Monday, May 27, 2024

The Trumpification of Language


Donald Trump is a vulgarian. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his use of language. Michael Harris writes:

Language is the basis of how societies mediate differences of opinion. The give and take of sweet reason that produces compromise comes in words.  

Language is the foundation of diplomacy, that, to paraphrase the late British prime minister Winston Churchill, substitutes words, words, words for war, war, war.

Words are the magic ingredients of books that give delight and breathe life into culture. In the hands of masters like Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, and Farley Mowat, they offer glimpses into worlds we would otherwise never see.

But these days it is not the language of reason or culture that dominates the national conversation. Everywhere you turn, you hear the angry, implacable, language of intolerance. That matters. The degradation of language is the degradation of society.

Trump hasn't just affected the language Americans use. He's affected our language as well:

During the “Freedom Convoy,” Canadians got a good look at the new vulgarity that is fast becoming the signature across so much of our politics.  

It is one thing to protest a particular government policy. That is a treasured right in any democracy. But carrying “Fuck Trudeau” signs has nothing to do with airing grievances. It is about promoting hate.  

Gumming up the national capital for three weeks, upending the lives of thousands of people in the process, is not protest. It is pandemonium.  

And when a national political leader takes doughnuts to the very people who wanted to change the government without the bother of an election, it endorses and reinforces the politics of confrontation and intimidation. It guarantees more “Fuck Trudeau” signs, more gravel-throwing, and who knows what else.     

Nor did Pierre Poilievre enhance his image as a statesman when he recently called the prime minister “wacko.” That language got him tossed out of the House of Commons, and forced a later apology. “Wacko”, by the way, is one of Donald Trump’s favourite pejoratives when he attacks his opponents. Just name-calling you say? Childish, but no big deal? Think again. 

It's not just that the language is vulgar. It has consequences:

A case in point. Trump and the GOP’s merciless verbal abuse of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a deranged, hammer-wielding, Pelosi-hater into the politician’s San Francisco home. When the attacker found out that the former Speaker was in Washington, D.C., he fractured the skull of Pelosi’s husband of 60 years, Paul Pelosi.

Intolerance, with violent overtones, has shown up in the strangest of places: American libraries. Language is at the centre of this unlikely development.  

It began with a very old story—the effort by some to segregate or remove books with “offensive” or “obscene” content from public libraries. That means anything dealing with sex or gender issues. Viewing culture through that horrible moral squint is what got To Kill a Mockingbird pulled from the curriculum by a British Columbia school board. As the saying goes: great books read you, you don’t read them.

“We had people threatening to burn down our building,” librarian Maegan Hanson said in an interview. The librarians think that the threats will only get worse now that Idaho Governor Brad Little has signed library content restrictions into law. The intolerance is increasingly becoming official.

Our salvation lies in not imitating him.



Cap said...

"One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong." All but one of Harris' examples of intolerance involve the right side of the political spectrum. The exception? Here's a hint, "If you take for example To Kill a Mockingbird, that's not from the experience of a Black man. This is the equity lens that we owe to our students and families to use to look carefully at our curriculum," [Matthews] said as she justified pulling the book from the Surrey, BC, curriculum.

When I hear the words "equity lens," I suspect the speaker is as deluded and intolerant of viewpoint dissent as the people who laud the Covid-fighting properties of Ivermectin or claim the 2020 US election was stolen.

Owen Gray said...

Lee didn't write about equity, Cap. She wrote about prejudice. The librarian is missing the boat.

zoombats said...

I am reminded of Fahrenheit 451,

"But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them.'”

Owen Gray said...

As Toby said in his last comment, zoombats, there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come -- particularly a bad idea.

Northern PoV said...

tRump's success is more of a symptom, than a cause

Owen Gray said...

I agree, PoV. It comes from the rot within.