Monday, October 17, 2016

Toxic weeds

As someone whose whole professional life has to do with words and what we communicate through them, underneath them, and in between them, I have had many thoughts "communication" in the final weeks of this presidential election. I qualify the term because communication theory posits a loop: speaker-message-listener-feedback-speaker, etc. What we have seen from Donald Trump has been like broadcasting--in its original 18th century usage, "seeds sown by scattering." Accusations, overstatements and generalizations are thrown to the winds, and, with nothing to tie them down to reality, these seeds of half-baked ideas float about until they land in some sort of soil. If it is not hospitable they wither and die, but if they find fertile soil, they take root and grow into toxic weeds that threaten to overrun anything near them. I have a weed like that in my backyard. It winds through my neighbors' fence into our space. We call it the "evil weed" And, like Donald, it always comes back no matter how often we try to yank it out. Because the roots are not something we control.

I have been thinking a lot about the depths to which our political discourse has fallen this cycle. Bullying tactics have become more and more normalized as we slog on toward November. They have reached a fever pitch in the past ten days, and I fear that our sense of what constitutes bullying and why it is so bad for us may be permanently warped. When Donald stands in front of the press and public and says with a straight face "It was just words. It didn't mean anything," it makes my blood boil. Of course words have meaning! I have blogged before about this facile excuse for bad behavior. Every word has an intention behind it (unless your brain has become disengaged from your mouth--which almost seems to be Trump's defense. But that can't be right. Who would vote for a candidate who doesn't think before he speaks. Oh. Maybe that is what they mean by "authenticity"?!?) And, contrary to what his campaign tells us, the concept that bullying is wrong has not just been rolled out this October to thwart Donald. In January 2104 I wrote about the need to see language as a tool that can easily be weaponized; at that time, even the NYPD recognized that fact.

Like so many people, I am weary of this election charade. The daily posturing, name-calling, hate-filled language coming from the Trump camp is something many of us have been working to eradicate for years. It is invading our space, like my backyard's evil weed, which I will keep pulling out and cutting back. And someday I will either weaken it so much that it can no longer thrive, or I will have to do something I have resisted thus far, and go ask the neighbors to help. They may not want to eradicate it (they seem to find it attractive), so we will compromise and work toward a mutually beneficial solution. That's what grown-ups in a civil society do.

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