Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Language of the Right

From Buzzfeed, a glossary of memes and codes popular among right wing trolls

Who knew that placing three parens before and after a person's name was a derisory way of labelling them as Jewish.

"(((Echo))) Parentheses: When used around someone's name, a means of indicating that they are Jewish. The "echoes" are a reference to some old gobbledygook about Jews "echoing through history," but the parentheses are a handy tool on Twitter for anti-Semites to signal to one another when someone they dislike is Jewish. Once the tactic was exposed, some Jews and non-Jews started adding them to their own Twitter usernames as a way to subvert the practice and make it less powerful."

From ATTN, a glossary of commonly used phrases that have racist origins or overtones

It includes an interesting entry from Encyclopedia Britannica about the "Grandfather Clause". The concept of "grandfathering" someone into legal status after a period of time has its roots in the Jim Crow South:

"It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because the former slaves had not been granted the franchise until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, those clauses worked effectively to exclude black people from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites."

Not that using the term today makes a person racist, but it's interesting to know. Just as it would be good to know that the term "Thug" that is now verboten has its roots not in white Americans' fears of gangs but in white British imperialists' fears of gangs in India, specifically the gangs that engaged in Thuggee, a violent killing ritual that targeted travelers, native Indians mostly, along the Great Trunk Road in northern India.

The weaponization of words is a major issue today, poisoning conversations and relationships. Groups have always used coded language to exclude people but this behavior entered the mainstream of party politics in the nineties with the rise of Newt Gingrich and his political guru Frank Luntz. Luntz helped Gingrich gain a Republican majority in the House and one of his weapons was a lexicon included in a GOPAC memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) reported on the memo in 1995.

Luntz taught Gingrich and Gingrich trained the Republicans to use language like a tar brush to smear the Democrats and make people feel suspicious and angry about them. Their caucus members followed the playbook.

"Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

"decay… failure (fail)… collapse(ing)… deeper… crisis… urgent(cy)… destructive… destroy… sick… pathetic… lie… liberal… they/them… unionized bureaucracy… “compassion” is not enough… betray… consequences… limit(s)… shallow… traitors… sensationalists…endanger… coercion… hypocrisy… radical… threaten… devour… waste… corruption… incompetent… permissive attitudes… destructive… impose… self-serving… greed… ideological… insecure… anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs… pessimistic… excuses… intolerant…stagnation… welfare… corrupt… selfish… insensitive… status quo… mandate(s)… taxes… spend(ing)… shame… disgrace… punish (poor…)… bizarre… cynicism… cheat… steal… abuse of power… machine… bosses… obsolete… criminal rights… red tape… patronage"

This list of words has remained in use ever since, and it's helped destroy the polity or traditional courtesy that used to make our political system function. Language helped make our democracy dysfunctional. When Obama was elected president most Americans polled said they were sick and tired of the nasty partisanship in Washington, yet they kept re-electing the same right wing cohort who'd poisoned the well. Americans wanted civility but in 2010, after two years of fierce Republican opposition and outright racism, they restored the Congress to the Republicans.

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