Even though I lived my adult life as an English teacher, I’m not usually picky about how other people use or misuse language. I never correct people’s grammar and truth be told, was never much of a grammarian.
However, I’ve started to notice that the use of certain cliches´ has begun to wear on me, especially those that come up in political speech.
If I hear one more congressman or woman say, “We’re not going to be holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ here ya’ know” that I may have to cancel all of my newspaper subscriptions. Again.
First of all, I’m not sure why they are picking on “Kumbaya.” I was going to write something here about it’s history and how it has come to be a political punching bag, but discovered that Linton Weeks of NPR already wrote a spirited history and defense of the song called “When did ‘Kumbaya’ Become Such a Bad Thing?” for the NPR website on January 13, 2012. You should read it.
Needless to say, it is used to express a contempt for things like kindness, compassion, and compromise–certainly not the type of values that we want to encourage anymore. We used to think that such ideas were a good thing–you know, before we elected Voldemort as our president.
Besides, if you want to bash a song with kind intentions you could always pick on the iconic 1971 jingle from the Coke commercial named “I Want To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” which may deserve mockery just because of the absurd length of the title. If you should look up the original commercial just for fun, you may cringe a bit at the collection of Stepford-like teens that they collected on a hilltop in Italy to sing that catchy little piece. You might also accidentally stumble across a creepy anti-sugary-drink parody that shows sickly people using the same tune put to different words that try to make the link between soda and its many potentially harmful side effects.
Also, I have wondered when did everything bad become an “existential threat”? Certainly Al Qaeda, ISIS, North Korea, and Iran have been deemed to be our enemies and they do present a threat to do bad things to our country, but having studied existentialism, I couldn’t make the bridge to the emerging use of that adjective. When I looked it up, one scholar suggested that this new usage implies that something (or some country, or some country’s leader) presents an “existential threat” if it threatens the very existence of our country, of our way of life. That means the phrase is being horribly overused since none of the above, while they may wish us harm, has the wherewithal to end our way of life. Hey, I watch Homeland too, I get it. But in fact, our military budget is so huge that it dwarfs the budget of the next seven closest countries combined. Combined. There are more serious threats to worry about.
Truly, the only existential threat that I see to the United States of America is Scott Pruitt. This is a cabinet member so corrupt and so deeply in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry that he has taken a wrecking ball to every environmental protection that he can find. I fully expect that if he hangs around much longer the EPA will propose that the US should be doing everything possible to encourage pollution, global warming, and climate change, and that we will be be immersed in Orwellian-style propaganda that insists that melting ice caps, costal flooding, increased droughts, increasingly violent hurricanes are things we should embrace. After all, all of those disasters do create good jobs for people.
Scott Pruitt, not ISIS, is the definition of an existential threat.
Finally, it has been an inspirational ray of hope that the country seems to have turned on gun makers and the NRA. People now openly mock the “thoughts and prayers” response that most politicians give to the latest mass shooting–lip service being given to this epidemic with no effort to make even the most common sense changes in the law. These horrific acts are happening with such frequency that I sense that politicians who have long supported the gun industry are afraid to utter the words “thoughts and prayers” as an offer of support to devastated communities because they now know that everyone else knows that offering “thoughts and prayers” is code for “I don’t really give a shit about you and your community. As long as no one I know personally gets hurt, I have no intention of alienating my donors.” Or something like that.
Actually, I don’t mind a good cliche´ now and then. It’s the ones that drip with hypocrisy and deceit that start to grind on me after a while. I think we just need to keep an eye out for the leaders who depend on these timeworn phrases as if they were wisdom and, please, stop electing them to office.