A word for our time

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch drew attention for saying that the Groper’s criticism of the federal courts was “disheartening” and “discouraging.”

His crazed outburst was applauded by Democrats because he’s a Republican, and members of that party generally respond to the Groper’s outrages by reminders that Obama inflicted medical insurance on those who had none. Sure, Senators Collins and Murkowski voted against confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, but that hardly qualifies as a profile in courage.

I wish Judge Gorsuch had been a smidgen more outspoken. He might have added a bunch of “d” words, for example. Staying with the effect on his feelings, he could have said “depressing, dismaying and disgusting.”

Then taking an objective point of view, he could have stated the facts of the case (the true facts, not Kellyanne Conway-type facts). The Groper’s words were “dangerous, depraved, and threaten to destabilize civil order.” He might have paraphrased FDR: “The president’s attacks were destined to live in infamy.”

That last might possibly strike some as over the top, but the man is going to fill the seat of Antonin Scalia, a jurist well known as a stranger to verbal restraint. Being outrageous, condescending and insulting were his preferred modes of conduct.

I thought of Justice Scalia the other day when some Republican men invoked Rule XIX and made Sen. Elizabeth Warren sit in the corner and be quiet for talking ugly about a fellow senator. If the Supreme Court had such a rule, Scalia would have been rendered almost as mute as Clarence Thomas.

Personally, I would have preferred that Judge Gorsuch use one particular word above all others — “deplorable.” But Hillary retired that one. It’s now doing hard time in the lexical Gulag along with the n-word and some others. Maybe not forever, though; verboten words do sometimes find their way back into polite use. Witness the resurgence at the Groper’s hands of a formerly vulgar term for a private part of the female anatomy.

Anyway, Judge Gorsuch’s reservations about the Groper’s statements on the judiciary — tepid as they were — were a start.

If the Groper were a lawyer, he — even he — would have been reluctant to take on the judiciary. A famous professor at my law school was emphatic on one point in his federal courts course; “A federal judge is a very puissant fellow.” The Groper keeps popping off about judges; he’s going to find out just how puissant.

Other words have been on my mind lately, too. It seems that the Groper’s reign is accompanied by some changes in our language.

Exhibit A is the word “cosmopolitan.” I’ve not known the Groper himself to use it. He might have, though it doesn’t seem likely. His choice of adjectives runs more to short power-packed zingers, such as “sad,” “terrible,” and “stupid.” But for right-wing commentators, “cosmopolitan” is the pejorative of the moment.

As a boy growing up in a working- class family in a refinery town in Texas, I knew early on that I wanted to be cosmopolitan. I wanted to live in a bigger world, geographically and culturally, than the one I happened to be born into. In those days, that sort of longing was called ambition, also known as “wanting to make something of yourself.” Parents bragged about such children. (If they were boys, that is. For girl children, not so much. It was more, “What are we going to do with her, Effie?”)

As time passed, “cosmopolitan” fell into disrepute. Poor John Kerry lost a lot of votes because he had spent some of his youth in a Swiss school. He could even speak French. That last was cosmopolitan in spades. The then- nascent Groper-type voters hated the thought of such a pretentious dandy in the White House. Better to have George Bush, even though he, too, was semi-bilingual. (He spoke fluent redneck as well as a vague approximation of standard English.)

In current political discourse, the right would have us understand “cosmopolitan” to mean putting the well-being of the whole world over the interests of the United States. It’s an uphill battle to make the case that knowing something of world affairs, speaking foreign languages, being well-traveled, appreciating diversity, seeing the world as a complex place – that those things serve American interests. Surely it’s in America’s best interests for our leaders to be highly cosmopolitan. But don’t say that to strangers. It can easily start a fight

The last word on my list of those newly in vogue is “parlous,” as in “we live in parlous times.” Indeed we do. They are as uncertain and fraught with danger as any we’ve ever known.

Paul Willcott writes somewhat longer pieces about once a month at www.geezerblockhead.com.

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