We are going to spend the rest of our lives arguing about the precise mix of economic desperation and cultural grievance that drove the calamitous election of Donald Trump. Already, however, there’s an emerging consensus that the Trump apotheosis can be blamed in part on “identity politics” and “political correctness.” In Sunday’s New York Times, the liberal Columbia University historian Mark Lilla proclaimed “the end of identity liberalism.” In the libertarian magazine Reason, an essay was headlined, “Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash.” Bill Maher lectured liberals, “You’re outrageous with your politically correct bullshit and it does drive people away.” A Politico piece argued, “To many Trump supporters, Clinton … was merely another ‘PC’ liberal griping about ‘micro-aggressions’ and ‘triggering’ language.”
Identity politics and political correctness aren’t the same thing, but they are interrelated. One situates political claims in a person’s racial and sexual status. The other tries to force a surface consensus on racial and sexual equality through taboos and speech codes.