An Englishman, a Frenchman and an American man walk into a bar and make whatever jokes they want because – have you heard? – political correctness is dead. Donald Trump and Brexit have sent it to its grave. You can say whatever you like now, offend whoever you like!
Well, not quite.
From the gender-neutral ashes of political correctness a new sort of PC culture has risen. You could call it populist correctness: a virulent policing of language and stifling of debate that is rapidly and perniciously insinuating itself into daily life in Trump’s America and Brexit Britain.
Populist correctness is the smearing and silencing of points of view by labelling them “elitist” – and therefore at odds with the will of the people and the good of the country. Take, for example, the rhetoric around “remoaners”, which can be summed up as “the people have spoken, so the rest of you should shut up”. Opposing Brexit, Britain’s tabloids tell us almost daily, is unpatriotic and undemocratic. See, for example, front-page headlines such as: “Damn the unpatriotic Bremoaners and their plot to subvert the will of the British people” and “Time to silence Brexit whingers. Silencing opposing views would normally be seen as incompatible with the freedom of speech conservatives are supposed to hold so dear.
But the cunning thing about populist correctness is the way it dresses dogma up as democracy, invoking a majority consensus of opinion it doesn’t actually command. Theresa May, for example, recently warned MPs not to stand in the way of Brexit, stating: “Now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people.” Strictly speaking, of course, Brexit wasn’t the will of the people. About 17.4 million people voted leave; 16.1 million voted remain; 12.9 million didn’t vote. The wishes of the British people are complicated. The same goes for the US, where almost 3 million more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump. But populist correctness doesn’t bother itself with inconvenient details. Rather it carves the country up into a neat dichotomy of ordinary people versus the elite.