Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Life and Death of Language

There’s nothing more organic than words. They rise and fall at the speed of an idea. Even dumb ideas. There goes another one. This past year has seen a proliferation of adjectives…crooked, rigged, stupid, light-weight (Marco Rubio, Megan Kelly, Lindsey Graham), moronic, disastrous (them), amazing, tremendous, smart, great (him). All rather juvenile language he made even more so.

Politics has a way of killing words through repetition whether on Teleprompters or Tweets. In this devolution of Life as a Reality TV Show audiences have come to accept agreed-upon lies as part of the theater. Candidate as celebrity. Go ahead, blurt. Its shelf-life is less than 24 hours.

Bernie bequeathed us,Yuge. Hillary’s camp has given flesh to bully, xenophobia, misogynist, narcissist, demagogue and denier. All clinically correct. Psychologists, sociologists, historians and writers will have material enough for at least a century coining new phrases to describe what just happened. That child running with scissors has become the man running the country cutting it to shreds.

Sixty years ago the word to describe the Republicans would have been, Reactionary, meaning regressive or resistant to new ideas. I suppose that one fell into disuse through exhaustion. I can remember when the tag, Liberal, was a pejorative to Progressives. Maybe it still is or have we drifted so far to the right that Conservatives have targeted their venom for the lesser label? Be careful what you say, warned Dennis Potter, you never know whose mouth those words have been in.

A reconfigured world requires the demise of old terms and birth of new ones. Red as in Red-Baiting has died and then flipped in its new life as Trump’s new best friend. We are about to enter into the Age of quasi monarchs in a club of oligarchs. The billionaire is now the champion of the down-trodden masses. Marx is turning in his grave.

Rhetorical flourishes can reinvigorate discourse but it usually renders words limp and hollow. I turned a deaf ear to the constant use of regime-change until I realized that describes what has just happened in this country. From Lincoln’s of, by and for the people to FDR’s nothing to fear to JFK’s ask not what your country can do to Obama’s there aren’t two Americas… aspirational language even if untrue. But for this past year we witness high and lofty eloquence sink to the gutter and locker room. Obsequious words get rewarded; dissent is met by an arsenal of abuse. In either case our vocabulary is soiled.

It was Mario Cuomo who said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. If that was poetry we just lived through we’re in bigger trouble than I had thought. Poetry tells the truth, metaphorically, obliquely, sometimes clumsily but doesn’t set out to deceive.

Words can be weapons particularly when spoken at the right pitch to receptive ears. This faux-poetry we heard on the stump was not highfalutin oratory but low falutin sloganeering that mimics the common tongue. 

The fall of democratic values is accompanied by the death of language itself. Poets to the of political jargon, fake news or fluff. Truth is on life-support. Get us to triage and then to the maternity ward not necessarily to give birth to new words just offer the existing ones a smack and breathe new life in the body politic.

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