Deplorable. Conspiracy. The n-word.
When Kelsey was five years old, as we were driving home from a playdate, she announced. “Mommy, I know what the f-word means!”
I tried to keep my face neutral as I glanced back at her in her car seat. “You do, Kels?”
“Yes, it means ‘fat.’ At Cheryl’s house, you aren’t allowed to say ‘fat.’”
“Oh?” I replied, amused.
“Yes.” Her face grew thoughtful. “But Caleb said that isn’t the f-word. He says the f-word is fuck. Is fuck the f-word, Mommy?”
“And here we are,” I thought. Keeping my voice light, I told her. “Yeah, that isn’t a very polite word. You probably shouldn’t say that word.”
“Ok.” Silence filled the car as I exited the freeway. Then, from behind me a lilting little voice sang, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck is a word you shouldn’t say…”
“Kelsey,” I added a little sternness to my voice. “What did I just say?”
“But, Mommy,” she protested, “I wasn’t saying it, I was singing it!”
Ask any mom, you’ll probably hear a similar anecdote. Children learn early what adults sometimes forget: there is power in words.
Sometimes words become symbols. When Hillary Clinton referred to a segment of Trump supporters as “deplorable,” she wanted to differentiate between two groups – hate-filled, alt-right white supremacists intentionally spreading lies to seed distrust and stir up fear versus the other group – the “people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures; and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but — he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”
The differentiation was lost by the next news cycle. The second group, the ones who Clinton said deserved understanding and empathy, were bombarded by the first to believe she had referred to them as “deplorable.” Soon, it didn’t matter what the actual context of the speech entailed. Deplorable had become an identity for disenfranchised Appalachians, for evangelical Christians, for anyone in a “flyover” state who has felt disregarded by their elected leaders. When I recently heard a white, upper-middle-class friend refer to herself as a deplorable, I was a bit taken aback. In the same conversation, when I said the word “conspiracy,” her eyes sparked. “That’s a word they use when they want to shut you down,” she said, an edge of anger in her voice.
Some words connote a depth of meaning far beyond their dictionary definition. In part one of Emmanual Acho’s guest appearance on The Oprah Conversation, there is a brief discussion about the history and use of the n-word, how it has been rebranded within black culture (although Oprah herself does not allow its use, no matter how it is spelled.)
What gives any word power is the intention behind it. A five-year-old singing about the f-word does not carry the sting of an adult screaming it at another adult. (Of course, after Kelsey’s song, we had a child-level discussion on the use of swear words.)
I think that most people who repeat what they have heard on the news or social media do so in this kind of innocence. We might know it’s gossip. We might not have taken the time to fully vet it ourselves but we trust the person who shared it with us.
Unfortunately, the source of the story or opinion may not be quite so innocent. Since the days of Pulitzer / Hearst yellow journalism through grocery market tabloids to what is sometimes presented today as serious news, some media outlets have vied for their market share by latching onto the most sensational, shocking, attention-grabbing headlines they can find (or create.) In the digital age, under quarantine, those methods have overfilled a sorcerer’s apprentice bucket with scandal, dire predictions and lies designed to frighten us and enrage us.
And we buy it. And click on it. And share it with our friends, as we shake our heads and gather our children to protect them from an increasingly dangerous world.
Unfortunately, we do have an enemy. But it is probably not your neighbor or high school friend or relative, even if they have gone over to the dark side (whichever one that is.) It’s probably not Bill Gates.
Our enemy is the one who prowls around like a roaring lion. That old lion who roars, frightening the prey into the path of the younger lions, the ones with teeth. If Satan (or evil, if you prefer) is the old lion, the young lions are those who intentionally use his tactics to accomplish their goals. “Satan only has about six tricks,” a pastor joked in a sermon that has stuck with me. “But he keeps using them because they work!”
The more I investigate the inner writings of political strategists, the more chilling I find some of them. Cold calculations measure how much we will believe manufactured evidence when motivated by fear. It is no longer mistakenly crossing a line in our passion, it is obliterating that line and the next and the next in an inexorable march to gain more wealth and more political power.
As consumers, we have become accustomed to the blatant manipulation of product advertising. Over the years, we have learned to be more discerning; most of us don’t jump up and drive to McDonald’s the moment a Big Mac appears on our TV (but a lot of us do get seduced by “targeted” ads.)
Our skills at detecting political manipulation may not be as well-honed.
And then there’s our pride. How can we admit we may have been manipulated? If Russian troll farms influenced how I voted, what does that say about me? So we double down on our opinions, even when there’s a glimmer that wonders, “Could it be true?”
And, unfortunately, our pride is one of the factors in the calculations. I do not believe Trump is God’s man for our time; neither do I believe he is an evil genius. Is he a sociopath and narcissist as many psychological reports suggest? Is he simply a man unaccustomed to real adversity or a man in the grip of greed? What I do believe about Donald Trump is that his pride opens him up to extreme manipulation from others. David Horowitz grooms a young Stephen Miller who writes Trump’s speeches and feeds him the same fear and hate-filled “evidence” that the President retweets. Media reports are horrified and outraged (which is the point) and what the President says has less and less meaning (also the point). Meanwhile, the silent power sits back in the darkness and is delighted.
Since Eisenhower, much has been written about the potential of misplaced power in the military-industrial complex. Organizations such as ALEC have been happy to stay in the shadows and pull the strings of our legislature. The American Legislative Exchange Council labels itself (and claims a tax-exempt charity status) as an educational nonprofit. In “educating” conservative legislators, the legislators receive campaign contributions and invitations to attend closed-door meetings with corporate lobbyists where they craft model bills designed to benefit the corporations. Many of these “models” are copied verbatim (your state name here) and passed into law. From the NRA’s “Stand Your Ground” law which protected Trayvon Martin’s killer to mandatory minimums and three-strikes in the “Truth in Sentencing Act” backed by the private prison industry, our society is being shaped according to stockholder share value. ALEC’s recent agendas address voter regulation, school privatization, exploiting the pandemic to deregulate federal statutes and create bigger tax benefits for corporations. As someone familiar with the history leading to the American civil war, I find their rhetoric emphasizing the influence of judges and states rights (where the majority of their power is concentrated) uncomfortably familiar. For more on ALEC:
Our confusion and feelings of not knowing whom to trust come from a strategy designed to erode our perception of truth. It is a strategy to represent perpetrators as victims. It is a strategy to claim victims are the real perpetrators. And so on…
In an article promoting her new book Hatemonger, Jean Guerrero writes, “Horowitz wrote that hope and fear are the two strongest weapons in politics. Barack Obama had used hope to become president. ‘Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,’ Horowitz argued, adding that Republicans should appeal to voters’ base instincts.”
Any person or organization that intentionally uses fear to manipulate, isolate and subjugate others are themselves being manipulated by the enemy of our souls. Do not follow them. Just don’t.
I’ve spoken with many friends who believe in the Republican ideals of limited government. They may not approve of Donald Trump personally, but they cannot imagine themselves voting for a Democrat.
Does it matter if your goals, even Godly goals, align with people whose actions do not reflect your values? I think this time, in this election, it does. In the past four years, hate and fear have been given a place at the table. The default retreat – “it’s just politics” – has worn thin. We are shouting at each other but very few are actually talking to each other. The earth itself seems to be reflecting our disharmony in waves of disasters. Our enemy doesn’t really care which side of the aisle we support. Our enemy delights in the terror, in the fighting, in the gossip, in our pride, in our weariness and hopelessness.
This time, in this election, I think it’s important to sit with God and look into our own hearts. Our right to vote is a precious privilege, but our hearts guide our votes. No one can see who you vote for, not your spouse, or pastor, or denomination leader. Only God sees. Your vote is important, but you are more important. Your heart is what God cares for.
Our Creator doesn’t need us. He wants us. Abba isn’t interested in utilizing you. Jesus told Peter his Father could send twelve legions of angels if needed; why would anyone think He needs us to battle other humans for Him? Abba invites you into fellowship to hang out, to just be with you. Did God craft the universe or wildflowers or brilliant sunsets for peak efficiency? No, He simply provides beauty for our souls. His glory is displayed for capitalists and socialists, for Republicans and Democrats. No political party gets to claim God as their sole supporter.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
“Yes. They’ll forget us. Such is our fate, there is no help for it. What seems to us serious, significant, very important, will one day be forgotten or will seem unimportant. And it’s curious that we can’t possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important, and what will seem petty and ridiculous…And it may be that our present life, which we accept so readily, will in time seem strange, inconvenient, stupid, not clean enough, perhaps even sinful. . . .” Antov Chekhov
“Truly, God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Ask God today, “what do you see in my heart?”
Then stay long enough to hear the answer.