You can call a slimehead by the better-known name of orange roughy, but it’s still an ugly fish. The same goes for President Donald Trump’s attempt to euphemize a first year in office that was historic for all the wrong reasons.
A regime that gave the world “alternative facts” has been working overtime at year’s end to banish words it doesn’t like or believe in, and to take credit for, or reframe, good things that it had very little to do with.
Our 71-year-old president is a slow learner and creature of bad habits. But he does seem to understand the authoritarian axiom that repetitive political language can make “lies sound truthful,” as George Orwell wrote in the definitive essay on the subject.
Thus, “climate change” is forbidden for the American public servants working to protect the natural world from a changing climate. Law enforcement, under the special counsel Robert Mueller, is now “a coup,” in the favored word of state-run television, Fox News. And a “so-called judge” is the president’s term for a real federal authority with years of courtroom experience, not the monumentally ill-qualified people he’s been stuffing into said positions.
But guess who’s going to prevail when the White House word police go up against the real police? The so-called law. And what happens when a disgusted majority finally gets a chance to exercise the most powerful tool in a democracy? A so-called election.
That’s why I’m optimistic, as we crawl out of the darkest days of the year, that the words Trump has tried to erase, or change the meaning of, will come roaring back to haunt him next year. You can ridicule “the resistance,” as Trump did while urging people to vote for an alleged child predator this month. But that only makes it stronger.
You can suggest, as a Trump-inspired bureaucrat at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did in a recent memo, that words such as “science-based” and “vulnerable” not be used. But it won’t make the Trump enablers in Congress any less vulnerable when voters get their say next November.
As president, Trump employs the same charlatan’s gibberish that served him well as the owner of a failed casino and a fraudulent “university.” He says “terrific,” “phenomenal” and “incredible” to describe a routine meeting, or someone he just met. His favorite words for those who cross him are “loser,” “moron” and “lightweight.” As he explained last year, “I know words — I have the best words.”
Of late, Trump is down to a single best word to describe himself — “I.” He puts it in quotes, just like that.
Now let’s look at the words the public uses for him. When Americans were asked in a recent survey by Quinnipiac to describe, without prodding, the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Trump, the most common reply was “idiot.” That was followed closely by “liar,” “incompetent” and “moron.”
The words of the year, as put forth by various dictionaries, are reactions to Trump’s awful effect on the culture. “Complicit” was the favored expression from dictionary.com, and also the perfume used in a terrific “Saturday Night Live” sendup of Ivanka Trump. “Youthquake” was Oxford Dictionaries’ nominee. Merriam-Webster chose “feminism.”
The popularity of these vigorous expressions would seem to disprove the great line (and title of an coming film) from the Republican strategist Rick Wilson: “Everything Trump touches dies.” For in 2018, the youthquake, aided by the roused forces of feminism, are going to have a reckoning at the ballot box for those who are complicit with the tyranny of this president. All the best words, deployed.