I’ve wondered lately if I’m the only one who feels like language is failing us. We have words — Lord knows, we have lots and lots of words. But when we string them together in sentences I’m not certain they say anything.
Take “democracy,” for example. Donald Trump wants to destroy it. Joe Biden defends it. Does anyone actually know what it is, exactly, that Trump wants to devastate and Biden wants to preserve? Is it voting rights? The Constitution? A now-defunct election? How about common decency?
If we can’t explain what we intend with the word “democracy,” apart from a vague notion or sense that it’s important, why use it?
Or, how about “authoritarianism.” We’re sailing (or drifting) into a concept of national leadership that’s labeled “authoritarianism.” I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. But what does this tell us? It tells us that Ron DeSantis is a little Napoleon who wants to rule in all things political, moral, educational and medical with his Republican legislature. He behaves like an “authoritarian.”
The Republican extremists think giving more power to Biden is wrong (they’re anti-authoritarian on this) but giving all power to Trump would be virtuous (because they’re authoritarian on that). And we got into our trouble with gun ownership thanks to Ronald Reagan and his authoritarian enthusiasm for the NRA 45 years ago. So what does authoritarianism suggest other than being bossy?
One more: “moral equivalence.” The idea of “moral equivalence” is that in broadcasting two opposing views are, while opposing, equal in value. We are moral when we allow both views to have equally loud voices, when we balance our broadcasts to give 5 minutes to honest journalism and 5 to a defense of January 6 Patriots — the fanatics who stormed The Hill. In my humble opinion, giving both voices equal time and volume isn’t moral; it’s nuts.
About a year-and-a-half ago, in this space, I wrote:
I’ve been known to quote writer and historian Garry Wills who told us, ‘The problem with words is, they have meaning.’ He had a point. We can’t use words indiscriminately making them mean what we want them to mean. They already have meaning even before I get to them….
So I noticed when some Republicans who wanted to dilute the violence of the January 6 assault on our nation changed the words. Rioters and thugs… became (who could believe this?) ‘tourists visiting the Capitol.’ The mob violence, by all definitions an insurrection, was transmuted in Republican speak to ‘a group of law-abiding Americans expressing themselves.’
C’mon on now. …As nearly as I can tell, we can’t get there from here. (November 22, 2021)
We don’t have a word for the obscene number of deaths thanks to the AK-15. When Biden says we should outlaw such weapons, he doesn’t have the language that moves a recalcitrant and moribund Congress.
The Governor of Texas notes the deaths mounting on his watch and calls them “a tragedy.” Like a hurricane. Or an accident. Something worthy of “our prayers.” Those are words; they can’t possibly be misunderstood for the truth.
The truth is that an AK-15 launches small rockets that, when encountering the human body, flatten out to destroy flesh, organs and bone. They blew the face off a young Texas woman this past weekend. A six-year-old’s body was, literally, shredded. And I’m told this is sad and I should pray about it? Really?
The brutality of AK-15s when used to slaughter people young and old is beyond words. We’ve got democracy, authoritarianism and moral equivalence. They’re baffling enough. But amid all the words and all their meanings, we have no label for staggering, gun-based cruelty and blatantly hypocritical politicians.
We see the blood flow, hear the wails of the wounded, listen to hypocritical politicians and we’re mute. No words do justice. It is, all of it, unspeakable.