Cant

The headline is not a Faulkneresque omission of the apostrophe but rather a nod to political language. Over the holiday I read a few books on American politics, including the Wolff book, Fire and Fury, which is getting a lot of attention. While that work is useful in threading the events together, it is conventional and light on insight.  The other books I read elucidated recent events in historical context with deeper analysis, accounting for the sociological, economic and demographic forces.

Among the discussions which filtered the shifting themes of the political movements one thing stood out, and one that is the essence of the multiple fractures in the US: linguistic use, which extends beyond mere vocabulary, or tone and style.

As it is characterized from multiple sources, one group (conservative) prizes authenticity above any other quality. This is manifested in a straightforward way of expression. This feature is coupled with a deep and consistent reading of scripture which adds further emphasis to honesty in all speech. Those empty phrases at the beginning of statements: To be hones; Speaking frankly, may actually signify something.

Opposite that diverse assembly of political forces, is a more eclectic group and the language used by its speakers is technocratic, complex, occasionally ironic – it signals sophistication; highly educated, and unavoidably pretentious in some instances. Yes, we cant.

The authenticity, and by implication honesty, of each group as it defines itself versus the other, is distinguished by the way it uses language.

The antagonism, and consequently the political divide between the authentic and ironic, is manifested through many issues and cant is not exclusive to only one side, but it is rare for the authentic group to adopt it, (though not their political operatives); or else it would be to act in a way that is dishonest.

This divide in linguistic usage is seen in other countries, certainly in the political oppositions which seek to challenge the status quo. They call out the experts and the phrases they use as phony.

Cant is a display of status, a form which attempts to manipulate by flattery and empathy. Self-righteousness masks all its various defects. It is therefore not surprising that one of its greatest exponents, Oprah Winfrey, should now be touted for political office. If and when Wolff comes to write about that White House, should it happen, he may risk dehydration, due to the flow of tears.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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