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"President" No More (How Media Language Helps Keep Trump Going)
According to a piece in the Chicago Tribune the person currently at the head of the United States government was "bewitched by the grandeur of the title 'Mr. President' and the power and prestige that goes with it. The article's message is that this love affair is over. My message herein is that we must continue doing whatever we can to make sure it is, beginning with the relatively simple strategy of not using the word "President" in any and all references to this man.
Ever since the election I had been chagrined by media references that complained about the man's worst actions while still using the respectful title, "President" which I thought countered the critique by giving him the credibility the office should warrant. Then the strategy for helping to depose him came to me while my wife and I were watching a segment of West Wing where President Josiah Barlet (Martin Sheen) is hiring his second Executive Secretary, a woman named Deborah Fiderer (Lily Tomlin). Just after he hires her, a security screening reveals a letter she had written previously to the White House where she suggests the President's drink be poisoned so he might focus more on human rights. Instead of rejecting her, however, and in light of learning about her weird sense of humor and her proven integrity, he let's her keep the job. Knowing that he knows about the letter she asks him why. His response is simply because she refers to him in the letter as "President Barlet."
As more evidence in support of doing what we can to get reporters (and all of us) to stop referring to the former reality television personality as "President" consider the letter Robert Hickey mentions in his writing about Honor and Respect regarding the state protocol. He cites a question he received from a woman in Honolulu:
How should President Trump be referred to by the media? I hear them refer to him as Mr. Trump and this just doesn't sound very respectful of him (in my opinion). Mahalo for your time.
This letter reflects the idea that when "President" is not attached to Trump in media reports, people associate this with a lack of respect. This is exactly why we should start implementing the strategy! A letter to the editor in the L.A. Times recently refers to the dilemma regarding respect for the office when respect is not deserved:
To the editor : As an African American male who loves this great country of ours and has tremendous respect for authority, I am appalled by the comments of President Trump.
As a parent, I teach my children to respect authority, but when the person with the most authority in the country consistently makes derogatory comments about other countries and races, how do you respect a person like that?
You don't respect such a person but I think we offer such respect each time we use the title of "President."
As an Indigenous scholar, I abide by the Indigenous precept about words being sacred entities. This is especially true for monikers. Names are generally treated with great respect. When respect is not deserved there there are options. For example, the original Lakota word for the white skinned European settlers was Wašicun. Initially it respectfully described what might be translated into "another kind of people with special powers." As time went on and the deceit, greed and cruelty of the settlers became the prevailing theme, the word eventually took on the current meaning of "taker of the fat" that is an insulting term for "the white man." (This might have stemmed from a play on words because a similar sounding word, wašin icu, meant fat. So Wašicun --wašin icumight have become a joke about the white man taking all the fat. In any case, today, as Debra White Plume writes in "Wasichu' fat takers are the 1 percent" uses the word disrespectfully for the "Trumps" of the world to refer to "selfishness, pettiness and greediness."
Another option some writers have recommended besides alternative language is to simply refuse naming Trump at all as signal of resistance. An article in The Atlantic offers this option for rejecting Trump's legitimacy. "When it comes to the current president, the refusal to use his name may be uniquely subversive because of the degree to which Trump has wrapped his entire worth, wealth, and fame up in those five letters." A number of people do this now perhaps to avoid his wrath or litigation as Meryl Streep did on stage when she indirectly and critically referred to Trump. I have a little trouble with this because avoidance strategies are often all about respect in many American Indian cultures. Never mentioning the name of a deceased person or of one's mother-in-law for example is about respect. Another position against the idea of disowning the moniker and implying "not my President" is that we need to take responsibility for being "part of the nation that elected this clown."
For now I'm sticking with the strategy of simply stopping reminding people that Trump is "President Trump" or "Mr. President." If he was indeed bewitch "bewitched by the grandeur of the title" then let's continue to cause him to lose all his powers by getting the media to drop the title.
Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) is faculty at Fielding Graduate University and was formerly Dean of Education at Oglala Lakota College and a tenured professor at Northern Arizona University. Named by AERO as one of 27 educational visionaries, he is the author of 20 acclaimed books on wellness, critical education and Indigenous worldview such as his most recent (more...)