Retorts: Is this what’s meant by vetting?

1969 CHEVROLET STING RAY (Wikipedia photo).

1969 CHEVROLET STING RAY (Wikipedia photo).

I’m a word guy. Using the right word is the key to most successful forms of communication. Telling a woman she is “so beautiful” will work a lot better than “hey, you look hot!” Choosing the right word is essential in fine literature and in bar fights. Saying “excuse me, sir” when you bump into the biker with a Jack Daniels in his fist will get you a better result than “Get outta my way, jerkface!”

So I rise on this occasion to do my First Annual Word Dustbin, seeking to consign ambiguous, misused and downright dumb words to the wood chipper of language. Here’s my list as we trudge through the winter of 2017.

retortsVetting: Unless you’re talking about the sports car with the four taillights, “vetting” is a bad word, in the sense of dumb. What does it mean, exactly? It’s supposed to refer to the credentials of a candidate for a job or security clearance, but it’s been turned into a code word for a hostile interrogation of people you don’t like, whether they be Cabinet appointees or people who wear unusual headgear.

Some of this revolves around the danger of foreigners coming here bent on wreaking havoc. Ok, I get that. But statistically speaking, you have a much better chance of being killed when you pull your car – possibly a Corvette – onto the 405 than you do from some angry fella who snuck in from one of the hot countries.

You want to save American lives? Do some extreme vetting of the honyockers I run into onto the freeway almost daily.

Diversity: If I had a dollar (OK, $10) for every time I have heard the term “diversity” intoned with reverence in the past six months, I could buy my own Congressman. As the demographics shift, those in leadership positions feel the need to recite that word four or five times every paragraph, as if it was a spell out of a “Harry Potter” movie.

Diversity is neither good nor bad. It just is. A society that treats people of many backgrounds fairly and with respect is doing the right thing. A society that has not overcome its racial and ethnic divisions but is pasted together, that’s not so good. Switzerland seems to have it right. Yugoslavia, which in the Nineties descended into ethnic cleansing and genocide because the Croatians and Bosnians and others couldn’t along, not so good.

What I’m looking for is common ground. I’m looking for a society where we don’t see each other – or ourselves – as a nationality or a race, but just as Americans. I think all people want the same things, basically. Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms framed it well: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We’re all in this thing together. Diversity shouldn’t mean division.

Resistance: This is a buzz word of February. Some of my liberal and progressive friends are – on Facebook, anyway – on fire with the idea that they must join an uprising of the left against the greatest threat to American freedom since Joseph McCarthy, or the Alien and Sedition Acts. I understand the sentiment, because we have a president now who is having some trouble with impulse control. But this guy did not spring out of thin air. The celebrity culture that spawned our national obsession with famous rich people with cool clothes and more lovers than talent is behind our current situation.

Saying “I don’t vote because it doesn’t matter” is behind our current situation. Dismissing the arguments of those who aren’t ideologically pure enough is behind our current situation. People who think “resistance” means posting a snarky meme in social media are behind our current situation.

True resistance movements in history have been bloody, dangerous and often futile efforts in which those resisting risked prison, torture, death and poverty. We are humbled by their courage and sacrifice. But in a society in which most people can’t even tell you whom their Congressman is (or who owns him or her), who is likely to rise to that standard? Marches are good. But if you really mean to resist, you must be willing to walk the whole length of that path. And how many would?

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays, usually.






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