Fun with Words: Trump and Obstruction

This semi-regular feature, Fun with Words (aka Etymological Adventures), has previously explored the linguistic roots of collusion, a word with which we’re all familiar due to – well, you know: Donald Trump and his constellation of cronies’ shady dealings. Today we’ll briefly explore another once-rarish term that Trump’s thrust into our everyday usage, collusion’s cousin by association: obstruction.

Born from the Latin word, obstructionem, itself the offspring of Ob, Latin for “in front of,” and the verb strurer, for “to pile or build,” the term “obstruction” emerged in English around the 1530s, and translated literally into “building up” or “creating a barrier” – a barrier like a wall, which, as we all know, real estate mogul Trump wants to make literal at the Mexican border.

In the meantime, Trump’s busying himself building a rhetorical wall against justice, a barrier built through lies and coercion, through acts like intervening in the Michael Flynn case; firing James Comey over his refusal to intervene in said case; drafting a faux narrative for Donald Trump Jr. to regurgitate vis a vis his meeting with Russians; Trump’s recent politicized demands that the DOJ investigate the FBI; and let’s not forget the barriers created by Trump’s unsubtle attacks on people involved in these investigations, not least of all against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whom Trump has tried to influence by warning him not to nose around his personal finances…. All of this and more builds up a wall of lies and obfuscation that is the very definition of obstruction.

Perhaps one day truth, justice and karma will tear down that wall, burying Trump in a mess of his own making.

(For more Fun with Words, click here!)

Meghan Markle Tops Donald Trump

An estimated 29 million Americans tuned in early Saturday morning to watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry. That’s about 5 million more than in England itself, and about six million more Americans than who watched Will and Kate Middleton marry seven years ago.

Why did so many more viewers tune in to this wedding versus the last? Are there more televisions now than there were then? Is it that we love Harry more than Will; because we’re all fans of Suits, the show on which Markle starred; or is it because Meghan’s biracial and her entry into the British royal family is a watershed historical moment?

Sure, all of that makes sense, but it seems to me that so many Americans are enthusiastic about Meghan Markle becoming the Duchess of Sussex because we like seeing a polished and seemingly empathetic American representing us on the international stage. With the buffoon president’s steady stream of racist, hateful rhetoric, general dishonesty and pungent nastiness sullying our national name, it’s nice to have an American standing with/for dignity and grace —and not just an American, but a biracial woman whose path — and the once-stodgy royal family’s embrace of — is the emotional and sociopolitical opposite of all President Trump represents.

Meghan Markle is the face of America’s future; Donald Trump and his reactionary racism are its past.

(PS: I was going to have a photo of Trump next to fresh-faced Markle for juxtaposition purposes, but it just didn’t feel right having his ugly mug next to such beauty.)

Third Time a Charm for Selma March, 1965

On this date in 1965, 53 years ago, 8,000 people set out from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery to protest ongoing suppression of the black vote, violence against black people and the general racism of American society. This was their third attempt at such a march.

The first planned launch, led by current Congressman John Lewis, on March 7, came to a horrifying end when horse-mounted police and regular old racists blocked their path at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, beating 600 or so protesters with nightsticks, fists and boots, an attack that left dozens injured, including a young woman named Amelia Boynton, whose unconscious body became emblematic of the injustice happening down south. The event was immediately dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

The second go, two days later, on March 9, was truncated due to a court order: a judge was still considering the protesters’ routes and the organizing organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Martin Luther King Jr., agreed to stop short of the county line, turning back right before the spot where previous incident unfolded. This event became known as “Turnaround Tuesday.”

Yet even this small show of black resistance to overwhelming racism enraged hateful white folk, including a mob that beat Jacob Reeb to death, an incident that only drew more attention to the terror in the Heart of Dixie.

Thus, even more people, about 8,000, turned out at the start of the next planned march, on the 21st, gathering as a powerful mass as they took off behind Lewis, Dr. King, and others from Selma on their four-day journey to Montgomery, by which point their numbers had swelled to 25,000. And no longer were these just student and religious protesters — they now had President Johnson’s blessing. Supportive before, Johnson was appalled by Bloody Sunday and vowed not only to get a Voting Rights Act passed, but sent personal representatives to Alabama to make sure the next Selma march went off without a hitch.

Today, with a president who pals around with white supremacists, defends neo-Nazis and who has exhibited time and time again he has no respect for people of color, it’s important to remember that even in the face of state-sponsored violence and terroristic threats, Americans who believe in equality will keep coming back, fighting and marching, raising fists and holding placards, until the injustice is undone.

Remember that, Donald Trump: no matter how much fear and loathing you try to churn, Americans who support truth and justice will always win. It may take some time, but the end result will be the same: hateful people such as you and your allies will end up on the wrong side of history. How “Sad!” for you.

Freedom of Information Day, Now and Forever

Today marks the 267th birthday of James Madison, the Founding Father who wrote the Bill of Rights, including provisions for free speech, assembly and press. And Madison included these democratic essentials because he knew the free flow of information was integral to the nascent nation’s success. “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” said Madison. And it’s for that reason that Madison’s birthday’s celebrated coast-to-coast as Freedom of Information Day.

Not incidentally, yesterday was the 105th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson holding the first press conference at the White House, on March 15, 1913. It wasn’t meant to be a press conference: Wilson invited the press over so he could meet them individually, but more reporters showed up than he anticipated, so the president ended up giving general remarks.

“I want an opportunity  to open part of my mind to you,” Wilson said that day. But this and future meetings were about more than Wilson sharing his perspective. He wanted the nation’s input, too: as he said a few days later, “Please do not tell the country what Washington’s thinking, for that does not make any difference. Tell Washington what the country’s thinking.”

Though the relationship between Wilson and journalists wasn’t always so chummy, especially after the Great War began, the president knew then what Madison knew so many years before: the flow of information between people and leaders, and vice versa, was the bedrock for a more perfect union. The exchange of ideas and experiences is what keeps a nation, and its leadership, fresh and responsive.

Now, in these Trumpian times, with a chief executive who smears the press as enemies of the people, who slams “fake news” and whose communications team obfuscates, obscures and outright lies to the media, all to keep information flowing one way, if at all, let’s hold Wilson and Madison close to our collective hearts, reminding ourselves both of what makes a great leader, one who respects our national institutions and people in general, and of the need to edit out any pernicious elements that hinder such exchanges.

Only 962 days until we get our chance.

A Reality Star’s Lie, Cloaked in Violence

Donald Trump and his cable news sock puppet Sean Hannity have been trumpeting the claim that Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for election meddling “vindicates” Trump (pictured) and his campaign in the collusion case.

Again, this is not true, but it’s worth noting I think that while the 1640 definition of “vindicate” is “to clear from censure or doubt, by means of demonstration,” the word’s 1620’s root is much more violent, “to avenge or revenge,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

In Trump World, even a claim — or, rather, lie — like “Trump cleared” becomes bloodthirsty and ugly. He and his ilk are incapable of not seeing red. “SAD!”

(For more Fun with Words, aka Etymological Adventures, click here.)

Foreign Shlock Shock at Lincoln ‘Birth’ Cabin, 1936

It’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and we should only be sharing happy memories of the sixteenth president, the Great Emancipator, the Honest One, but I don’t know when I’ll next receive the opportunity to share this random, tangentially-related fact I learned while writing my book, so, you know, indulge me….

In 1936, the interwar period, Americans were aghast to learn that a shop adjacent to the “Lincoln birth cabin” in Hodgenville, Kentucky, was selling foreign-made wares: products described as “relics of Lincoln’s day,” but which the Chicago Tribune revealed to be as “cheap in material and theme,” constructed in far-off lands like Japan or Germany, and all “exploiting the patriotic sentiments of the American public.”

From the Tribune’s 1936 report:

“The articles…sold for 25 cents each and are cheap in construction, material and theme. One of a black and white china ash tray in the shape of a dog. This was made in Japan. Another, made in Germany, is a small wooden box labeled ‘Hope Chest’ and ornamented by a stenciled rose. Within are a nude kewpie doll and a square of cloth.

Still another of these souvenirs stamped with the words ‘Lincoln’s Birthplace, Kentucky,’ is a miniature wooden spinning wheel. This, according to the label, was made in Czechoslovakia.”

And this so close to a place the Cincinnati Enquirer described in 1909 as a “mecca for all patriotic men and women,” a place the Wisconsin Daily Northwestern called “a mecca for all Americans,” a place President Wilson himself said “expresses so much of what is singular and noteworthy in the history of the country”?! What a travesty!

Now, can only image what these people would say if they learned this “Lincoln birth cabin” was itself an elaborate ruse erected as much to honor Lincoln as to glorify America’s broader rags-to-riches/logs-to-luxury myth. And, more importantly, what would they say about Americans electing a president whose oft-licensed — and etymologically appropriate — last name and well-branded family are tied to dozens and dozens of shoddy products produced overseas, all created precisely to exploit American patriotism?

‘Ultra Rich’ In America, 1883-Today

Hundreds of the planet’s richest and glitziest will gather today to kick off the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That said, this week’s etymological adventure revolves around the term “ultra-rich.”

Continue reading