by Roger Kimball
Many publications provide their writers with “style sheets,” a list of dos and don’ts with respect to things like diction, punctuation, grammar, and linguistic etiquette. My personal list of “dos” includes the Oxford comma (apples, oranges, and pears: that last comma is requisite) and, in most cases, using the singular masculine pronoun after collective nouns like “everyone” and “someone” (e.g., “Everyone likes to have his [not ‘their’] own way”).
Style sheet prescriptions (and proscriptions) can be more elaborate, and can affect substantive as well as stylistic matters. Over the last year or so, I have noticed an innovation, at once stylistic and substantive, that has taken root throughout the regime media. It is this: whenever referring to Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election, be sure to insert editorial comments to the effect that any concerns about the fairness of that election are “baseless” or the result of “lies.”
I do not remember when I first noticed these little injections of partisan squid ink, but by now they are ubiquitous in the anti-Trump fraternity. Just one example: in a column Saturday about Donald Trump’s weekend rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the writer claimed Trump “spent much of his speech focusing on his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election” (emphasis added).
To the writing teachers out there, let me ask: Would that sentence have been better – less obviously partisan, hence more persuasive – had the word “baseless” been omitted?
Or how about this bit from later on in the piece: “Trump spent much of his speech touting the accomplishments of his term as president . . . and promoting the lie that the 2020 election was ‘rigged and stolen’” (again, emphasis added). What do you think?
Or how about this: Trump was in Wisconsin “ostensibly” to stump for Tim Michels, the person Trump backs for Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary, but he devoted much of his speech “focusing on his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.”
This last sentence offers connoisseurs of cant not one but two morsels to chew on. The first is the deployment of the word “ostensibly,” meaning “apparently so” but “not really.” You might have thought Trump came to Waukesha to help his favored gubernatorial candidate. Really, though, he came to dispense “baseless” claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
I do not know whether this spreading linguistic tic is the result of a directive from on high – from editors demanding that their troops insert such adjectival props – or whether it is a more organic phenomenon, a matter of the zeitgeist pushing the adoption of these expressive ornaments and curlicues. It’s a little of both, I suspect. I don’t doubt the influence of management – and the diktats, I’d wager, come from much higher up the political food chain than any publisher’s office. But I suspect that in many, maybe most, cases, it is simply the expression of what the late Joe Sobran identified as “the Hive.” “Liberals laugh at conspiracy theories that assume that because there is a pattern there must be some central control,” Sobran observed; “but the fact that there is no central control doesn’t mean that there is no pattern.”
In any event, I think this new habit betrays the insecurity that often accompanies braggadocio. If I am right about that, then the practice might well be counterproductive. The intent, of course, is to make a mockery of Trump’s claims that there was something rotten in the state of Denmark and, by so doing, undercut not only Trump but also the suspicions of those many millions of people – more than 40 percent of Americans – who believe that the election was tainted.
Is it working? I do not believe it is. Granted, for those who are already convinced that the 2020 election was on the up-and-up, the liberal sprinkling of words like “baseless” and “lies” into any discussion of Trump’s reaction to the 2020 election seems simply to be stating the obvious. A further point: since the people who believe, or say they believe, that the 2020 election was conducted fairly are also, most of them, regime-certified figures, the habit has the appearance of an echo chamber, instilling confidence and certitude only among those who already agree with the main proposition, viz that the election was fair, that Trump lost, and that his continued complaints are “baseless” “lies.”
But that cadre, though occupying most of the choice perches and possessing lavishly amplified megaphones in the regime propaganda machine, are sparsely represented outside the corridors of academia, the media, and Washington, Inc. Loopy Liz Cheney, intoxicated by the spectacle of her evanescent celebrity, agrees right down the line. Doubtless her father does, too, especially when wearing his cowboy hat. But for the millions upon millions of Americans who harbor doubts about the election, and a fortiori, doubts about the regime-endorsed anti-Trump caravan, the whole show is just more evidence of deep-state corruption and contempt for those Hillary Clinton memorably dismissed as “deplorables.”
For them, being continually bashed over the head by partisan hectoring masquerading as honest reporting is an unpleasant, and deeply unpersuasive, experience. Partly, their reaction is like Gertrude’s in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Partly, I suspect, it recalls what Burke said in Reflections on the Revolution in France:
Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
Unfortunately, those loud and troublesome pests, though few, control almost all the levers of political, and state police power. They are eager to maintain that virtual monopoly. Donald Trump and the spirit he awakened challenges their control. Hence their hysteria and unremitting, importunate chink.
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art’s Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).
Photo “Donald Trump Press Gaggle” by Trump White House Archived.