The Failure Of Language In The Age Of Trump.

As a professional writer who has a journalism degree and as someone who taught writing at the collegiate level, I believe words matter. Unfortunately, I feel too many journalists, politicians, and elected officials failed us during the administration of Donald J. Trump.

Indeed, I believe their choice of words to describe his outrageous behavior have both encouraged and enabled him.

For example, in the era of Trump, empathy, politeness and humility have been labeled as “political correctness.” Right-wing propagandists are dismissed as “conservatives.” Domestic terrorists are labeled as “extremists.” Violent militias and hate groups are labeled as “radicals.” Seditionists are known as “patriots.” And insurrectionist politicians are part of “the freedom caucus.”

Voter suppression is “enforcing voter ID laws.” Voter disenfranchisement is “updating voter registration.” Civil rights marches and protests are “riots” while threatening gatherings of armed militias are “demonstrations.”

When Trump bombarded us with lies and disinformation, far too many reporters referred to the lies as “factually incorrect” or “untrue.” When he made racist statements and encouraged violence, reporters called them “an attack on political norms.” Even when he called journalists enemies of the people, few reporters were willing to acknowledge his behavior as that of an autocrat.

When Trump ordered children to be ripped from their parents’ arms, too many reported that he had increased “border security,” instead of calling his order what it really was: child torture. When he refused asylum to political and economic refugees, he was “tough on immigration.” But, by sending them back to almost certain death, he was acting as an accomplice to mass murder. And both the Russia investigation and Trump’s first impeachment were labeled by some as “witch hunts.”

Yet, never has the issue become more obvious than in aftermath of Trump’s attempted coup.

Though the assault on Congress was clearly an effort to kidnap and murder those elected representatives who refused to do Trump’s bidding by overturning the election, the language was quickly softened. Instead of calling it a coup, an insurrection, or even domestic terrorism, many described it merely as an “attack,” a “riot,” or a mere “demonstration.” Some of the buffoons on Fox News even said, “America had it coming.”

Let’s be clear. We can never heal this nation until we have a shared truth. That requires precision of language – language that accurately describes what we have collectively seen and experienced. We must do better.

An Act Of Sedition.

After watching videos of the armed confrontation between Cliven Bundy and federal agents executing a legal court order, I realized that I was watching more than a political demonstration or civil disobenience. When Bundy’s crowd of armed milita threatened government officials by drawing their weapons and taking aim from sniper positions, they crossed a very clear line into the realm of sedition. Incredibly, they were supported by Nevada Governor Sandoval, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and dozens of state legislators from Arizona and Nevada.

Look up the definition of sedition yourself.

To save you the trouble, 18 U.S. Code 2384 reads, “If two or more persons…conspire to oppose by force the authority…or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States…they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” Not only were the actions of Bundy and his friends in violation of that code, so, too, were the actions of the conservative media hosts and politicians who applauded and encouraged them.

Imagine if a group of drug dealers challenged federal authority to interrupt a smuggling operation. Imagine if a city neighborhood took up arms to prevent the arrest of a suspected murderer. Would anyone support and encourage them? If not, where do we draw the line?

I’d suggest that the line is crossed when someone, anyone, takes aim at government officials or incites someone else to do so.