Words matter

In your own language

La Jornada Maya
Foto: Afp

Lunes 14 de agosto, 2017

Words matter.

What we say at any given time can stroke someone positively, or can begin a deadly war.

That is why we must always weigh our words carefully, and understand how they may sound to our audiences.

During the week of August 7, 2017, President Trump used words unwisely on three separate occasions, and these words have thrown the world into a fit.

Firstly, he spoke about “fire and fury” concerning what the United States would do if North Korea threatened them again. Threaten they did, and Trump continued to ratchet up the rhetoric until there appeared to be no room for either side to back down without an unacceptable loss of face.

A poor choice of words and a poor pulpit lead to very poor results. When nuclear arms are involved, these results are not only poor but can be deadly for millions of people who will be caught up in these words.

Second poor choice of words – at a press conference on August 11, Trump said he would not take a military intervention against Venezuela off the table.

This underscored his complete lack of understanding of what makes Latin Americans tick, and but also lacking in a fully staffed State Department to provide the kind of professional advice he needs in order to take rational decisions and provide context.

Indeed, last week, Latin American governments met in Lima, Peru, to condemn Venezuela’s President Maduro as he moves to consolidate his dictatorship. MERCOSUR, the South American Common Market, further isolated the Maduro regime by suspending Venezuela indefinitely.

Latin American governments have long resisted US intervention in the region, and have to take great pains to not be perceived by their voters as being subservient to US domination. This is a shibboleth of Latin Americans voters – they do not want the US to revert to past history and invade whenever they wish. The fact that these governments have moved this far against one of their own demonstrated a coming of age for the region, a coming of age when states can take action in defense of democracy without appearing to be Washington’s tool.

Had Trump known anything of Latin American politics or history, and had been attuned to the reaction of Latin Americans towards US activism in the region, he might have chosen not to ad lib such an unfortunate and importune statement.

Most Latin American governments immediately and roundly condemned Trump’s statement, and now must see find a way to pursue a democratic option for Venezuela without appearing to their own citizens to have sold out to the Americans.

While many Venezuelans see foreign intervention as the only way to rid themselves of what is rapidly becoming a dictatorship, history might favor an intervention by other Latin American countries rather than the United States. There are ways to nuance such an approach, but Trump does not do nuance.

A tough job indeed.

Finally, words unsaid also have impact.

For years Trump has criticized former President Obama for not calling radical Islamic terrorists by their name.

Yet on August 12th, when a neo-Nazi white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned ugly and one of the participants drove a car into a crown killing at least one person and leaving others seriously injured, Trump refused to condemn white neo-Nazi terrorism, preferring to say “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides – on many sides”.

On many sides!

As if neo-Nazis are morally equivalent to those demonstrating against hatred and for equality for all – the basis of the American values.

But then again, the presence of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke at the demonstration, and his statements to the media, "We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump", speaks to the support extreme right wing elements have given Trump, and the loyalty he feels towards them in return.

However, senior Republicans were quick to call these acts out for what they were. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican, tweeted that, "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."

House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted: "White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated."

Bravo to Republicans for standing up to hatred and bigotry. Bravo to Republicans taking Trump on, and shame on Trump for his politics of division and hatred.

He has been quick to call out Muslims when terrorist acts take place, but, at time of writing, remained loathe to call out white domestic terrorism for what it is.

On the contrary.

Earlier last week, a mosque in Minnesota was attacked and bombed. Again, Trump and others in the White House refused to call out white domestic terrorists and assign responsibility for this act where it belonged.

On August 12th, Harry Potter author J.K Rowling tweeted “Hell of a day for the President to forget how to tweet”.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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