Editorial: Seven words and Trump’s White House

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The late comedian and social philosopher George Carlin satirized human foibles and power divorced from intellect or morality. Last week’s orders to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would have made him laugh.

The agency, whose mission is to save lives and improve health, was told not to use the following seven words in any budget document bound for President Donald Trump’s desk: evidence-based, science-based, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender and fetus.

As we write, no one has admitted to being the source of the seven-word ban, though its presumed origin lies in the Trump White House. If outed, the author, or authors, will take their place in the history of stupid. If the Trump administration’s campaign to alter reality, make truth irrelevant and erode democracy succeeds, they will take their place in the history of evil.

Perhaps Carlin’s most famous riff was “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” It’s been 45 years since the comedian premiered that monologue, but the seven words, though some are heard on cable TV, still can’t be aired or printed in a family newspaper. That’s because words have power.

“If thought corrupts language,” Orwell said, “language can also corrupt thought.” That’s precisely the point of the ban. Use any of the trigger words in budget documents that will be reviewed by the president and his advisers, and it will make reviewers think you don’t deserve money for that, you know, sciencey kind of stuff.

The sheer buffoonery of the edict can be seen in its author’s suggested substitutions for several of the banned words or phrases. The CDC staff were advised, for example, that they could replace “evidence-based” for the CDC “bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

Community standards, set by the predominant powers of the day, once held that the Earth was flat. The community – President Trump regularly cites the agreement of “everyone,” “everybody” or “many people” to bolster his claims – often wishes that those pesky scientists with information verified by repeated experiments would just go away. That’s why they incinerated astronomer and mathematician Giordano Bruno for disagreeing that the Earth was the center of the universe and imprisoned Galileo for doing the same.

On what, if not the scientific process and verifiable evidence gained from experimentation, are decisions about things like funding cancer research supposed to be made? On a president’s “gut” feeling? On ideology or the current political agenda?

Who is the “community” the anonymous authors of the edict claim to be speaking for? On whose behalf are they acting. Not the American public, which benefits enormously from the science and evidence-based work of the CDC.

We too have a list of seven words – words that shouldn’t be used by Trump and his administration: facts, truth, integrity, morality, honesty, science and patriotism.