Giuseppe Sandro Mela.
Mai correggere l’avversario che sbaglia!
Dopo l’urticante sconfitta di Mrs Hillary Clinton nella corsa alla Casa Bianca, la perdita del Congresso e del Senato, ossia della peggiore débâcle mai subita dal partito democratico negli ultimi decenni, liberals democratici americani e socialisti ideologici europei stanno interrogandosi sui motivi della disfatta. Disfatta cui verosimilmente seguirà quella della scomparsa politica del partito socialista francese ed un declassamento della socialdemocrazia tedesca.
Lo fanno a modo loro, per fortuna dei loro avversari, in modo sconnesso ed irrazionale: fatto questo che costerà loro ancor più salato.
Se identificano le conseguenze, non hanno la capacità di risalire alla causa prima. Da bravi negatori del principio di non contraddizione, si contraddicono e non riescono quindi a trovare il bandolo. Da bravi sofisti, si perdono nei particolari.
Non lamentiamoci di ciò! Benediciamo invece il Cielo che li abbia accecati a questo punto. Un avversario logico e coerente sarebbe molto più difficilmente vincibile.
Gli articoli allegati trasudano liberals e socialismo ideologico alla stato puro. Si noti il lezioso vezzo di sentirsi sempre obbligati a riportare interviste e fare esempi: caratteristiche stigmate degli scritti liberals.
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Non esiste azione umana giudicabile come “giusta“, “buona“, “corretta” qualora essa non si svolga nell’alveo di canoni etici e morali aderenti a giustizia.
Detti canoni etici e morali non possono essere altro che oggettivi: se così non fosse, di sarebbero etiche e morali. Ma se potessero esistere differenti etiche e morali, esse sarebbero mutuamente conflittuali, segno che una, ovvero anche tutte, non corrispondano al vero e, quindi, siano ingiuste.
È una realtà assai scomoda. Terribilmente scomoda.
Postulare una pluralità etica e morale implica necessariamente che i canoni divenuti dominanti per uso o per moda si siano imposti con la forza, siano stati imposti da un potere più o meno evidente, ma pur sempre potere. Ma proprio per questo motivo l’etica e la morale dominante non possono essere considerate né vere né giuste.
Il fatto che siano comune punto di riferimento è ininfluente sul giudizio oggettivo su di esse: basti solo pensare alle assurdità dolorose imposte dai regimi totalitari del secolo scorso oppure dal pensiero unico dominante attuale.
Ciò che è vero e, quindi, giusto è per sua intima natura logico, non contraddittorio: ove si evidenzi conraddizione, lì non alberga né può albergare la verità.
Altro punto di notevole importanza sarebbe una esatta concezione e percezione della persona umana.
L’intrinseca dignità di tale condizione, assunta dal momento del concepimento, comporta per la persona diritti che conseguono alla assunzione dei relativi doveri. Sono infatti i doveri che conferiscono contenuto e struttura logica dei diritti.
Facciamo attenzione. La quasi totalità degli scritti ispirati all’illuminismo giacobino ed all’hegelismo suo figlio hanno la caratteristica di presentare casi particolari, che poi sono generalizzati: sembrerebbero essere idiosincrasici ad un discorso teorico. I media di tale sponda riportando infatti quasi invariabilmente delle interviste, per lo più ad emeriti sconosciuti/e, e tramite quelle interviste cercano di far breccia nei sentimenti, non nella ragione. Si mettono in bocca agli intervistati le parole che si sarebbero volute poter dire apertamente. Questo è un marker inconfondibile degli scritti e degli articoli della “sinistra“.
Uno dei modi più subdoli quanto semplici di scardinare il concetto di persona umana è quello di ridurla a casi particolari, con accurata non menzione dei relativi doveri: ecco così nascere i diritti di una certa quale categoria di persone, identificabili sulla base di una certa caratteristica. Quasi che la caratteristica fosse sinonimo di differente sostanza. Esser femmina o maschio è caratteristica meramente accidentale della persona umana: ed ambedue i sessi devono godere di eguali attributi in quanto esseri umani.
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«L’espressione politicamente corretto (traduzione letterale dell’inglese politically correct) designa una linea di opinione e un atteggiamento sociale di estrema attenzione al rispetto generale, soprattutto nel rifuggire l’offesa verso determinate categorie di persone.»
Tale espressione iniziò ad essere utilizzata negli ambienti liberals americani degli anni trenta.
Occorrerebbe fare molta attenzione.
Una cosa sarebbe l’uso di un linguaggio esente da ingiuria od offesa, un’altra quella di una circonluzione ovvero il conio di nuovi termini. Un termine dovrebbe corrispondere in modo univoco ad un concetto: se fosse errato il concetto, anche il termine risulterebbe essere tale.
Si dovrebbe porre una grande attenzione nel valutare sempre che ad un termine corrisponda un concetto. A ben pensarci, i sinonimi possono dare un’idea intuitiva, ma in fondo esprimono sempre concetti differenti.
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Ma i peccati mortali del politicamente corretto non sono certo quelli lessicologici, alcuni dei quali francamente ridicoli.
Ecco le principali tesi dei liberals democratici e dei socialisti ideologici.
«In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing»
Ha generato “a kind of moral panic“, causa di disunione.
«But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop»
«This was a strategic mistake»
Questa frase sembrerebbe essere essenziale. Fu un errore strategico, anche se non per i motivi riportati: lo spiegheremo di seguito.
«Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals»
I nostri amici liberals hanno snobbato quello che queste classi di Elettori sentivano come sentimenti radicati, e li hanno snobbati perché incapaci di comprenderne non si dice l’essenza ma anche la sola esistenza. Essendo atei si sono creduti che tutti avrebbero dovuto condividere il loro credo nel nulla. Ma la realtà è ben differente.
«But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life»
«in every walk of life»: i liberals hanno instaurato la dittatura di un pensiero unico, omnipervasivo, asfissiante. Come poi stupirsi che abbiano perso le elezioni?
«At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them»
Il tentativo di piantare a martellate la teoria del gender nelle teste della gente normale è stato l’errore principe dei liberals, così come lo è stato dei socialisti europei. Hanno contenuto l’aperta rivolta con leggi e tribunali, ma gli Elettori gliela hanno fatta pagare ben cara. Ed ancora più salati saranno i conti futuri.
«How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose the designated gender pronouns to be used when addressing them?»
Qui l’articolista incorre in un lapsus davvero severo: “supposed“. Ma ciò che è supposto non aderisce per nulla alla realtà fattuale. La supposizione è un ché di soggettivo.
«But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality»
Un politico dovrebbe unire, raccogliere consensi: per fortuna estrema ciò è esattamente l’opposto di ciò che stanno facendo ed hanno fatto liberals e socialisti. Si fossero almeno letti e studiati i Discorsi di Lenin non avrebbero mai fatto un simile errore pacchiano (Opere, 45 voll., Roma, Rinascita-Editori Riuniti, 1955-1970.).
«The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become»
«the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored»
Già. La sconfitta i liberals ed i socialisti se la sono andata a cercare con il lanternino, e la hanno trovata. Gli avversari hanno dovuto fare ben poca fatica.
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In realtà, andando al sodo, il politicamente corretto ha clamorosamente fallito perché è stato usato come arma impropria per imporre obtorto collo l’ideologia liberals democratica a gente che proprio non ne voleva sapere. E, quel che peggio, ha cercato di farlo non convincendo le persone, bensì imponendosi per legge, norme e regolamenti ed, infine, nelle aule dei tribunali.
Ovvio che gli Elettori lo abbiano bocciato nelle urne.
«The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump …. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.»
→ Spiegel Online. 2017-01-09. Has Political Correctness Gone off the Rails in America?
Few terms are as divisive in today’s United States as “political correctness.” A concept that was intended to create greater freedom in the country may instead have resulted in the opposite. It also helped strengthen the right wing.
It’s a Friday afternoon in Oberlin, Ohio, around one month before the country heads to the polls to elect Donald Trump as its next president. The final classes and lectures of the week have just ended, and a young woman comes walking by in bare feet with a hula hoop gyrating around her waist while others are performing what seems to be a rhythmic dance to the African music that’s playing. Two black students are rapping.
It’s the kind of scene that could easily play out on a beach full of backpack tourists, but this is unfolding at one of the country’s most expensive universities.
Many female students here have dyed their hair green or blue, they have piercings and their fashion sense seems inspired by “Girls” creator and millennial star Lena Dunham, who, of course, also studied here.
In such a setting, it seems almost inconceivable that this country could go on to elect Donald Trump as its president only a few weeks later. Yet pro-Trump country is just a few miles away. Oberlin is located in Ohio, one of the swing states that made Trump’s election possible. Drive five miles down College Road toward town, and you start seeing blue “Trump Pence 2016” signs on people’s lawns.
Places like Oberlin are the breeding grounds of the leftist elite Trump’s people spoke so disparagingly of during the election campaign.
Only a few months earlier, a handful of students claimed they had been traumatized after someone used chalk to scrawl “Trump 2016” on the walls of buildings and on sidewalks at Oberlin and at other liberal universities. It triggered protests on some campuses, with students demanding “safe spaces” where they would be spared from hearing or seeing the name of this “fascist, racist candidate.”
In the months prior to the election, “safe spaces” had been one of the most widely discussed terms at Oberlin. The concept has its roots in feminism and describes a physically and intellectually sheltered space that protects one from potentially insulting, injurious or traumatizing ideas or comments — a place, in short, that protects one from the world. When conservative philosopher and feminism critic Christina Hoff Sommers was scheduled to give a speech at Oberlin last year, some students did not approve and claimed that Sommer’s views on feminism represented “microaggressions.”
When Sommers appeared anyway, leading some Oberlin students to create a “safe space” during the speech where, as one professor reported, “New Age music” was played to calm their nerves and ease their trauma. They could also “get massages and console themselves with stuffed animals.”
“Microaggressions” are the conceptual cousins of “safe spaces” — small remarks perceived by the victims to be objectionable. In addition, there are also “trigger warnings” — brief indicators placed before a text, image, film or work of art alerting the viewer or listener of the possibility that it could “trigger” memories of a traumatic experience or the recurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such a warning surely makes sense for people who have experienced war, who have fled their home country or who have otherwise been exposed to cruelty and violence.
But at Oberlin, one student complained to the university administration and requested a trigger warning for Sophocles’ “Antigone.” The student argued that the suicide scene in the play had triggered strong emotions in him and that he, as someone who had himself long been on suicide watch, should have been warned. In an article he wrote for the Oberlin Review, the student, Cyrus Eosphoros, compared a trigger warning to the list of ingredients on food items. “People should have the right to know and consent to what they’re putting into their minds,” he wrote. Eosphoros has since dropped out of the school.
The call for safe spaces and trigger warnings in addition to complaints about microaggressions all fall under the term “political correctness” in the United States.
Few other expressions are as ideologically charged and contested as this one. It is most widely used as an invective: Coming from the mouths of the right-wing, including Donald Trump and his millions of followers, the term is used to describe self-censorship. They consider it an expression of a victim culture, within which the hypersensitive “leftist mainstream” (also used as an epithet) seeks to isolate itself from every deviation from its own worldview. Opponents of political correctness consider it to be an overwrought fixation on the needs of minorities and one’s individual identity, on skin color and gender.
Now, two months after the election, those looking for clues as to how Trump’s victory became possible quickly arrive at the refusal of many Trump detractors — including members of Hillary Clinton’s own campaign team — to confront the uncomfortable fact that there are legions of Trump fans all across the country. It’s almost as if, in the face of Trump, liberal America collectively retreated to a “safe space.” And when they finally resurfaced after the election, Trump had won.
There was a time when political correctness wasn’t yet synonymous with hypersensitivity, feel-good oases or censorship. Originally, it was associated with the counterculture, not as a project of the academic elite and the establishment as it is today. Initially, it was an attempt to free the public debate from prejudices based on race, gender and background — from the apparently casual yet hate-filled and disparaging comments that frequently caused suffering, particularly among minorities and the weaker members of society. It was intended as an effort to get the voices of these minorities heard in the first place.
One of the primary assumptions of political correctness is that thinking starts with language. Those who use disparaging language must think that way as well. Another assumption is that of constant progress. That people evolve over time, that discrimination and inequality diminish over the centuries, from the elimination of slavery to women’s suffrage to same-sex marriage and the growing acceptance of transgender people. Progress was seen as the integration of the formerly suppressed and of minorities. At least in theory.
In the last decade, however, the obsession with minorities and their victimhood may have gone overboard. In a much-discussed opinion piece for the New York Times last month, Mark Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, argued that American liberalism in recent years has been seized by hysteria regarding race, gender and sexual identity. Lilla says it was a strategic error on the part of Hillary Clinton to focus her campaign so heavily on African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community and women. “The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups,” he wrote.
Even as the white working class and lower class flocked to Trump in droves, students at Oberlin were busy organizing a protest against the food served at the Afrikan Heritage House. A few students had pointed out that the dishes there were at most Westernized interpretations of the original recipes, a state of affairs which showed a lack of respect toward African traditions. This offense, too, has a term: “cultural appropriation.”
Meanwhile, Asian students complained that the cafeteria served bánh mì using inauthentic ingredients, prompting accusations of cultural imperialism.
The college took the complaints seriously, as it does with all grievances lodged by students. It has a reputation to protect — and must also protect itself from the lawsuits that many of its students’ parents can easily afford.
The cafeteria had to issue a public apology. But it shouldn’t have been only the Vietnamese students who felt insulted — it should have been everyone. After all, another term often used at Oberlin is “allyship.” The theory basically goes like this: Someone who has spent his life as a heterosexual white male will never be able to understand how an incorrectly-made sandwich could trigger a trauma. Nor would he ever truly be able to comprehend the systemic microaggressions that a black woman might be exposed to. But he could make himself her “ally,” by taking her experiences seriously and accepting them at face value, whether or not he is able to comprehend them personally.
For some professors, it has gone too far. One of those is Roger Copeland. On a recent Friday afternoon, he made his way to the Slow Train Café, the only place at Oberlin where everybody meets up during the day — professors, students and activists. He has come to talk about everything he believes has destroyed his profession. He has recently accepted an early-retirement severence package and will be leaving the school in a few weeks. Professor Copeland has taught for over 40 years at Oberlin. He is a theater professor and he looks the part. He arrives wearing a Hawaiian shirt and speaks, even in normal discussion, as if he were reciting Shakespeare from the stage.
Copeland himself took to the streets in protest in the 1970s: against the Vietnam War, against Watergate — the big things. On two occasions, he was arrested.
‘Unsafe Learning Environment’
Today, though, it’s personal pronouns that his students are squabbling over and Copeland has little understanding. He says students no longer want to be addressed as “he” or “she,” but as “X” or “they” or newly created personal pronouns. At Oberlin, terms like “Latina” or “Latino” for people with Central or South American backgrounds have been replaced with the gender-neutral “Latinx.”
Two years ago, Copeland asked a young student who was editing a video during rehearsals for a stage production if she would manage to finish editing the footage by the end of the week. He didn’t get the immediate response and things were hectic. “Yes or no?” he called out in his exalted way. “Yes or no?”
The student, who Copeland says is an Asian-American lesbian woman, stormed out of the rehearsal, not that uncommon of an occurrence in theater. Later, the dean ordered Copeland to his office and accused him of having berated a student and of creating a “hostile and unsafe learning environment.” There was that term again: “unsafe learning environment.” The dean handed him a document and asked him to sign it. Copeland refused and provided the names of others who had been present and who could attest that he hadn’t berated the student. The dean said it didn’t matter. What mattered was that the “student felt unsafe.”
The matter led to a formal Title IX investigation for sexual misconduct. Copeland hired a lawyer and the probe was dropped after a year. The whole thing cost Copeland thousands of dollars. Worse yet, he says, he lost his ideological compass.
What was going on? Where, if not here, did young men and women have the opportunity to mature into citizens, into people who could also confront unpleasant views?
Copeland self-identifies as a leftist. He’s a man who has fought for social justice, for the rights of the weak, for freedom and for free speech. Now students were dismissing him as some old, reactionary grandpa who knew nothing about the vulnerabilities created by identity, skin color and gender, whether it be male, female, gay, lesbian or transgender, the full spectrum of LGBTQ, as people call it today — or “cisgender.”
Cisgender is a relatively new word and Copeland only recently became aware of it. He also learned that it is often used as an insult. It describes pretty much to a “T” what he is: a white, heterosexual man who is certain that he doesn’t want to be a woman and isn’t even a little bit bi-sexual.
Copeland isn’t the only victim. Across the country, “social justice warriors,” as they are disparagingly called, are leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, attacking professors, artists, authors and even DJs along the way.
→ The New York Times. 2016-11-18. The End of Identity Liberalism
It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.
But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.
One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.
The moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Affirmative action has reshaped and improved corporate life. Black Lives Matter has delivered a wake-up call to every American with a conscience. Hollywood’s efforts to normalize homosexuality in our popular culture helped to normalize it in American families and public life.
But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)
When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.” Fox News and other conservative media outlets make great sport of mocking the “campus craziness” that surrounds such issues, and more often than not they are right to. Which only plays into the hands of populist demagogues who want to delegitimize learning in the eyes of those who have never set foot on a campus. How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose the designated gender pronouns to be used when addressing them? How not to laugh along with those voters at the story of a University of Michigan prankster who wrote in “His Majesty”?
This campus-diversity consciousness has over the years filtered into the liberal media, and not subtly. Affirmative action for women and minorities at America’s newspapers and broadcasters has been an extraordinary social achievement — and has even changed, quite literally, the face of right-wing media, as journalists like Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham have gained prominence. But it also appears to have encouraged the assumption, especially among younger journalists and editors, that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.
Recently I performed a little experiment during a sabbatical in France: For a full year I read only European publications, not American ones. My thought was to try seeing the world as European readers did. But it was far more instructive to return home and realize how the lens of identity has transformed American reporting in recent years. How often, for example, the laziest story in American journalism — about the “first X to do Y” — is told and retold. Fascination with the identity drama has even affected foreign reporting, which is in distressingly short supply. However interesting it may be to read, say, about the fate of transgender people in Egypt, it contributes nothing to educating Americans about the powerful political and religious currents that will determine Egypt’s future, and indirectly, our own. No major news outlet in Europe would think of adopting such a focus.
But it is at the level of electoral politics that identity liberalism has failed most spectacularly, as we have just seen. National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. Ronald Reagan did that very skillfully, whatever one may think of his vision. So did Bill Clinton, who took a page from Reagan’s playbook. He seized the Democratic Party away from its identity-conscious wing, concentrated his energies on domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance) and defined America’s role in the post-1989 world. By remaining in office for two terms, he was then able to accomplish much for different groups in the Democratic coalition. Identity politics, by contrast, is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.
The media’s newfound, almost anthropological, interest in the angry white male reveals as much about the state of our liberalism as it does about this much maligned, and previously ignored, figure. A convenient liberal interpretation of the recent presidential election would have it that Mr. Trump won in large part because he managed to transform economic disadvantage into racial rage — the “whitelash” thesis. This is convenient because it sanctions a conviction of moral superiority and allows liberals to ignore what those voters said were their overriding concerns. It also encourages the fantasy that the Republican right is doomed to demographic extinction in the long run — which means liberals have only to wait for the country to fall into their laps. The surprisingly high percentage of the Latino vote that went to Mr. Trump should remind us that the longer ethnic groups are here in this country, the more politically diverse they become.
Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.
We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)
Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics, especially their historical dimension.
Some years ago I was invited to a union convention in Florida to speak on a panel about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms speech of 1941. The hall was full of representatives from local chapters — men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos. We began by singing the national anthem, and then sat down to listen to a recording of Roosevelt’s speech. As I looked out into the crowd, and saw the array of different faces, I was struck by how focused they were on what they shared. And listening to Roosevelt’s stirring voice as he invoked the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear — freedoms that Roosevelt demanded for “everyone in the world” — I was reminded of what the real foundations of modern American liberalism are.
→ The Local. 2017-01-11. ‘Traitor of the people’ is Germany’s worst word of 2016: Here’s why
Each year, German linguists elect one word as the ‘Unwort’ (non-word) of the year. For 2016, the winner was a term meaning ‘traitor’ which has strong Nazi connotations.
A jury of language experts selected their annual ‘Unwort’ of the year, choosing Volksverräter on Tuesday as the worst word of 2016.
The jury, made up of four linguists and one journalist, said in a statement that the noun had been selected “because it is a typical legacy of dictatorships”.
Volksverräter literally means “traitor of the people” and is used to denote someone guilty of treason – but it also has strong connotations of the Nazi era.
Along with other words and slogans linked to Adolf Hitler’s regime, the word has seen a resurgence among far-right groups.
Jury spokesperson Nina Janich said that members of Germany’s far-right movements – including anti-Islam group Pegida and the political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) – use the term to describe politicians in an “undifferentiated and defamatory way”.
This usage “strangles serious discussion and, in doing so, the discussions necessary for a democratic society”, she added.
Hecklers have hurled the word at Chancellor Angela Merkel during public appearances, for example in August during a visit to a refugee centre hit by far-right violence.
Last year’s winner was Gutmensch or “do-gooder“, an expression the jury claimed “blocks democratic exchange and substantial debate” by linking tolerance with naivety or even moral imperialism.
Previous winners have included Lügenpresse, another term used by Pegida to denote the “lying media’, and Döner-Morde (Döner Murders), a phrase used by police and German media to describe the murders of eight ethnic Turkish and one Greek victims, which turned out to be the work of terrorist neo-Nazis.
Before that, some of Germany’s worst words were notleidende Banken (needy banks) and Gotteskrieger (warrior for god), often used to refer to Islamic militants.
Each year since 1991, the jury has selected the most offensive, new or newly popularized phrase in order to “promote awareness and sensitivity of language”. For 2016, 1,064 votes for 594 different words were submitted.
The word of the year and the non-word of the year were originally both announced by the German Language Society (GFDS), but the Unwort jury split to become independent in 1994.
This year’s choice for ‘word of the year’ was postfaktisch (post-factual).
→ The Local. 2016-10-13. How Nazi terminology is creeping back into politics
Long-banished German words and phrases linked to the country’s Nazi past have been revived by far-right politicians railing against the migrant influx, sparking comparisons to the 1930s.
The re-emergence of formerly taboo words has prompted some historians to draw parallels with the rhetoric used in the final, turbulent years of the Weimar Republic, the fledgling democracy that gave way to Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship.
For more than a year, the Islamophobic Pegida street movement has routinely insulted the media as “Lügenpresse” (lying press), a word used by Hitler in the 1920s to discredit the mainstream press.
Far-right demonstrators heckling Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ministers also labelled them “Volksverräter” (traitors) for allowing 890,000 asylum-seekers to come to the country last year.
While “Volksverräter” is a bona fide word denoting someone committing treason, it carries a stench when used in political protests, evoking Hitler and his henchmen going after those they labelled enemies of the state.
At German reunification anniversary celebrations in the eastern city of Dresden in early October, one protester went as far as to carry a banner bearing a quote attributed to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
In Germany, where glorification of the Nazis is a crime, some have called for the law to step in.
“When national incitement becomes a popular sport, the state cannot just watch on,” said Süddeutsche Zeitung daily in an editorial, adding that “there has already been a Weimar Republic. It must not be followed by a Dresden Republic”.
But the loaded vocabulary is not only deployed by angry protesters ranting on the streets.
Stirring up fear
Some politicians too have been using racially charged words such as “völkisch”, a term meaning “ethnic” but used by the Nazis to describe people belonging to the superior German race, and “Umvolkung” – the fascist idea of replacing racially inferior populations with the German people.
The leader of the anti-migrant right-wing populist party AfD, Frauke Petry, who has never been shy of controversy, last month suggested that “völkisch” be rehabilitated and wiped of its negative connotation.
“I do not use this term myself, but I don’t agree that it should only be used in a negative context,” she told Die Welt daily, drawing a chorus of condemnation.
Die Zeit columnist Kai Biermann pointed out that “the term völkisch was a synonym for extreme nationalism and racism. It is, until today, a symbol for Nazism and its ideology to exterminate and murder everyone who is not German.”
The columnist charged that Petry had dug up the term because “it expresses the wish to reject everything that does not belong to one’s people”.
“It stirs up the fear that too many foreign people are coming who can change the status quo,” he wrote.
A politician belonging to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union went on to also use the term “Umvolkung”.
While the Nazis had used the word to define the Germanization of people in regions seized by the Third Reich, today it is used in the far-right milieu as shorthand for immigration.
Bettina Kudla drew fire when she said in a tweet that: “Merkel disputes it … The Umvolkung of Germany has already begun. Action is needed!”
Shift in identity
Hans Kundnani, political analyst at the German Marshall Fund, noted that politicians would not have used these controversial terms two decades ago.
“There’s been a shift in German national identity over the last 15 years or so, and I think the use of these terms has reemerged against that backdrop”, he said.
What has changed is that there has been a “resurgence in the collective memory of Germans as victims” in World War II.
As a result “Germany has become a little bit less critical about the Nazi past than it used to be”, he said.
Reunification 26 years ago may also have played a part, as it meant that “discourse in Germany is now partly being influenced by east Germans in a way that it hasn’t been before”, he said.
“They had a different historical experience, and had a different engagement – less of an engagement with the Nazi past.”
Political scientist Hans Vorlaender said: “In eastern Germany, and in particular in Saxony state, there is a greater propensity to use these terms.
“This is because, especially in Saxony, they are much more conservative and more nationalist in their thinking,” he said, noting that the AfD and Pegida were playing to this.
Such speech should not be interpreted as an attempt to resurrect fascism, said the professor at Dresden University.
Rather, he said, “what they want is to strengthen national patriotism and to say that there is no historical responsibility for Germany to welcome every Muslim here”.