McAlister. “Some people say he’s disrespecting our troops, but I think he’s bringing voice to something that is happening in our country that’s not fair. I think that’s really great.”

Others do not think Kaepernick’s type of protest is very effective and consider it to be an insult to American freedom.

“Personally, when I see someone stepping on the flag, it’s kind of redundant, stupid, like them stepping on the rights that are given to them,” said senior Andrew Pecha, “though that’s just me expressing my personal feelings.”

While he considers himself to be a patriotic, more conservative individual, Pecha sees issues with any kind of speech regulation. “I think we need to take a step forward from patriotic correctness and political correctness because that divide is really tearing us apart — it’s something George Washington did not want to see,” said Pecha.

However, not everyone sees sees political correctness as a hindrance. Christopher Spitzka, a Vista alumni and Folsom Lake College student, proudly identifies as politically correct, seeing the term as a synonym for showing common decency and respect.

“Usually, I don’t think of political correctness as anything more than a few guidelines to have decent, civil conversations with others,” said Spitzka. “Political correctness really only becomes something overt and troublesome when somebody is willfully opposed to it.”

Freedom of speech is a difficult topic to avoid when discussing political or patriotic correctness, and the two issues are inevitably intertwined.

“Freedom of speech to me is pretty obviously the freedom for people to say whatever they want, but I think a common misconception is that it’s interpreted as freedom from consequence of speech,” said Kysan Kwan, a music student at Berklee College. “We’re all allowed to say what we want, meaning we’re also all allowed to say that we disapprove of or condemn someone else’s speech.”

The issue of legality when it comes to regulation of speech has been a hot topic of debate — while freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution, Americans also fight for protection from discrimination and harassment.

“How do you suggest we regulate political correctness? Should it start with a federal regulation, or at the home level, with the parents?” Pecha asked. Particularly when applied to hate speech, this is a tough question for just about anyone, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.

“Perpetrators of hate speech ought to be confronted, but I would be cautious in quickly inflicting punishment on them,” said Spitzka.

“I do think there’s a severe lack of intolerance for hate speech in general in American society,” said Kwan. Kwan was born and raised in Canada but has spent the better part of his college education in Massachusetts, giving him a unique outsider’s view of the American dilemma of free speech. “The sad part is, I don’t know if there’s anything to really be done, at least on the legal level; the politics of speech and hate speech are largely based around the concept of respect and personal character, and it doesn’t feel right or even effective to place a mandate on that kind of a thing.”

Political and patriotic correctness carry heavy connotations, many of them negative. Political correctness with its perceived over-sensitivity and censorship, patriotic with its assumed blind nationalism and bigotry–it’s easy to generalize and paint the terms as unambiguously harmful. Like every issue, however, there are boons as well as banes.

“What is being interpreted as ‘censorship’ I mostly see as people becoming aware of their rights and value as human beings and wanting to be treated with due respect,” said Kwan.

Respect and free expression need not be in conflict, and neither must protest and patriotism–while the debate over freedom of speech and PC culture rages on, it is important to remember the reason America was founded. Freedom, yes, but also equality–the freedom to be oneself and seek a successful, happy life, and the opportunity for anyone to do so.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are among people’s inalienable rights, and freedom of speech is an expression of our liberty, but, unlike liberty, freedom of speech is not inalienable,” said Spitzka, “Our government cannot determine what its citizens can say to each other, for that would infringe upon our freedom of speech, and yet our government should work towards extending freedom of speech to those outside the majority. It is a delicate dialogue.”