Inspection- As We Continue to Lose Meaning in the Lexicon

I am expanding the word “lexicon” beyond words, or even phrases, but how we use, misuse and abuse these words and phrases. -Ken

by Ken Carman

 The day I wrote this I had visited several web sites I go to frequently and noticed they all had “Should Obama be impeached?” ads. And these weren’t Right Wing sites…
 There was a time use of the word “impeachment” was mostly for the worst of crimes, back when compromise and moderating rhetoric was more the norm. Recently I noticed, once again, websites running “impeach Obama” polls, which of course replaced “impeach Bush” polls, and you can bet “impeach Romney” would have been in the same advertising space if Mitt had won. Impeachment has become the flavor of the month of every year of every presidential term. Impeachment talk has more common than talking about the weather.
 The problem here is the big yawn created by The Boy Who Cried Wolf-type rhetoric: when every supposed offense, perceived or imagined, becomes a reason to… yawn, what was I typing about? …oh, yeah: “becomes a reason to play the old ragged on the edges, and bent way the hell out of shape, impeachment card again.”
 There have been a few times in history: I repeat and emphasize “very few times,” when impeachment absolutely should have been on the table: ironically often times when it wasn’t even seriously considered. But these days tossing the word around has about as much impact as a switch from Coke ads in one sports game, to Pepsi in another.
 You know most folks these days don’t remember just how long it took before impeachment became a serious topic, openly discussed, during the Nixon administration. Indeed, many weren’t even alive when just the threat of possible congressional debate on the topic could convince a president to resign. But, if that’s all it took these days no president would remain in office for long.
 Hence the very word itself: “impeachment,” has been cheapened. That’s unfortunate: we need it, again… on very rare occasions. If we needed it as much as it has been promoted, pushed and blathered about then we might as well just burn down what our forefathers built and start again. I don’t suggest that: there’s a damn good chance what would replace it would be far worse. Just imagine today’s most extreme, most influential, partisans redesigning our country to their preferences. It sure as hell wouldn’t be the moderates. As much as sometimes I admire his tenacity, and I can think of far worse people to do it, I wouldn’t want our next Constitution written by Bernie Sanders, sure as hell not by Michelle Bachmann. Neither by Teabaggers nor Occupy.
 The main reason the use of the word “impeachment” has become so frequent, so easy, is our acceptance of overstatement and hyperbole these days, where no one seems bothered by slander, libel and the auto slapping one of labels like Nazi, Socialist, Commie, liar, traitor, blah, blah, blah without even a “this is almost like…” or “getting like…”
 Oh, and let’s add “stupid,” to our framing, name calling, hyperbole, overreach via lexicon usage.
 Recently I had a discussion with a friend on Facebook about Michelle Bachmann. Her post indicated Michelle was incredibly stupid. I wrote back that, if I had to guess, she seemed more the conniving and a “throw red meat to her base” type, but we’re all guessing from afar as to these things, essentially.
 I understand with that statement I was partially playing the game I am complaining about here, and I will get to that in a second. Just remember my last sentence in the previous para. It’s important.
 She responded back by offering a Michelle quote that, taken on face value, obviously could indeed have been a stupid thing to believe, if it accurately reflected her deeply held beliefs. But that’s the problem here. How are we ever to know: especially these days, if people, especially pols (They qualify as people… I think… maybe… sort of…) …are actually stating a deeply held stupidity that they really believe, or just tossing out cake to the rabble, ala’ French Revolution. Or going for shock value. Or jockeying for favor with their philosophical peeps. There are all kinds of reasons people might say such things, and not all of them are reflective of deeply held beliefs.
 So I’m am not so quick to say, “Off with their stupid, empty, heads,” because, well, we really don’t know. People live with folks for years, only to find out they’ve been having affairs, have their murder victims buried in the cellar, actually like Rap or Disco (shiver)… Hell, we live with ourselves and, if we’re honest, occasionally surprise the person closest to us: us. Often what we really believe doesn’t come out until our beliefs are tested: like an anti-gay activist who finds out someone close to them is gay, liberal becomes a victim of crime, a conservative his rights violated.
 So how are we to really know from afar what’s actually going on inside the heads of Michelle Bachmann, Michael Moore, Barack Obama or Rush Limbaugh?
 We’re guessing. That doesn’t mean speculation isn’t on the table, it just means, if we are to be honest, we should admit we are speculating. Otherwise, anything we accuse someone else of is just blather, perhaps even self serving blather.
 This whole framing nonsense has gained such wide popularity, so infected the national discourse, so utterly destroyed the meaning and usage of some words, we hardly know we’re doing it. In part I blame talk shows because that’s often how they get their audience: appealing to hate, ala’ Father Coughlin, pumping up fear of the other.
 Just yesterday I metaphorically beat down a poster on Facebook who claimed Barack Obama actually thinks the object: in this case a gun, kills people. I pointed out this was a meme’: framing if you wish, pushed by those who know better. No one actually thinks guns operate themselves, or that people aren’t to blame for their misuse in one way or another. Perhaps they think the presence of the gun too tempting, too easy for those who would abuse and misuse, but that’s not the same.
 No, my guess is… and notice how I framed my own “framing” there… again, my guess is it’s just a talking point pushed by those who think it “clever,” and a way to make gun regulation advocates feel silly.
 In my opinion, the only folks who should feel “silly” here are those pushing such nonsense.
  Note: my views on gun control probably please neither side, I just think if we’re going to discuss and debate, we should point out obvious dishonest talking points.
 (If you say you “metaphorically beat someone down,” does that make “beat” no longer a metaphor, a former English major might muse?)
 Even the labels have become meaningless. People tie them together: fascist, Nazi, Socialist, Communist and other words; words each with their own, distinct definitions and toss them at one person, one party, one group of people: all at the same time.
 How about the semi-newly minted word from the Right “homofacist?” Really? Yes, as we know, historically, fascists were “so” pro-gay. As we know gays have been so active in insisting they have the right to refuse jobs to an applicant if they find out that applicant is hetero. As we know it is gays who have been insisting only they have the right to get married: and all the advantages of being married. As we know it’s gays who have insisted being hetero is a sickness that can be cured… or if not they should be sent to some isolated island somewhere. Except that’s all the other way around: it’s certainly not gays insisting on such things.
 If we must use the word “fascist” then shouldn’t we use it for those who go after a whole group of people, just like some fascists did gays? Jews weren’t the only targets.
 Yet, despite this comment, I would find “heterofascist” just as bothersome as homofascist is. Why? Because, in the end, this is the kind of framing that does more damage to the framer than the frame-ie because: it’s so obvious that it is overstatement, and about as appealing as all the claims about Jews in Germany in the 30s.
 However, it does work for politicians if their goal is to toss red meat to their more froth at the mouth base. That’s how some folks stay in office so long: especially if district has been gerrymandered that way., or they get to screw with how the vote is taken, or counted.
 Of course that’s not a representative form of government. Essentially it’s an oligarchy.
 This behavior has infected; not just the pols and our pundits, but the populace. It has become the very reason why we do more yelling than talking, but mostly not talk to each other at all…
 Let’s look at it this way: you’re in a meeting with a group of people, maybe an office meeting. One of your fellow employees stands up and uses inflammatory words to claim don’t give a damn about the company, say the only reason you’re sucking up to the boss is because you want advancement, and insist any suggestions you make will make the product worse. In fact, they claim, you could care less if some toy your company sells might kill a little girl.
 After that meeting how likely are you to ever trust that person again, or even have an open, honest, discussion with them? How likely is it that any employee hit by such claims is likely to make charges of intent right back at his accuser sooner or later?
 From my observation of human behavior not very likely. And very likely the blow back will be even worse.
  And this is, essentially, where we are politically, and socially, these days as a nation. The political, and social, divide today has become more and more populated by two versions of al-Qaeda: us vs. “them…” and there’s a constant effort to make the next verbal attack more vile, more disgusting, and with an extra slather of slander and libel. We have come to lay it on so thick I think, sometimes, no one knows what the truth is. And the power, and impact, of our words has been lessened to the point that these words have little meaning when we need them the most. When debate and discussion is nothing more than accusation: using words like bombs, then those who may actually deserve to be challenged in the strongest terms slither through the lexicon like poisonous snakes among a world populated by people all accused of being poisonous snakes.
 This, in the final analysis, explains a lot of what has increasingly been going wrong in politics, going wrong with our country and and going wrong with our relations with each other, for at least the past 60 years.


Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

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