The 10 Words That Matter Most Now
And Why You Should Understand Them
As a writer, words have always mattered to me. But, today, as I ponder the state of our country and our world in the age of Trump, the value, purpose and power of words seems to be more important than ever. They are more than just phonetic sounds that come out of our mouths or squiggly symbols we put down on a page. They are contracts of understanding and community. They are the foundation of trust in government. And they can be dangerous weapons of our own destruction as I posted here.
Awkward tweets and boastful speeches aside, President Trump has a way with words. He knows their power and uses them for his political purposes quite regularly — and I would say, masterfully. He used angry words to stir his base and fuel his rise in politics. He used boastful words to convince people that America was broken and that he “alone can fix it.” He used demeaning words to bully and disrespect political adversaries, the free press, Mexicans, Muslims, people of color and women. He used dishonest words to try to convince his followers and the rest of the world that his presidency is legitimate.
Words can uplift and inspire but they can also debase and damage. The divisive NRA ad that encourages violent retaliation against people who don’t support Trump comes to mind. Evocative and audacious, it is rife with words and phrases carefully chosen to create fear and outrage in its intended audience. It’s as dangerous as it is disingenuous and is designed to draw an even deeper divide between those on the left and the right. The following are some of the excerpts that do it most effectively:
“They (liberals) use their media to assassinate real news.”
“They use their schools to teach their children that their President is another Hitler.”
“… to bully and terrorize the law-abiding.”
“The only way we stop this… the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
Powerful words. Inflammatory words. Fighting words. To many on both sides of the political divide and gun control debate, these words seem a call to arms. And coming from the NRA, that’s a very chilling thought, indeed.
It’s time we understood and agreed on the power of words
The following is a list of what I believe are the most powerful, potent and important words in America right now. Some are scary. Some are idealistic. But all are important and deserving of consideration as we try to move forward in uncertain times.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, truth is defined as the body of real things, events, and facts. It is the very fabric of the consensual government of democracy and the heart of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But since entering the political sphere, the concept of truth is consistently and wantonly wasted with the myriad accusations of “fake news” used by Trump to maintain his base and further divide our nation.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, fear is defined as the expectation of the worst of outcomes. It is utterly corrosive and damaging as it tears apart the trust and goodwill among citizens of different parties, races, religions and beliefs. And it is employed consistently and effectively by certain right-wing media outlets, the most obvious example being the almost daily “Fox News Alerts.”
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, civility is defined as courtesy and polite expression. Civil discourse is what allows political opponents to disagree on principles peacefully and productively. Yet civility was one of the first words laid waste to in Trump’s bid for the Presidency. At his his rallies and in his Twitter feeds, he regularly used disrespectful, bullying barbs to attack opponents and marginalized groups — and continues to do so.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, illegal is defined as something not authorized or sanctioned by law. It is a word used by Trump and his administration to call for stricter sanctions on immigrants and people of color in urban areas. But contrary to what some believe, a person cannot be “an illegal.” To label them such delegitimizes them as a human being deserving of respect and kindness. It takes away their humanity and emboldens racism and hate crimes.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, racism is a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. It’s been employed throughout history (mostly by European white people) to maintain power, control and economic and social privilege. By appointing Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General and using dog-whistle phrases like “law and order,” Trump appeals to the residual racism that has plagued America since its inception and threatens to tear it apart now.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, great is defined as notably large in size or measure or remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness. It is a word that Trump has employed over and over and over again, most notably in his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” But great is a very slippery word. It can mean different things to different people. To some, America was at its greatest during slavery or during the Jim Crow era. For others, (like people of color) that is obviously not the case. In examining Trump’s particular affinity for this word, it’s interesting to note how important the definition “notably large in size” has been for this President. From crowds at rallies and his inauguration to his Twitter followers, he seems to need the validation of sheer numbers to convince himself of his own “greatness.”
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a Constitution is the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it. According to the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” According to Donald Trump, although Congress must obey the rules of the United States Constitution, he, as President, doesn’t have to.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, hate is an intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury. Closely tied to the fear impulse and the tenets of civility, hate is a powerful weapon against peaceful coexistence and a truly united United States. Hate is the ammunition in the the weaponized words regularly sprayed at opponents, the media and various groups of people by Donald Trump, Breitbart media and Fox News. The recent NRA ad targeting the “liberal elite” and members of “the opposition” was rife with hate and threats of violence and retribution. And in today’s highly charged political environment, hate, like a loaded firearm, has the power to kill.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a bully is a blustering, browbeating person, especially one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable. Even before he entered the political arena (on Obama’s coattails via harassing birther accusations), Donald Trump was known for his abrasive and demeaning rhetoric, most aptly illustrated by his catchphrase, “You’re fired!” He built his fortune and his brand through his unapologetically aggressive personality and thought nothing about stepping on hundreds (maybe thousands) of people on his way up the ladder. Neither liberals nor conservatives should be surprised that now as President, at the apex of his power, he is using the bully pulpit to beat down anyone who dares disagree with him.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, resistance is an act of opposition by an organization of people against occupation forces and collaborators. But in the context of this Constitutionally challenged administration and its nefarious dealings with an authoritarian Russian regime, I humbly submit a new definition: Resistance is an insistence on the basic tenets of sanity, civility and truth. And of all the words that matter for the future of America, #Resistance may be the one that matters most.
What Do You Think?
Do you have other words that should be added to the list? If so, I would like to hear from you. And if you like this article, please share it!