President Donald Trump’s recent word “ban” imposed on the nation’s chief public health agency poses no threat, great or otherwise, to democracy.
But it is silly.
And wholly unnecessary.
Which is to say, it’s Trumpian.
Among the myriad ways in which Trump has altered our perception of the presidency, it seems to me that one of the more blatant is the man’s utter disregard for the politician’s instinctive banality. We have become accustomed to politicians spewing torrents of words without actually saying anything. Their speeches are the verbal equivalent of disappearing ink — the sounds tickle our eardrums without leaving any trace of a definable idea or belief.
Trump, though, is the antithesis of the anodyne politician. And it’s not just that he frequently makes statements or takes actions certain to enrage a lot of people — things the typical politician wouldn’t do even if loaded up with sodium pentothal. Trump sometimes does this for no perceptible political gain.
We ought to at least acknowledge, however, what the president, in the case of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did — or rather, what he did not do.
The Trump administration is not threatening to imprison, or possibly to waterboard, CDC officials who have the audacity to utter or write, in any context, these words or terms — “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
But administration officials have suggested that CDC policy analysts avoid including those words in “official documents being prepared for next year’s budget,” according to the Washington Post.
I would prefer that the president, if he feels he must engage in some grammatical pruning among the government’s syllabic thickets, focus on words and phrases that infect government documents but which have no political connotations.
I’m thinking here of such syntactical throat-cloggers as “infrastructure program development” as a terrible euphemism for “building roads.”
A brief aside — when it comes to lists of forbidden words numbering 7, the Trump-CDC septet is far less entertaining than the late comedian George Carlin’s “7 words you can’t say on television.”
All of which you also couldn’t print in a family newspaper — until, of course, Trump uttered one of those words in a White House discussion about immigration.
Whatever else you think about the man, his ability to degrade the quality of the national conversation is unrivalled.
As for the CDC spat, Trump’s rather halfhearted stifling of a tiny linguistic subset — each word or phase that’s “banned” has multiple synonyms; perhaps there is no thesaurus at the White House — is nonsensical. So blatantly nonsensical, in fact, that if we weren’t nearing the one-year mark of the Trump presidency, and therefore all but immune to the absurd, I doubt anybody would believe the CDC story who isn’t also certain that chemtrails are part of a sinister plot to control the minds of ordinary citizens.
But even though I’m in the words business myself, I can’t rouse to anything approaching righteous indignation about this latest unforced error from the Trump team.
I’m indifferent because I don’t see how this edict — and perhaps that’s too grandiose a word — will have any effect on the CDC or, more generally, on the federal government.
I’ve no doubt that some people find the president’s action frightening rather than dumb. I suppose a person could argue that banning certain words from certain documents written by employees from a certain agency is the first round fired in a much larger war against science.
But if such a battle indeed is looming, I’m quite confident that science will prevail. The vital work at CDC headquarters in Atlanta surely does not rely on seven words.
Besides which, I can’t imagine Trump will ever amass the legislative clout he would need to impose on the federal government anything more meaningful than flagging a handful of words.
The president has struggled mightily, you’ve probably noticed, even with matters that have long been all but orthodoxy for his party — repealing the Affordable Care Act and passing tax reform.
He got the latter, to be sure. But nobody could reasonably describe the process as politically adroit.
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I am somewhat less sanguine, when it comes to another of the Trump administration’s recent moves — the FCC’s decision to overturn the internet neutrality provisions enacted by the same agency during the Obama administration in 2015.
I’m not worried that the era of the democratic internet is over, to be sure.
I’m confident that in almost every public setting less somber than, say, a funeral, we will continue to see the grim spectacle of every other person peering at their cellphone as though the great mysteries of life are unfolding on the diminutive screen.
(Presuming, of course, that the mysteries of life will debut on YouTube or Facebook or Twitter, a rather debatable proposition.)
I’ve read quite a few dire predictions about the demise of net neutrality, some of them so hysterical as to seem satirical, although I’m certain the authors are sincere.
Baltimore Sun columnist David Zurawik, for instance, wrote that Trump’s FCC “threatens to choke off the free flow of information crucial to a functioning democracy.”
This strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration, and not only because I don’t expect to walk into my living room and see one of the president’s henchmen squeezing my laptop.
America was a pretty democratic place before anybody had even conceived of the internet, after all. And information was flowing pretty freely before the FCC approved net neutrality rules two years ago.
Yet it is with some trepidation that I consider a future in which an internet provider could inflate my monthly bill based on, say, how often my six-year-old son, Max, visits a Minecraft website.
I don’t fancy taking out a second mortgage, is the thing.
Still and all, it seems to me a trifle disingenuous to imply, as some pundits have done, that America’s very future depends on keeping the internet — how we use it and how we pay for it — exactly as is.
Anybody who believes the internet is that vital hasn’t spent much time online.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.