Editorial: The words we long to hear

  • President Barack Obama speaks near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday, a landmark event of the civil rights movement, on March 7, 2015. AP

Friday, August 18, 2017

For people who love language, who believe few things are as beautiful as the right words strung together with grace and precision, Twitter is an unpleasant place to spend time.

The character limit isn’t the problem. Ralph Waldo Emerson could have elegantly described the sensation of being snowed in – Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit / Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed / In a tumultuous privacy of storm – with 15 characters to spare (just enough to add #thesnow-storm).

The real problem is that Twitter is a towering monument to America’s burgeoning drop-the-mic culture.

Donald Trump, the world’s most famous tweeter, has mastered the art. On Thursday, for example, he tweeted: “The public is learning (even more so) how dishonest the Fake News is. They totally misrepresent what I say about hate, bigotry etc. Shame!” and “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!”

You can almost see Trump hitting the “Tweet” button, dropping his phone onto the Oval Office floor and awkwardly chest-bumping Bannon and Kushner. Read the responses to his tweets and the sound of retaliatory mic drops is deafening.

The degeneration of the national dialogue is no small matter. Since this nation’s birth, American identity has been shaped by words, and American exceptionalism itself is inextricably linked to the sublime language of our collective history.

It began with the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”) and moved through time to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address (“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”), to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech (“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”), and on to Barack Obama’s Selma speech (“For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.”)

And now, here we are.

It isn’t Donald Trump’s fault that he can’t find language to lift up the nation, and it isn’t a requirement of the presidency. Finding the right words, and saying them at the right time and in the right way, has never been easy – not for Lincoln, not for Dr. King, not for Obama. We just wish this president would try a little harder. And if he loves this country as much as he says he does, he will – and soon.

Until then, we will find solace in words that soar, wherever we find them. “Tumultuous privacy of storm” – simply beautiful.