Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Friday, July 04, 2003  

A few days ago, I posted some excerpts from a fascinating article by Renana Brooks called "A Nation of Victims." Her thesis was something I'd never encountered, and it was compelling:

"President Bush, like many dominant personality types, uses dependency-creating language. He employs language of contempt and intimidation to shame others into submission and desperate admiration."

Today, the President gave one of the most shameful speeches of his presidency. It was a paean to the worst impulses of America, an intimidating and aggressive speech designed to appeal to blind nationalism and stifle criticism. Reading it, I couldn't help but see Brooks' point. Bush is the consummate bully, and here, as we celebrate the country's finest hour, it signals how far from the founders' original vision our leader has deviated.


"Bush uses several dominating linguistic techniques to induce surrender to his will. The first is empty language.... Dominators use empty language to conceal faulty generalizations; to ridicule viable alternatives; to attribute negative motivations to others, thus making them appear contemptible; and to rename and "reframe" opposing viewpoints."

Now listen to Bush's language (emphasis mine):

"Our nation is still at war. The enemies of America plot against us. And many of our fellow citizens are still serving and sacrificing and facing danger in distant places. Many military families are separated. Our people in uniform do not have easy duty, and much depends on their success. Without America's active involvement in the world, the ambitions of tyrants would go unopposed, and millions would live at the mercy of terrorists. With Americans' active involvement in the world, tyrants learn to fear, and terrorists are on the run".


"Another of Bush's dominant-language techniques is personalization. By personalization I mean localizing the attention of the listener on the speaker's personality. Bush projects himself as the only person capable of producing results....

"Instead, there are numerous statements referring to himself or his personal characteristics--folksiness, confidence, righteous anger or determination--as the answer to the problems of the country. Even when Bush uses "we," as he did many times in the State of the Union speech, he does it in a way that focuses attention on himself. For example, he stated: "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility."


"I was there the day that Guadalupe Denogean took the oath of citizenship. From the hospital where he was recovering, this son of Mexico raised his right hand and pledged to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. He had kept -- (applause) -- he had kept that oath for decades before he took it. I'm proud to call him a fellow America. (Applause).

"To be an American, whether by birth or choice, is a high privilege. (Applause.) As citizens of this good nation, we can all be proud of our heritage and confident in our future. The ideals of July 4th, 1776, still speak to all humanity. And the revolution declared that day goes on."


"Yet the public, their electoral resistance broken down by empty language and persuaded by personalization, is susceptible to Bush's most frequently used linguistic technique: negative framework. A negative framework is a pessimistic image of the world. Bush creates and maintains negative frameworks in his listeners' minds with a number of linguistic techniques borrowed from advertising and hypnosis to instill the image of a dark and evil world around us. Catastrophic words and phrases are repeatedly drilled into the listener's head until the opposition feels such a high level of anxiety that it appears pointless to do anything other than cower."


"By killing innocent Americans, our enemies made their intentions clear to us. And since that September day, we have made our own intentions clear to them. The United States will not stand by and wait for another attack, or trust in the restraint and good intentions of evil men. We are on the offensive against terrorists and all who support them. We will not permit any terrorist group or outlaw regime to threaten us with weapons of mass murder. We will act whenever it is necessary to protect the lives and the liberty of the American people."

I would add to Brooks' analysis a fourth pillar of Bush's language of dominance: God. He consistently invokes God to make clear his moral universe. You are with God (and Bush and America) or you are against Him and with evil and terror. Of course, Bush used this ubiquitous technique today:

"On July the 4th, 2003, we still placed our trust in Divine Providence. We still pledge our lives and honor to freedom's defense. And we will always believe that freedom is the hope and the future of every land.

"May God continue to bless the United States of America."

I found the speech deeply divisive and cynical. On national holidays, it's usual to honor the country universally, so that all who feel patriotic are welcome at the celebration. The United States is a nation of great diversity and interests, and nearly all Americans would describe themselves as loyal, interested, patriotic citizens. The President is well aware that his policy of war is not popular with a majority of Americans. He knows that his pre-emption doctrine is now being seriously questioned, as is the information he gave to justify his war.

None of this should have been mentioned. It was cynical of the President to seize upon this day to try to silence his critics. Independence Day isn't a political holiday. It's a national holiday. It's for celebrating the union, the spirit of the country, the Declaration of Independence, and the patriotic citizens who believe in those things. Shame on you for politicizing it, Mr. President. Shame on you.

posted by Jeff | 11:29 PM |
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