It’s 2012 in America, and the spectacle that is U.S. electoral politics is beginning to exert its Vulcan death grip on news cycles and people’s attentions. Much punditary energy - incidentally, “punditary”: not a word, but it should be - will be spent combing and explicating the deep meaning of the candidates’ every utterance between now and November, from their flubs and gaffes to their policy positions to their ”I-hate-to-be-negative-but” TV ads. (Who am I kidding - policy positions? As if.)
For all the obsessive-compulsive analysis that will soon gush forth from our media orifices-I-mean-outlets like so much pent-up santorum, a buck’ll get you a euro that certain words and phrases will go unparsed, unscrutinized, and even unnoticed. No punditary eyebrows will lift skeptically; no viral videos pinpointing the absurdity will be cross-posted or retweeted.
That these linguistic terms remain mostly invisible doesn’t make them any less important or deadly. Quite the contrary: they are the black ice of political rhetoric. So study them closely, learn their true meanings - or lack thereof - and you’re more likely to maintain traction as you zoom down the slippery, twisty, billboard-encrusted freeway of American Democracy.
A mythical land whose existence candidates tout fervently as fact (e.g. “I believe in America”) and to which they promise to guide you (e.g. “Let’s find that America together.”) It can magically shape-shift to various forms, whether a smiling paradise of tense, unperturbed Christian compliance, or a smiling paradise of colorblind diversity and cautious, ahistorical optimism with a chipper Motown soundtrack everyone can boogie tolerantly to. (NB: Most Americans do not live there.)
“THE PROMISE OF AMERICA”
Careful: no record exists of when this promise was made, or to whom, or by whom, or exactly what it consisted of. Most likely it started out as a sort of vague “yeah, sure, maybe, I could do that for you” that then got misremembered as a blood oath by an assortment of very different people who happened to be there and assumed it was meant to benefit them and people like them.
“THE AMERICAN PEOPLE”
Another semi-fictional entity; often invoked in conjunction with verbs like “want”, “know”, and “understand”. Note that a tiny change in wording - replacing “the” with “some”, and using “people” in its everyday, small-p, plural-of-“person” sense - would result in greater clarity and precision. (e.g. “Some American people want a return to Biblical values.” ”Some American people recognize that we can’t build our nation’s wealth on the backs of the poor.” Both statements are inarguably true, right? Now try them with “the American People”. See? Gibberish.)
“FRIENDS,” (alt. “MY FRIENDS:”)
Roughly translates as “Faceless mass of people I both desperately need and deeply resent at this moment,” or alternatively, “You dumb shits.”
1) A genetic endowment unique to Americans. Provokes murderous jealousy among the world?s less American inhabitants. Highly prone to attack and decay from pernicious forces without (e.g. terrorists, global environmental treaties) and within (e.g. gay marriage, socialized medicine, one?s political opponent.) Responds well to military surges and/or splurges.
2) A handy psychological curative; something to feel good about when unemployment, indefinite detention, and the howling emptiness of materialist strivings start getting you down.
“I have trained myself, via rigorous phonetic repetition, to produce the following combination of sounds from now until the election, more or less believably.”
“LET ME BE CLEAR:”
“I’m now going to say some stuff about some stuff, and you should forget everything else I’ve said about this stuff, and especially everything I’ve done relating to this stuff, because never mind that other stuff, this stuff here that I’m about to say is the final - no, the only word when it comes to me and said stuff. Clear? Okay, here goes.”
“OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN”
A race of alien creatures with wide eyes and bubbly laughs and cute, chubby, little legs, who live on a tranquil planetoid named Tomorrow - which, if you don’t resolve to vote for _________, will be blown to bloody, irretrievable smithereens, after which their little ghosts will travel back in time to chase you around and scald you with their vengeful tears because it was ALL. YOUR. FAULT!
(Thank you very much. God bless America, and God bless some American people.)
Daniel Matéis a writer and composer-lyricist working mainly in Theatre-that-is-Musical, in which he earned an MFA from NYU and for which he has received a Jonathan Larson Foundation Grant and the ASCAP Foundation’s Cole Porter Award. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Canada, he is now based in Brooklyn. (His official U.S. visa designation is “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”. He comes in peace.) www.danielmate.com