Linguistic gymnastics run rampant among the elites. The statements coming from Washington are increasingly nebulous. Are beltway players trying to clarify their positions …… or to obfuscate them?
The latest example comes in the form of a headline: “Dozens of Former Anti-Trump GOP Officials Discussing Formation of “Center-Right Breakaway Party'” Let’s dig into the Sajak-esque constructions of language contained in statements like this one ……
The story states that about 120 anti-Trump government officials – all Republicans – have participated in a zoom call to discuss forming a new faction of the GOP (or perhaps a new party altogether) to run on a platform of “principled conservatism.”
The leaks and tweets from the call contain a wide selection of linguistic gummy bears ……
…… this is a “new, independent” faction of the GOP.
…… they’re standing up to parts of their party “threatening American democracy.”
…… committed to “truth, reason, and the founding ideals.”
…… committed to “our values.”
…… “adheres to the constitution.”
Such vague statements can be momentarily assuaging, but they contain few conceptual nutrients. They’re harmful when they form too large a part of our daily diet. These benign-sounding concepts seem like ideals we should believe in, but clear definitions are rarely produced.
For example …… which parts of the constitution are they talking about? Do they support constructs like corporate personhood, which was never addressed in the founding document? Were their conservative “values” ever noted in it? What are their views on today’s bloated interpretations of the Commerce Clause?
And what about concepts like “truth” and “reason”? Are they asserting that their “nativist” co-Republicans lack the capacity for those qualities? Have they defined what makes a nativist morally or intellectually unpalatable?
These ideas are rarely clarified by the purveyors of political speech.
More information can often be derived from looking at an initiative’s point person than can be gleaned from its well-rehearsed script. That figure usually leads with their credentials, which can be sold more effectively than the vague message. Typically, a ringleaders’ curriculum vitae is a crucial first argument for a cause’s legitimacy.
In this case, the lead salesperson is “former CIA officer Evan McMullin”. His papers are presented in three words: Central. Intelligence. Agency. He’s joined by others with similar resumes, including several “former high-ranking members of the Homeland Security Department”.
Despite describing their platform in ambiguous language, this group’s credentials define them precisely. They’re not centrists. They seek control of centralized power.
Centrist versus Central. Distinguishing an -ist from an -al can be enlightening ……
Is anything inherently wrong with a centralist position that leans conservative …… as opposed to today’s Washington, where mainstream centralism now leans liberal? No. The problem lies not with a position itself, but with any lack of balance between opposed regions of the circle. Too much decentralization and too much centralization are equivalent threats.
To sort through such issues – and to re-build balance in our society – the American people must understand the true positions of those who seek to lead. Unfortunately, Mr. McMullen and friends have failed to describe theirs with clarity.