HomeFinanceThis threat to American culture is 'political correctness on steroids'

This threat to American culture is ‘political correctness on steroids’

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Over the past decade or so a rhetorical shift has occurred in our political and social discourse. “Political correctness,” the long-standing standard term for the ideological excesses of the left, was replaced by the term “woke.”

Is this change simply a style shift, a new word to describe basically the same thing as the old? Or does wokeness differ significantly from the concept of political correctness?

I posed this question on social media recently, as well as to some colleagues who write often on the subject and the general consensus seemed to be that wokeness is a kind of industrial strength PC, as one person put it, “PC on steroids.”

But what makes wokeness so much more aggressive than political correctness? What are the sinews that give it such industrial strength?

Both terms date at least back to the mid-Twentieth Century, both saw their meanings alter during that time, but unlike woke, PC was never a term that progressives used about themselves in a positive way. By the mid 1970s PC was being used by academics on the left to self deprecatingly warn against becoming too attached to orthodoxies.


It was not until 1987, and Allan Bloom’s book ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ focused on campuses, that the term became an attack widely used by the right against a left who they accused of shutting down speech in deference to those very orthodoxies.

By 1992 Pat Buchanan had made fighting political correctness central to his presidential campaign. The eventual GOP nominee, George HW Bush, who was far from a culture warrior, even decried it in a 1991 commencement address, specifically mentioning the problem in universities.

A student walks through the Purdue Mall on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. Administrative costs on college campuses are soaring, crowding out instruction at a time of skyrocketing tuition and $1 trillion in outstanding student loans. At Purdue and other U.S. college campuses, bureaucratic growth is pitting professors against administrators and sparking complaints that tight budgets could be spent more efficiently.  (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Throughout the 1990’s there was room to gently mock PC culture, as ‘Seinfeld’ famously did in the episode where Kramer declines to wear the red AIDS ribbon. “Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon!” an activist bellows. We are meant to be on Kramer’s side and laugh at the absurd virtue signaling. Importantly, Kramer even supports the movement, he just doesn’t want to be told how to express it.

Political Correctness was much more of a loose social contract than the set of codified rules that would take hold with wokeness. Importantly the speech codes of the PC era tended to be restrictions on subject matters such as black on black crime, issues in the gay community, or the cultural impacts of mass immigration.

Compelled speech was not typically a feature of political correctness, that would change with the rise of wokeness.

Occupy Wall Street in 2011 offers an early example of the codification of progressive ideology that marks wokeism. The governing body of OWS, known as the General Assembly, employed what is called a “progressive stack” for its meetings. Anyone could speak, but slots were given in order of how marginalized the speaker’s identities were. A black, trans lesbian would speak very early, a straight white guy would speak last, if time permitted.

The idea here was to redress centuries of straight white guys doing most of the talking in government, but it was far more explicit in its silencing of those voices than PC had ever been.

A few years later, in 2015, over 80 theater companies around the country would sign a pledge, called Jubilee 2020, that promised in that year they would produce no plays by straight, cis, able, white men. The loose social contract was calcifying into the tablets of the law. And in this set of woke commandments, compelled speech would play a major role.

Unlike the relatively flexible speech restrictions of political correctness, wokeness requires us to affirmatively use the “correct” pronouns, to sign the confessional statement at our company’s DEI training, and to wear the pride jersey.


Jordan Peterson’s meteoric rise to fame began with his refusal to use his student’s pronouns. It was a tipping point for many who had seen political correctness as tedious but tolerable but, like Kramer, couldn’t abide being forced into speech.

The upshot of the transition from PC to wokeness has thankfully been a swift backlash in recent years, not only from pundits but from political leaders like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, both of whom have championed laws and regulations aimed at weakening wokeness’ hold on society.


Americans aren’t just rolling their eyes anymore, they see a real threat to our schools, to kids indoctrinated by gender ideology, to corporations held hostage by DEI departments, and even to art and storytelling.

For 25 years political correctness walked a tightrope, never going far enough to spark meaningful ire, in the age of wokeness that is over. A new cultural battle has been joined, and this time there seems to be very little room for compromise. 


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