By A. Barton Hinkle
That dull roar you heard a few days ago? It came from the countless gasps of horror when The Washington Post reported that the Centers for Disease Control had discouraged the use of certain words.
According to The Post, policy analysts were told not to use seven particular terms: fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, evidence-based, and science-based. This led to stern editorials about “thought control, Trump-style,” warnings that the directive was an “attack on science,” and so on. Having the government tell people which words they may and may not use is doubleplusungood, was the widespread consensus.
And of course it is. But to borrow from Kipling, “you need not stop work to inform us; we knew it ten seasons before.” Those exercised over the news about the CDC are coming rather late to the party.
What’s more, the backstory may be less dramatic than the initial alarms about the dark night of fascism spreading across the land. Apparently career staff, not political appointees, suggested eschewing the seven dirty words so as to avoid inflaming conservative members of Congress who would be voting on CDC funding.
Yet you can’t blame people for thinking the administration was checking off box No. 1 on the “How to Impose a Dictatorship in 10 Easy Steps” worksheet. After all, the Trump administration has, in the grand tradition of Soviet censors, been erasing references to climate change and global warming from government websites almost since it entered office.
So why should the Trump administration be any different? It’s hardly the first to declare certain words off-limits, and it won’t be the last.
Guffaws erupted across the country in 2000 when the Clinton administration announced that it no longer would refer to outlaw regimes as rogue states. “We are now calling these states ‘states of concern,'” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said.
The Obama administration likewise was extremely skittish about linking terrorism to radical Islam, going so far as to refer to the Fort Hood shooting as an act of “workplace violence” and to purge FBI materials that were deemed Islamophobic.
California has adopted legislation that, under rare circumstances, could lead to jail time for anyone who uses the wrong pronoun when referring to a transgender person.
But when it comes to Orwellian efforts to erase politically incorrect terms, politicians can’t hold a candle to the nation’s colleges and universities.