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I still have the sweet-tea-stained, dog-eared copy of “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary”, required reading for all us “scholars” in Mrs. Naoma Huff’s English IV class. We students used to have an informal point system on how many words we could toss into our conversations, and I must admit I take no small amount of pride in making her proud by sprinkling my conversations with those jewels to this day.
It was during those apparently “uneducated” days of my youth, in rural Clyde, Texas (or Clyde, America, as our billboard now proudly proclaims) that my mom and dad and countless devoted teachers like Mrs. Huff and ever-watchful neighbors (who seemed to have eyes everywhere and a magical hotline to my mother) taught me the rules of humanity that guide me to this day.
Be kind. Work hard. Tell the truth. Love your neighbor. Love God. Love your mom and dad and grandparents and siblings (or else)! Respect your elders and authority. Protect the weak and vulnerable around you. Pride goes before a fall, so be humble. When you break the rules, you will pay the price.
Or, to gain some further Huff points:
Don’t be vociferous (loud-mouthed) or irascible (hot-tempered), and certainly never vindictive.
A loving neighbor wouldn’t be acrimonious or sardonic or vitriolic (bitter, sarcastic or scornful).
Work hard and do your best but don’t be so opinionated that you become dogmatic, pompous or egocentric; or, heaven forbid, a megalomaniac.
And if behavior is crass or sadistic or scurrilous (grossly offensive or vulgar) you were not without impunity and swift repercussions: from mom and dad, public school teachers and watchful neighbors.
For most of us, we look back on that time of benevolence in rural, white America with nostalgia, even though for many of us the time was also filled with abject poverty (we had no idea…we were happy, and we got by). We were family, we loved and protected each other, and, most of the time, we told the truth.
These are my people, and I love them.
Some of us stayed near that town we loved, and built wildly successful businesses, or served honorably in the public school system, or in jobs serving the community.
Others, like me, moved away. I became a lawyer, a judge, an entrepreneur, and most importantly, a mom. Through half a century of living the roller coaster of life I have been blessed to share the messy experience with an ever expanding family, faces new and different, unique life stories and neighbors that included people of color and medically fragile children, entrepreneurs and employees, gay and straight, Christian and Muslim and atheist, rich and poor.
First responders (those government heroes who rush in when others are rushing away), veterans (freedom, of course, isn’t free), and refugees who have sought sanctuary in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This small-town country girl is making it in the big city. These are now also my people, and I love them.
And one thing I’ve learned is that although the address may change, my values and rules of humanity have not. Kindness. Truth. Love.
Yet, times do change.
Change is what brought us here tonight. The people have voted. For change.
A deep antipathy for the “ruling elite” and status quo, a frustration from Americans who felt their voices were not being heard, and a lethargy from almost half of the population has resulted in this inauguration day. This president holds the lowest popular vote support in modern history, truly a minority president, with even many who voted for him doing so only from desperation—their words.
So here we are. We, the People, have assigned the ability to dominate to an individual most citizens deprecate and most certainly would never emulate. He, by title, is our leader.
By all accounts, we have let the bull into the china closet, and he has wasted no time in smashing rules and breaking China. Big C.
Some, including some Christian evangelicals, refer to our new president as “the chaos candidate” and are elated at the kick butt, take names brutality of his style. Others are terrified of what they see as beyond bully tactics that threaten themselves or their loved ones, what dictionary.com refers to in their word of the year as “Xenophobia”—fear of the other.
Many are stunned that we as a country find ourselves in this surreal (Merriam Webster word of the year) situation. Or, as The American Dialectic society refers to it in their word of the year: “dumpster fire”: an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation.
One week ago tonight, exactly five and one-half miles from this spot, my 16-year-old son and his varsity basketball team were competing in the home gym of a heavily Hispanic school district here in the city. The team slogan for our school is, “Family all in,” and that delights me, as all of these boys know they are just like my own.
Losing badly, and with hometown officiating that was causing our fans to lose their voices giving their opinions of the referee’s eyesight, I was gut-punched half way through the fourth quarter when the words the opposing fans were shouting at our team cut through my consciousness, reverberating through the gym:
“Go back to the zoo! Go back to the zoo you monkeys!”
In that moment, the five young men on the court (who, as you might have imagined, happened to be African-American) their team mates and fans witnessed Xenophobia and a tragic “dumpster fire” firsthand. My heart broke as I, and other adults on our side, yelled at the officials to get control of the shameful situation.
To add insult to injury, the three grown men paid to be in charge of the court, also known as referees, rather than addressing the hometown fans, stopped the game with a minute and a half remaining, and the home team winning by almost 40 points. The refs instructed the hometown principal to request our fans to leave, as they were tired of hearing us scream.
Truly, if I hadn’t been there, I might not have believed it.
Apparently, because they weren’t present, there are some who would suggest it never happened. Or, if it did, those words didn’t mean what we are trying to make them mean. Fake News.
It is this related Oxford 2016 word of the year that has stopped me in my tracks. I could never have imagined back in Mrs. Huff’s hallowed classroom. This is change I am deeply uncomfortable with.
Post-Truth: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”
How have we moved “beyond” truth? When did this happen?
Ralph Keyes was one of the first to bring it to public attention in his book The Post Truth Era.
“When Trump: The Art of the Deal was published, Donald Trump claimed 200,000 copies had been printed, that The Today Show planned to interview him five times, and that the issue of New York magazine with an excerpt of his book was its biggest seller ever. In fact, 150,000 copies of Trump were printed, Today interviewed him twice, and New York’s sales figures were not available at the time he made his claims. In his book, Trump called this kind of braggadocio “truthful hyperbole.”
Here is the sobering footnote: date of publication of The Post Truth Era—2004
We, the People, have been living in a post-truth, where facts don’t matter and “truthiness” (what you feel like the truth should be) will suffice, for over a decade. The TRUTH has become so devalued that what was once the gold standard of public debate is now a worthless currency.
If you don’t like what a report tells you, label it fake news. When a reporter isn’t giving you the facts as you want them, create a new site and use the internet to cause it to go viral. Once your twisting of the facts has earned you the position that you are after, don’t hesitate to pivot in an instant, because everyone understands that you were just “improving on the truth” to “make your point”.
Which returns me to one of Mrs. Huff’s favorite words: euphemism—a mild expression substituted for an improper or blunt one. Or, as we say in the South, sugar-coating.
“Dishonesty inspires more euphemisms than copulation or defecation. This helps desensitize us to its implications. In the post-truth era, we don’t just have truth and lies but a third category of ambiguous statements that are not exactly the truth but fall just short of a lie. Enhanced truth it might be called. Neo-truth. Soft truth. Faux truth. Truth lite.”
It seems We, the People, have fed and fostered the monster of post-Truth. We have allowed pseudo-truths and half-truths and embellishments and, now, fake news, to tear down our values, erode our trust, and threaten to destroy our United States.
So, for myself, I am planting my Truth Post firmly in the ground here tonight. From myself, from my children, from each and every leader, I am throwing down the gauntlet for transparency. For accountability. For ethics and honesty.
I will stand firmer and higher for the morals and principles of humanity that make me proud to be an American, a Texan, and a Christian.
I will use all of the vocabulary and values I have cherished from childhood to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. I know there are many who will join me.
Because, despite the disturbing facts of what happened just one week ago, let me tell you how my people, the American people, have responded to that repugnant incident.
After the opposing principal suggested the referee would be asking us to leave, I asked her how the officials would be responding to the racial slurs. She seemed genuinely taken aback when I repeated what had been hurled at our young men, apologized profusely, and said that the behavior was completely unacceptable. By the time our athletic director contacted her the next day, she had already identified the offending adult and students, had banned the adult from further school activities, and disciplined the students.
From chaos, progress.
I’m encouraged that adults in charge in Ft. Worth, Texas handled this situation in a frame of honesty, ethics, and responsibility. That’s what we have always required our leaders to do.
As my beloved Mrs. Huff would admonish, may we as a country ensure that no one. No. One. gets a hall pass on this one.
God bless our president and leaders.
God bless America.
Dr. Lory Moore