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Team MAGA’s War on Literacy

Butchering the English language to own the libs.
December 20, 2019
Team MAGA’s War on Literacy

On the afternoon of December 11, freshman Republican Senator Josh Hawley was grilling Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz about a recent DOJ report detailing the basis of an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. In trying to make the case that domestic meddling in elections was worse than foreign meddling, Hawley pinpointed the real culprit in the report was the “Democrat National Committee.”

In past years, such a political malapropism would be written off as a slip of the tongue. Hawley fancies himself a salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner who doesn’t truck with fancy elites, but he did go to Stanford and then Yale Law. Surely he didn’t mean to say “Democrat” when he clearly meant “Democratic,” right?

Even the transcribers at C-Span gave Hawley the benefit of the doubt, recording that he had used the correct word. (He had not.)

Alas, Hawley’s lexical toe-stub was not a mistake. It was intentional.

After appearing on Fox News the following day, Hawley issued a press release bragging that he had appeared on the network to argue that the “Democrat National Committee was essentially able to purchase a federal investigation of the Trump Campaign.”

Using the term “Democrat” in place of “Democratic” has been a minor debate in Republican circles for some 60 years, but it has only recently become mainstream as the party has placed lib-owning at the top of its collective Maslow hierarchy.

Saying “Democrat” instead of “Democratic” has become a shibboleth—a verbal handshake to signal that you’re on Team Red Hat. It’s about as annoying as people rolling their “r’s” when ordering a “burrito” to prove they once vacationed in Cozumel. But whatever. Triggering Democrats has become so important to Republicans that they’re willing to assault the English language if the people who like good grammar are the Bad Guys.

Traditionally, right-wingers objecting to the use of “Democratic” were irritated because they imagined that the term allowed Democrats to claim they spoke for everyone. So in 1955, former GOP national chairman Leonard Hall took a page from Thomas E. Dewey’s playbook and began referring to the “Democrat” Party.

“I think their claims that the represent the great mass of the people, and we don’t, is just a lot of bunk,” he explained.

American Speech magazine wrote that the Republicans’ attempt to rebrand opponents was because, among other reasons, “Democrat Party” didn’t roll of the tongue as easily.

“Whether they have meant to imply that the party was no longer democratic, or whether they banked on the harsher sound pattern of the new name; whether they wanted to strengthen the impression that they were speaking for a new Republican party by using a new name for the opposition, or whether they had other reasons, the fact remains that…highly influential speakers… used the shorter adjective,” wrote Atcheson Hench.

In his political dictionary, the late William Safire offered that he thinks the “harsher sound pattern” refers to the “crat,” which draws a parallel with unpopular words like “bureaucrat,” “autocrat,” and “aristocrat.” In 1996, saying “the Democrat Party” actually became the official policy of Bob Dole’s presidential campaign. George W. Bush routinely dropped the “-ic,” a practice picked up by Rush Limbaugh and now embraced by the Republican cognoscenti.

Yet using “Democrat Party” doesn’t make sense on any linguistic level. For one, “Democrat” is a noun and “Democratic” is an adjective—one should not use one in place of the other (such as when Trump says we need to get “tough on cyber” or he’s not a fan of “the anal.”)

On top of that, a political party should be free to call itself whatever it wants. This is a policy deeply ensconced in the Associated Press Stylebook, which specifically warns, “Don’t use Democrat Party.”

But low-key shittiness is now a rite of passage for calling yourself a Republican. And with a tidal wave of nonsense coming from the right on a daily basis, it’s impossible to correct the micro-idiocies. And so, here we are.

Today, in order to consider yourself a “conservative,” you don’t need to study Hayek or spend time ruminating on the proper role of government intervention in our lives. You just have to publicly celebrate anti-knowledge. Because it drives the DemocRATS nuts!

All of which is why an Ivy Leaguer like Hawley must now play the role of lexical low-roader, winking to the MAGA-nistas. Don’t be surprised if his plan to cinch the 2024 Republican presidential nomination will be declaring that gerund phrases are tools of the Deep State.

Christian Schneider

Christian Schneider is a member of the USA Today board of contributors and author of 1916: The Blog. Twitter: @Schneider_CM.