If we can just change the words…

One of Pierre Manent's themes in his recent work is that governments have become too weak to actually take decisive action to change some situation, so what they do instead is try to control the way the situation is discussed, and therefore perceived.

To offer an example of my own of what he is talking about: in the early 1800s, the British Empire set out to end the slave trade, and did so by energetic naval action over a period of several decades.

Today, faced with a similar situation, it seems more likely that modern Western governments would hector everyone to please stop referring to these people as "slaves," as it is mean-spirited and hurts their feelings.

I saw an instance of this tonight, in this unpleasant blog post. In order to show how nice and non-divisive Clinton supporters are, he calls everyone who supports Trump, or even has doubts about supporting Clinton, a "moron."

But what is more interesting for this post is the fact that he calls everyone who refers to "illegal immigrants" a "jackass." We have to say "undocumented immigrants" to be spared this person's ire.

Hmm, and why, exactly, have these people had trouble getting "documented"? Could it be because they are staying in the country… illegally?

Someone might think that all of these people should be given legal status as residents, under an amnesty, or something of the sort. But that requires recognizing that these people are currently here illegally. If you lack the guts to call for something like that, what you can do instead is… try to change the words. "Illegal" is a mean word, and hearing it might make these undocumented immigrants feel bad. Of course, changing what we call them does nothing to fix the real difficulty they are in. But it can make those lacking the will to act feel superior to others because they use "better" words to describe a situation they will not fix.


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