Years ago, Fortune magazine ran a powerful advertising campaign with the slogan, "There's nothing harder to stop than a trend." Trends are indeed mighty. But what if things are trending the wrong way? Can a trend be slowed or reversed?
This country has been on a stupid vector for a long time. It's hard to tell when being inarticulate started being as acceptable as being smart, but the notion gained great traction and one could even say reached it fullest expression during the recent decade. The trend didn't just show itself in malapropisms about how hard it was to put food on your family, it was the explanations of concepts that, when simplified, become dangerous. "I'm the decider," had reasonable people all over the world start thinking about grabbing a shovel and digging that nuclear shelter.
Some people, apparently, are fond of the dumbing down trend. Witness Charles M. Blow's recent piece in the New York Times objecting to the President's language in the State of the Union. Blow says the President was "stuck on studious."
And the answer? (Warning! I did not fabricate the following:)
Blow says, "Obama has to accept that today's information environment is broad and shallow, and we now communicate in headline phrases, acerbic humor and ad hominem attacks. Sad but true."
Blow is saying that the President should try to communicate at the lowest possible level to the people of the United States. Instead of raising the quality of public discourse, which he constantly does, he should lead a race to the bottom and drag those who still think and speak in entire sentences down with him.
What if Blow is right, and President Obama were to follow his advice? Then America would get even dumber. Continuing along this trend to its logical conclusion we would eventually be communicating in grins, grunts and thrown objects. Devolution will be complete. And this is called thinking by the editorial staff of the New York Times?
I would have imagined that the New York Times, with its billions of net worth riding on the ability of the next generation to think might have some wee bit of vested interest in the world of smart. Now you could reasonably argue that a number of recent columns from Dowd, Collins and Douthat might not be providing the right flypaper for smart folks. You might even wonder if the Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal even reads what goes on his pages. Maybe his job description doesn't include calling up Mr. Blow and asking him if he really believes the President should talk down to all Americans. Or maybe, and I'm just thinking out loud here, maybe Rosenthal is using Blow to speak for the New York Times itself -- We need to try and be as dumb as we imagine our dumbest readers to be.
Now that Safire's gone we can start with a Vocabulary Cop and go from there.
Blow says, "The President must communicate within the environment he inhabits, not the one he envisions. Someone should tap him on the ankle and say, 'Mr. President, we're down here.'" That'd be us, the American people. Nipping at Obama's ankles.
Mr. Blow also seems to suggest we need more ad hominem attacks. I could take the dangled bait and say something not nice about Blow's thought processes. I could take an easy swipe with some true but snarky remark about how obtuse his graphics have become over the years. But I won't. Instead, I'll just make an entreaty that he take a moment before the next column to speculate what the world would be like if everyone took his advice.
Coming soon: How u can hv deep thots & save teh world n 140 lttrs.