Words Matter: Donald Trump, Jesus, Terrorists, and Morons

Words Matter: Donald Trump, Jesus, Terrorists, and Morons November 7, 2017

Word clouds are not just for fun, as most people who work in the humanities know. They allow us to visualize important information, namely the frequency with which words are used in a particular data set. It can help both with analysis, and with communication of that information to a broader audience.

And so with that in mind, here is a wordle or word cloud – actually, a comparison of two – that illustrates what CNN and other news outlets have tried to highlight in the past in plain prose, namely the different ways that Donald Trump responds verbally to murders depending on who commits them:

Trump response contrast

Words matter. The words we say give expression to our values, and sometimes reveal things about ourselves that at least part of our conscious minds deny are true. But when we say “I didn’t mean it,” often what we really mean is that, with hindsight, we regret what we said – not that the words do not reveal, perhaps to our own horror, what we do mean and intend on some deep level.

Of course, thus far President Trump does not seem to be disturbed by, much less regretful of, the way he speaks.

On a related note, I had my attention drawn to something that I missed recently, which tackled the implications of calling President Trump a moron (preceded by an expletive, as noted in the post that I am linking to – you’ve been warned), specifically from the perspective of Jesus’ teaching, which warns against using the Greek word that is the etymological source of the English word moron. Of course, languages change, and so we have no way of knowing whether μωρός was stronger, weaker, or about the same as the English word. But did you notice the irony, in view of Jesus’ teaching, that I refrain from repeating the f word, but have no qualms repeating the m word?

Of course, this connects with the starting theme of this post in other ways. Jesus is recorded as having said that it is what comes out of a person’s mouth that makes them unclean – the words that reflect an uncleanness in the heart/mind. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

My biggest concern, when it comes to criticizing the president, is that the use of common insults actually cheapens the criticism – as though what he is doing wrong in leading not merely himself but the world down a particular path is no more wrong than what anyone else does in day to day life life. Stronger words – in the sense of ones that highlight evil and genuinely expose it in a substantive way – are called for.

Because words matter. And for those who are concerned with following Jesus’ example and teaching, phrases like “whitewashed tombs” or “the blind leading the blind” are preferable to mere insults that offer nothing in the way of a genuine critique and challenge to problematic things we see people doing in the world around us – so long as we are prepared not only to offer substantive criticism, but to receive it, and view the goal in both cases not as mere insult nor denigration, but challenge that we hope will lead to personal and social transformation.

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