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.”

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Transcripts are Having a Moment

Transcripts are hot right now. I’m talking, of course, about the House Intelligence Committee’s new transcripts* of conversations with Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the firm that put together the infamous “Steele Dossier,” the file that contains references to the even more infamous “pee pee tape;” and I’m also referring to the old, but just released, InTouch magazine transcript of porn star and director Stormy Daniels dishing about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

It’s somewhat refreshing, in this video-saturated era, to see old school transcripts – line-by-line texts of an actual conversation – are getting some love, even if it is covered in urine – allegedly

*Distinct from those old news transcripts Sen. Diane Feinstein released last week.

When the President Fought White Supremacists

No, this isn’t a story about the current president. It’s about Teddy Roosevelt, the late president who on this date in 1903 shuttered the post office in Indianola, Mississippi, a punishment for locals’ racist intimidation of Minnie M. Cox, a black woman who was also the town’s postmaster.

Though Mrs. Cox had already held the role for well over a decade— President Benjamin Harrison appointed her in 1891, making the Fisk graduate the nation’s first black female postmaster, and McKinley invited her back in 1897 — the combination of blackness, womanhood and power proved too strong for self-conscious white chauvinists at the turn of the century, and local haters started pressuring her to resign late in 1902, encouraged in large part by James K. Vardaman, a newspaper editor and noted white supremacist who used op-eds to attack Cox as a “negro wench” and other awful invective. Finally, after weeks of torment, including a moment when the mayor and sheriff told her they would not protect her from lynching, Cox involuntarily resigned her position.

But Roosevelt and his allies were having none of it. Upon receiving the coerced resignation, Roosevelt shot back, “The resignation…is not accepted” because it was tendered under duress, “forced by a brutal and lawless element purely upon the ground of her color…”

Roosevelt went on, “[Mrs. Cox’] character and standing in the community are endorsed by the best and most reputable people in town… Her moral standing in the community is of the highest.” He then declared the post office closed until Mrs. Cox was welcomed back. That’s right: a president closed an entire post office to fight for a black woman. If locals weren’t mature enough to accept her, they weren’t mature enough to receive mail. It was a radical move, especially in 1903.

And while Roosevelt’s office noted that this hatred was hurting business, Roosevelt made sure to remind Americans of their national morality: “Business interests, which are being injured solely by the action of the law element…is wholly secondary to the preservation of law and order and the assertion of the fundamental principle that this government will not connive at or tolerate wrong and outrage of such flagrant character.”

The racists eventually ceded to American values and pulled back their anti-black attacks on Mrs. Cox, but the damage was done: she realized she could never be at home in Indianola and she and her family left town soon after;  her vacancy at the post office was soon filled by a white male replacement. Though the racists won by default in this case, the fact that the President of the United States stepped up and stared them down is an historical moment worth remembering…  Wistfully, perhaps.

The Rewriting of Reality Begins with the Words

The CDC isn’t the only government agency recently given a list of naughty words. The Washington Post reports that two other Health and Human Services were given a litany of lexemes the Trump Administration wants erased from their vocabulary, including “diversity,” “entitlement” and “vulnerable,” three of the words the CDC was also ordered never to utter.

Elsewhere in the Trump government’s vernacular, insurance “marketplaces” are supposed to be called “exchanges,” a term that evokes ideas socialist-esque bartering, and the Affordable Care Act is supposed to be referred to as “Obamacare.”

Even the president’s supporters admit that Donald Trump  likes to create and perpetuate his own version of the truth, but this institutional censoring of language to augment reality is perhaps the most chilling effort yet.

‘Hypocrisy’ is Acting Badly

Now that we’re nearly one year into the Trump presidency, you’ve probably seen a few hundred Tweets, Facebooks, Instagrams, Snapchats, or Whatchamacallits noting how hypocritical it is for Donald Trump to decry “fake news.” After all, this is the man who concocts self-aggrandizing Time magazine covers, the charlatan who claimed for years that Barack Obama was from Kenya, and the ego-maniac who decries chimerical voter fraud to justify losing the popular vote.

But what is hypocrisy? Of course most of us know it roughly means “doing or saying some thing you criticize others for doing or saying,” but the true definition is, as always, more nuanced.

Hypocrisy” as we know it comes from the Latin word of the same spelling, meaning “an imitation of a person’s speech and gestures” and derived from from the ancient Greek word “hypokrisis,” “acting on stage.” You see, hypocrisy was originally a drama term, one initially and specifically relegated to the stage, but which eventually evolved to the more general, pedestrian “pretense.”

This latter lexeme trickled through languages over the centuries, landing in French as the h-less word “ypocrisie,” and then seeping into Middle English around the year 1200 as “ipocrisie,” a term defined in clearly moralistic terms: “the sin of pretending virtue or goodness.” I’ll leave judgement of sin to more qualified entities, but that “pretending virtue” bit is pretty spot-on to what we’re seeing out of the Oval Office.

For more Fun with Words, click HERE.