George Orwell knew that the way to control the debate is to control the language. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Truth,” he wrote in his science fiction classic, “1984.”
But even Orwell might blush today at the way progressives have mastered the tactic. To take just one example, illegal immigrants became “undocumented immigrants” and then — in some circles — “undocumented Americans.” Use of such terms as “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens” — the legal moniker — became tarred as racist, with those who utter those words shunned.
Here is a list of left-wing buzzwords and phrases that are overused and should be retired from political speech:
1.) Alt-Right. The problem with this descriptor is that no one can seem to agree what it means. Some white supremacists and neo-Nazis have embraced the term as an effort to rebrand themselves. Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen Bannon once said he wanted the news website to be the “platform of the Alt-Right.”
The association of a label used by racists allowed Bannon’s critics to tag him with the same slur. But Bannon never defined the term the way racial separatists such as Richard Spencer apply it. He meant it as an alternative strain of conservatism that emphasizes nationalism and populism over libertarianism on such matters as trade and immigration.
If there were ever any doubt where Bannon stands, his interview with the left-wing American Prospect shortly before leaving his post as White House chief strategist should have cleared it up. Bannon called the white nationalists who marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month “clowns.”
Even the Associated Press has recognized the silliness of this term, instructing its journalists to avoid using it. The rest of the journalism and political world should follow this example.
2.) Dog Whistles. This refers to seemingly neutral words that actually are super-secret coded messages to racists and other contemptible people.
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The only people who seem to be able to decode the messages, though, are racists, liberal pundits, and left-wing activists.
“Law and order?” Code for taking away the rights of blacks, say those on the Left. “Cosmopolitan,” the word White House adviser Stephen Miller used to highlight CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s elitism during a briefing-room debate over immigration policy? It’s an anti-Semitic dog whistle that had its origins with Nazis in Germany. (Never mind that Miller himself is Jewish).
Former FBI agent Michael German this month even told CNN anchor Erin Burnett that “Western culture” is a dog whistle.
3.) Divisive. This pejorative is nearly always applied to Republicans, especially President Donald Trump.
What progressives really mean when they apply it to politicians is, “advocates policies I don’t like.” If a politician calls for open borders and less aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, he is a “unifier” or is “trying to bring us together.”
But such positions are controversial and opposed by at least half the country. It makes no more sense to call these positions unifying than it does apply the “divisive” label to the opposite position — that immigration laws should be enforced to the fullest extent of the law.
Both ends of the spectrum are legitimate positions in a representative democracy. Either view can be wise or misguided, depending on someone’s perspective. But neither is inherently unifying or divisive.
The same goes for a host of other issues. People should stop accusing politicians of divisiveness for having the temerity to take positions they don’t agree with.
4.) Microaggression. This sounded liked a joke when it came into popular usage a few years ago. But it is anything but funny. Originally attributed to psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester Pierce in 1970 to describe insults against African-Americans, the term has been expanded in recent years to apply to virtually every aggrieved social group.
“Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life,” a document co-authored by Columbia University Teachers College adjunct professor Christina Capodilupo, listed subtle slights that could hurt “marginalized” groups. One infamous example is, “America is a melting pot,” which the document concluded might make immigrants feel pressured to assimilate.
Guidance on the Equal Forum website at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for guidance advised that telling a woman “I love your shoes” constituted a microaggression.
But even Capodilupo suggested that criticism of microaggression has been used to shut down a free exchange of ideas rather than a call for self-reflection.
“It was never meant to give a vernacular that then makes it OK to stop talking,” she told The Chronicle of Higher Education in June 2016. “It was to ask people to be flexible in their thinking and to be open-minded to the concept that we don’t all walk through the world in the same shoes.”
5.) Courage. Political courage is an admirable trait. A willingness by a politician to risk his career by doing what is right was the basis of President John F. Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage.”
Progressives, however, often use “courage” as a synonym for “opposing Trump” or Republicans, generally. This particularly is true when the politician opposing Trump is a Republican.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) bathed in left-wing accolades in July after he cast the deciding vote against the “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“It certainly was a McCain moment,” gushed “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski after the vote. “Mark Halperin, talk about that moment and what it meant, what it means for the future.”
Halperin, an MSNBC political analyst, answered: “Well, he’s not afraid of the president, and he’s not afraid of doing what he thinks is right.”
No one doubts McCain’s personal courage, considering his having enduring abuse over five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam or his current personal battle against cancer. But it hardly took courage to oppose a president with approval ratings south of 40 percent or a health bill that was even less popular. This is particularly true for a politician who almost certainly will never face voters again.