What do the terms ‘politically correct’, ‘cancel culture’, ‘woke’, ‘death panels’ and ‘death tax’ have in common?
They are all terms that have neutral or positive meanings that right wingers have turned into terms of abuse.
‘Politically correct’ has a long history, originating as a sarcastic reference to orthodox opinions in intra-left debates that then morphed into meaning the avoidance of using terms that were offensive, mostly to marginalized groups. It meant being sensitive to others in our use of language. Weirdly, the right wingers have used it to defend the right of those who want to say offensive things, arguing that they are the victims of ‘political correctness’. When someone begins by saying, “I know that this is not politically correct but …”, you can be sure that they are going to say something that will make you cringe if not angry.
‘Cancel culture’ is something that does not really exist. It is an umbrella term that has been invented to defend those who have behaved badly by suggesting that they have been unfairly treated by being swept up in a vast movement that seeks to eliminate its enemies from the public sphere. Its vacuity can be seen when you disaggregate its use. Been reprimanded for abusive behavior? You are a victim of cancel culture. Called out or denied a speaking opportunity for using racist or sexist or LGBT-phobic language? You are a victim of cancel culture. Been fired from your job for just being a downright awful person? You are a victim of cancel culture. But listing those specific actions and repercussions would indicate that you did something wrong. By putting the blame on cancel culture, you can pretend that you did not do anything wrong but were the unjustified victim of a kind of mass hysteria.
“Woke’ is simply a term that indicates that one is aware of, and sensitive to, issues of current importance that deal with marginalized communities. But it has become used a a slur to suggest that one is merely posturing when one expresses support for such communities and their concerns.
‘Death panels’ and ‘death tax’ are golden oldies. The former is something that never existed but referred to the potential for committees to study how health care resources should be allocated, a common-sense step that is hardly controversial. The latter was the proposal for at least some taxes on large estates so that obscene amounts of wealth could not be transferred intact to heirs, thus perpetuating and increasing the wealth inequality in the country.
You have to hand it to right wing politicians and their allies in the media ecosphere. They are masters in weaponizing language to advance their political goals by making actual wrongdoers able to play the role of the victim.