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American politics: divided by a common language

by Charlie Barber | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Last Word | February 14th, 2018

The Kremlin’s campaign to help Trump win the White House had a primary goal. That was to bring about an end to America’s economic embargo. (The secondary aim was to shove a finger in the United States’ preexisting social and ideological wounds. This had succeeded well enough.)…But it had backfired…Kremlin officials…had a poor understanding of U.S. institutional politics. They failed to appreciate the separation of powers or the constraints on a president—any president.
– Luke Harding, Collusion

Modern English…is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
- George Orwell

…if Auschwitz has taught us the hazards of statelessness, it can also teach us that membership in a political community is no longer a guarantee of the most elemental human rights.
– Richard Rubenstein

Unfortunately for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Americans don’t really think a shutdown of their government is a “good thing,” no matter what advocates like Newt Gingrich or Donald Trump may have said in its favor. Nor did Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) enter into this crisis lightly, successfully in defense of CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and, for now, unsuccessfully, in defense of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Unfortunately for Americans, however, much of their federal government has been effectively shut down ever since President Trump took the oath of office on January 20, 2017, due to a judicious combination of incompetence and outright hostility to functioning government.

Apostles of limited to no government, like Grover Norquist, should be delighted, but, maybe not. “Bipartisanship,” and “civility” between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and even parts of the House of Representatives are threatening to break out since the short, partial but painful shutdown of the U.S. Government from February 19 to February 22, 2018.

What if a majority of Republicans and Democrats should decide to ignore President Trump’s whims or wishes on DACA, just as they did on his expressed desire to lift sanctions on Russia? And how are we to expect the rest of the world to understand a discussion of these issues using words like “shithole” and “jello?” My Husky friends were in deep discussions about the strange and exotic tongue known as English.

High Plains Reader: Hello friends! I see there are four of you now.

Putin: We have been joined by our colleague, Lena, who is from a family of Siberian Huskies operating in the Arctic regions of where Norway and Finland border Russia.

Lena: I am from a group of Huskies who have aided and abetted resistance to tyrant regimes like the Soviet Union, which invaded Finland in 1939 and the Nazi Germany invasion of Norway in 1940. We were always impressed with the way that Winston Churchill used the English language to rally his people against Nazi tyranny, despite reluctance of his own Conservative government to fight.

Rasputin: Words as weapons. The movie "Darkest Hour" makes this clear.

Kim Dog Un: But Americans do such strange things with the English Language.

HPR: It was Churchill, in fact, who said that Great Britain and the United States were two nations who were “separated by a common language,” Now, I’m afraid Americans are having trouble agreeing on the meaning of their own English words.

Lena: Like “chain migration” to mean too many families of color coming to America, rather than families who look like Stephen Miller, the white nationalist adviser to President Trump.

Kim Dog Un: As opposed to “migration in chains,” which, according to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), is the meaning of that term for African Americans and Haitians.

HPR: I think that Stephen Miller is kind of goofy looking, myself, but Donald Trump and the folks who support him seem to think Miller, like his predecessor Steve Bannon, is on to something with this “whiteness” thing.

Lena: Adolf Hitler was the white nationalist of his day against whom Churchill mobilized the English language. Folks in Norway thought Hitler, like Stephen Miller, was pretty goofy looking, even though Hitler wanted all people in Germany and Europe to look blond, thin, and athletic like he imagined Norwegians and his idealized “Aryans” to be.

HPR: Even Germans under Nazi rule used to joke about their leadership like that: “Blond like Hitler (who was a swarthy Austrian),” “Thin like Air Marshall Hermann Goering (who was very fat),” and “Athletic like Joseph Goebbels (who walked with a limp from childhood).”

Putin: But the Nazis and the German Army were no joke to Russians, who lost 20 million people to the Nazi invasion and extermination camps between 1941-1945.

HPR: Germans suffered, of course, for buying in to the illusions of their Fuehrer, and over the next sixty years modeled their country, first as West Germany, and then as a united Germany, after what they imagined American policies and politics to be: respect for the rule of law, distrust of absolute authority, and acceptance of immigrants from war torn and economically distressed nations.

Lena: The kind of countries now designated by President Trump as “shithole countries.”

Rasputin: Apologists for Trump say that he may have used the word “shithouse” instead of “shithole,” as if one were more complimentary than the other.

Putin: I understand their reasoning. As long as you can confuse the media about what was said, you have a chance of confusing their audiences about what was meant.

Kim Dog Un: Trump’s people lack a sense of humor or irony, so I don’t suppose they understand that the U.S. was itself a “shithouse” nation 100 years ago, until it imported knowledge of the flush toilet from overseas.

Lena: That’s right. An invention of (Sir) Thomas Crapper, an English public sanitation specialist, whom we commonly refer to today as a “plumber.” He was knighted for his service to the English Crown, and to civilization of all colors and religions. Americans often refer to a toilet as the “crapper,” because that is what American soldiers called it after coming back from World War I. The term stuck, and is now part of a constantly evolving American English language.

HPR: Just as we now use the term “plumber” to refer to President Nixon’s people who broke into the Watergate to fix “leaks” about how they were lying to the American people. Perhaps Americans can evolve their attitudes toward the colors and creeds of their nation, the way they have so creatively evolved their language.

Lena: If you compare the fate of people of color and those of different creeds in the U.S. today to 100 years ago, there has definitely been a change for the better. However, the fact that more people of Norwegian heritage are going back to Norway than immigrating to the U.S. is an indication that these representative “white people” are worried that American politics and policies are in a “shithole.”

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