And Now . . . The War on Words

12/14/2016 03:12 pm ET

Being that the American experiment is inseparable from conquest, military idioms have long accompanied our political and cultural imagery. We “attack” problems and “target” people. Drugs “eviscerate” our young. Legislation happens in “trenches” and party loyalists are “good soldiers.”

WWII photograph from web

Fifty years ago, policy garnered names like the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs and the War on Illiteracy.

Then when our Cold War partner, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1990, our native bellicosity needed a new foe. And without setting off an alarm, we seamlessly turned it onto our own system and culture. For example, Reagan “assaulted” unions, minorities, regulation and common sense. And to hide misdeeds, he battered the other legs of the stool of democracy—journalism, the courts and Congress.

At the same time, the Alice in Wonderland alliance between Evangelical Christianity and corporations launched a campaign to destroy the narrative of American ideals. The Contract with America included a Mob-Hit on the safety net. Clinton went after the poor. The 20th Century ended with one party vowing to drown government in a bathtub.

“Promising peace through perpetual war.”

Bush’s War on Terror opened the new millennium with brilliant double-speak, promising peace through perpetual war. Then, the offense of electing a Black president opened the floodgates: The War on Whites, The War on Christmas, The War on Religion, The War on Freedom, The War on Speech, The War on Education, and the War on the Constitution, all enabled by a military blockade of cooperation in Washington. Lately, the 1% decries itself unfairly under siege for destroying the 99%, and, eager to be on the winning side of something, many of the oppressed groups are rising in support.

Whew! Let me catch my breath at the audacity.

WWII poster to stop loose talk

The War on Words

At its peril America has ignored George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, clarion calls against subversion by the wicked and powerful. Now that a demagogue with minority backing has ascended to power in the US and made common cause with frantic ideologues, extractive profiteers and fake news (Fox is now the grandfather to countless illegitimate offspring), the last battle is at hand. Wittingly or not, we are participants in a fight of unparalleled consequence. At stake is meaning, the jewel of humanity. After all the other bastions have fallen, the War on Words has been engaged. And this time, there are no true passive observers. When meaning is finally discredited and dead, democracy will have no oxygen and culture itself will drift in seas of corruption.

“Hesitation to speak out aids and abets the enemy.”

The field in which this battle is taking place is The Narrative, in this case, the narrative of our culture—what is said and what is believed. (And because of its place in Western/White history, I now honor it with capitals.) In our brand new media paradigm (thirty years young and as yet unvetted for survivability) all power comes down to words, words moving at the speed of light. In the Internet age, any lie travels as fast and accurately as any considered wisdom on which culture is built. The cluster bombs of boldfaced manipulation now being dropped with insidious regularity are designed to convince whole demographics that BS outranks the old truths. And this is no accident.

Consider that our hesitation to speak out aids and abets the enemy. Every lie and illogical frame that we leave unchallenged takes its place in The Narrative—what people see and hear. It can be repeated immediately and in perpetuity. And if that weren’t bad enough, one metaphysical fact needs to be grasped: A foundation of honesty and good intent is damaged—sometimes even ruined—by a single lie. But one truth is a paltry counter to the smallest cache of deception. Goodness, hard-won over several millennia, hangs in the balance.

Donald J Trump via twitter

For instance, the other day Mr. Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway said, if the president-elect tweets, as is becoming his preferred form of a free press—think about that for a moment—then by definition tweeting is presidential. And, by solipsistic inference, this bestows presidential authority on the nonsense he tweets.

When questioned about this, Vice President-elect Pence said Mr. Trump’s thoroughly unfounded claims of voter fraud are “refreshing,” the kind of free expression the electorate has proven it is thirsty for. With the knowing smile of a boa constrictor sighting a meal, he as good as said that lies are a welcome relief from having to carry on with integrity, the bedrock of culture. His amusement stems from understanding that this ludicrous statement would manifest worldwide as he uttered it, knocking yesterday’s idiocy off the Internet, perhaps even eclipsing Mr. Trump’s current tweet. This is governance by subterfuge and poison and most importantly by distraction. When we watch idiocy paraded and when news media try to parse it, we—and they—lose sight of what the other hands of power are doing.

Other than surrender, there is only one course. Marry truth to the narratives you hold and, with compassion, inject dishonest logic, statements and arguments with their antidote. Do this in your mind and actions, in your home, in your community and, yes, on all forms of media. Culture depends on it.

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