Political Correctness is having a moment, see exhibit, Donald Trump. The moment is due to a confluence of factors: Social media, Civil Rights, and the alienation inherent in modern "market economy" life. Taken together, what might otherwise seem like a good thing, i.e. more inclusive standards of civility, is suffocating to a significant contingent of people. The question du jour seems to be, "Why do I need to be so canned all the time?" I argue, it's a fair question, without defending Trump's brand of political correctness.

All of us have said something insulting in a public setting by accident. It may have come unexpectedly, but each of us has been branded guilty of the politically incorrect "faux pas." At a party, networking event, or with friends even "cool" people know what it's like to say something profoundly uncool. At work, school, or some other institutional setting, almost everyone has been pulled aside by HR or a counselor.

Maybe it was a joke taken out of context, misjudging your audience, or even a jealous coworker trying to twist your innocent words into a bureaucratic knife. Whether one feels wrong or wronged, it is plainly embarrassing not to know what the unspoken rules are. Few things are more humiliating or distressing than telling a joke, which nobody laughs at, much less having to explain your stupid joke in front of a tribunal of HR drones, who can fire you for cause.

Political Correctness is not a new thing. PC is just civility by another name. People have been insulting each other since the beginning of political life. Socrates was put to death by the Athenian state for "corrupting the youth." Anthropologists still study the complex rules of public life within tribal societies. The rules about what we should and shouldn't say have undeniably changed, however. Since the Civil Rights movement codified legal rules about protected groups and hate speech, people who were previously fair game for insults can suddenly sue you.

Add to that the fact that, with the advent of social media, the lines between public life and private life quickly are blurring. Suddenly "PC culture" is everywhere. Remember the bizarre phenomenon of Justine Sacco? A typical privileged white chick, who tweeted a Sarah Silverman joke prior to boarding a plane from New York City to South Africa. Sacco tweeted to her small group of followers, "I am going to Africa. I hope I don't get AIDS! Just kidding, I'm white." Gawker picked up the tweet and it was featured on every major news network within hours, before Sacco got back on solid ground.

The Sarah Silverman version of the joke is satirical; it is meant to be sharply critical of injustice. But Sacco told the same joke, it ruined her life. Why? Sarah Silverman is a comedian. It is her job to make racy jokes. Sarah Silverman is allowed to make satirical racist comments in public. But Justine Sacco is (was) a PR executive, she is not allowed to make racist jokes in public. Unlike in private life, in public life, you cannot be assured of a like-minded audience. Hanging out with your buddies or gossip pals, you can pretty much say what you want. Justine probably felt like her tiny group of followers was an intimate crowd. But within hours, literally millions of people were glaring at her joke.

What is all the more jarring about the emergence of social media as public space, is the loss of civic life that preceded it. In social science and philosophy, it is widely recognized that there is an alienating aspect of modern human life. There is no "public square" anymore, and shifting tides of global capital means people are transient; people change jobs and move a lot. Those who refuse to move have often seen their communities disintegrate. Church, which was the public square of the 1950s, has become a place of hollow promises and nonsense platitudes for many people. Outside of the office, most of us had gotten used to being invisible. Hence the entertainment inherent in reality TV: regular human beings with visibility thrust upon them.

Public life is bureaucratic by its very nature. "Public life" is a part of life from which you cannot choose to abstain. You can't necessarily quit your job or drop out of school because your colleagues insult you. At work the goal is to earn a wage; at school, to get an education. For a lot of people, school and work pretty much sum up civic life. There's the occasional jury duty or condo board meeting. The need for political correctness is pretty obvious in any case: if we all must work together with people whom we don't necessarily like, then rules need to exist. Otherwise some people can't earn a wage or get an education, and that is unjust.

The Civil Rights movement cast "civility" in a victim mold, which slowly is breaking apart. "Protected groups" were defined in civil rights legislation, and incivility became defined as victimizing these protected groups. Non-white, non-heterosexual people of all stripes gained real legal tools to fight back against discrimination. Straight white people, especially straight white men, lost the right to treat people like crap with impunity, provided their victims could prove it. Donald Trump and his dad were sued.

Why did it make any sense to draw the line on racial and gender lines? In polite company or in public it may not be politically correct to so much as ask this question. Because there is in fact an undeniable history of discrimination against women, LGBT, and people of color in the U.S. (and the world). Asking why it makes sense to set the rules of civility in protection of marginalized people, sounds like a denial of the real history of marginalization. But what about white people who are poor, don't have any connections, are also deprived of education, jobs and capital, preyed upon by predatory lenders and scams? Aren't they also marginalized? Why is it OK to make fun of rednecks, hillbillies, and hicks?

Is it possible to redefine "protected groups" on class lines, instead of only gender and race? I am not a legal scholar, but even I can see the problems inherent in adding a "poor" to the shall nots of discrimination: race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. People who sell things for money inherently discriminate against those who cannot afford to pay. Only need-blind colleges (i.e. very rich and well-endowed) would meet standards of student non-discrimination. And many jobs require skills, grooming, or attire, which poor people simply cannot afford. Staunch "market economy" believers might even profess that, in a meritocracy, wealth equals worth.

Then there are white people who aren't even poor, but can still face local discrimination at work or at school. I personally worked on a team of 20 or so people, in which I was one of two or three white people. In some meetings, I was the only white person in the room. My manager, who was a person of color, was severely under-qualified and suffered from mental illness. Even people of color on our team confided in me that they suspected she was un-firable, because she had been hired as part of a diversity-in-management initiative. She often did single me out for abuse, and I ultimately left that team. But in legal terms, I was not discriminated against, because I am not in a protected category.

I am economically privileged, I did not have children at the time, and I sort of hated my job from a philosophical perspective, so it didn't ruin my life that my boss singled me out for being white. And it was for that reason. But I think about how I would feel if I were a poor white person... if I had scrimped and saved for college, if I had student loans, a big mortgage, babies at home? I think my boss would have made my life a living hell. I often cried at my desk as it is. I may have unraveled entirely. Having zero recourse to tell HR that my boss was reverse-discriminating me would have made me mad as hell. I might have even wanted to vote for Trump.

Clearly, it is very difficult to write a succinct enforceable universal rule for what counts as politically correct. I can see a the outlines of a definition that is situational, or relative. Poverty could be included as a protected category, if it is poverty that one is born into, or poverty achieved through grotesque vice. Relative minorities, sometimes called "reverse discrimination" could be protected in a situation where they are suddenly the minority, i.e. a white person on an all-POC team at work, or a white person at a BLM rally.

I think civil rights legislation needs to be fixed, because there is a problem. Trump losing will not make this problem go away. What comes after Trump? What happens to 6 million mostly white male truck drivers when trucks start to drive themselves? And on and on...If we allow poor people to be systematically excluded from civic participation, simply because they are white poor people, we tacitly define the minimum conditions of civic participation on racial lines. These poor people may indeed be "victims" of injustice, but they do not qualify as victims, because of the color of their skin or their gender. That is not fair.

Defining who gets protection along racial lines sends a message to all straight white men that if they are not successful, or worse, it is their own damned fault. It also sends a message that members of protected groups that if they are successful, they are less successful in real terms, because they necessarily got help. Hence the nerve of Donald Trump in demanding to see Obama's college transcripts. The message was clear: President Obama didn't get into Harvard Law on merit. He got in because he was black.

We need to rethink how we define discrimination, and by extension, how we define who is eligible for protection.