Words matter

I’m a writer. Or more precisely, a wordsmith, honing my own writing and that of others. I’ve done it for a long time, and I’m quite good at it.

More generally, I’m a storyteller. It turns out I also have some talent for music, and those three combine in my musical, Sex Anyone, which I’m hoping will be produced next year in New York. Fingers crossed.

I get writer’s block on occasion — no surprise there, it’s commonplace — and I check in with trusted friends to make sure I stay on track. Yesterday, one of them suggested that I write before breakfast, even for ten minutes, every day. That works for me, because I often find myself up in the middle of the night with ideas, and I often play solitaire on my cellphone to fall back asleep. Now I have a more productive way to be insomniac. (Insomnial? Insomniacal? Wiktionary prefers the first.)

After a single foray, I’ve studiously avoided commenting on the U.S. presidential race during the primary season. Now that the nominees are set, Clinton and the Dumpster, you’ll be hearing more from me about it. (Nutshell: expect a repeat of 1964.)

I’ve largely avoided dust-ups in private conversations as well. I have many Libertarian friends, and I’ll be writing about political philosophy as well in the coming weeks. (Nutshell: Libertarianism is an adolescent fantasy.) I also have many Republican friends, and a few Socialists (though mostly in France, my adopted country). The majority, no surprise to any New Yorker, are Democrats.

And then there are those who support the Dumpster.

In a previous post, I wrote about how they seem largely motivated by fear (or by anger, which is one way fear festers). But the Dumpster plays into a dishearteningly low level of political discourse in the United States, one in which outright bigotry is once again proudly displayed, as if the way to “make America great again” would be to return to the 1950s, when black people literally were forced to the back of the bus (and much worse), gay people underwent forced sterilizations and imprisonment, and women faced a lifetime sentence of home confinement.

This is greatness?

The America I know is still pretty great, thank you very much, and those who would put it down in the name of political expediency won’t get any respect from me. While the United States is backward in some areas — and seems to be falling further behind since Reagan became president — it still leads the world in many ways. Yes, polity may be on the decline, but it’s still better than it was, say, in the 1950s of Joe McCarthy.

Much of the demagoguery of McCarthy would be right at home in the campaign of the Dumpster. And it’s alarming that he is likely to get 40 to 45 percent of the vote come November. He’s done it with a combination of inflammatory rhetoric, constant flip-flops and baldfaced lies.

Which is why words matter. I’m amused (though I probably should be alarmed) when people say the Dumpster “didn’t really mean it” when he makes one or another of his outrageous statements. It might well be true that he’ll contradict himself within the ensuing 24 hours. It doesn’t matter. When a demagogue says he’ll prevent any Muslims from entering the United States, it’s important to take him at his word. And if he (or his defenders) later say, well, he didn’t mean *all* Muslims, just *bad* Muslims, it’s legitimate to ask why a presidential candidate was even entertaining such an intrinsically un-American idea in the first place. You’ll be seeing a lot more excuse-making on the Dumpster’s behalf as November approaches.

I do think, though, that it’s important to be civil (even if mocking) in political discussions. I might think that someone is a goddamn fucking shithead bigot, but in discourse I’ll simply call the person a bigot. (That used only two of George Carlin’s seven dirty words: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.) Words do matter.

A friend wrote recently lamenting the use of labels in politics. But labels (that is, nouns) are essential to communication. So it’s important to use plain language. George W. Bush advocated torture, so he’s a torturer, regardless of whether the White House press secretary preferred the phrase “enhanced interrogation.” Calling him a torturer might have hurt his feelings (or his political prospects), but so what? You don’t want to be called a torturer, don’t torture people. This isn’t rocket science.

I got involved in a discussion on Facebook last night when someone trolled a private group I’m in. He’s sponsoring an event outside the Republican National Convention at which racists, homophobes and other assorted bigots will try to explain why Islam is really a threat to gay people, who should therefore support the Dumpster. (At least I think that’s the point, it’s really hard to follow “logic” like that.)

In reply, another member told him to “get the fuck out”. The original poster objected to the language, and rightly so. Once you let a forum descend to the level of “reality” television — the Dumpster’s metier — it’s hard to turn back.

I called him a troll. He objected to that, too. I remarked that trolls love to provoke others but seem to have remarkably thin skins themselves. As with Bush the torturer, if the shoe fits….

Ah, well, coffee’s brewing. Time for breakfast.

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