New Albany, MS – I like words. Words are powerful. Words have meanings. Words can incite anger or invoke passion or bring solace. They have the power to bring people together or tear them apart.
Words are powerful and should be written and spoken with extreme care.
As I reflect on the subject of words, of language, of communication, I have come to realize what an important and vital role words have played in my life, and how essential they are to my being. Whether it was the daily “memory” work my Grandmother insisted on, or the “elocution” lessons I was given by Mrs. Henry Hughes King, or the carefully crafted catechisms of the Westminster confessions of faith I was taught in church, words were a big part of my childhood education and contributed mightily to enriching my life. In a very real sense, words have defined my very being. I was always taught that, if you can speak well and write well, you can succeed. I’ve tried to pass that absolute on to my own children.
Words can be kind and words can be cruel. They can be weapons to defeat or promote good and evil. They can inspire and they can discourage. They can scare and they can comfort. They are powerful tools for both constructive change and the preservation of fundamental truth. A word sincerely spoken has the power to change a page of history.
America has been defined by beautiful words. Aspirational words that have stood the test of time and signaled to the rest of the world who we are as Americans, or at least who we hope to become, are a major part of our proud heritage. These words are essential elements of our founding documents. Mr. Jefferson’s unparalleled words in our Declaration of Independence and Mr. Madison’s and others’ words in our matchless constitution define us with unquestioned clarity. Mr. Lincoln’s poignant words in the Gettysburg address added additional clarity. In their inaugural addresses, every President who has had a sense of history, and understood the magnitude of the office they were about to assume, has used words to elevate public discourse and to advance the principles of self government that propelled us to become the greatest republic in the history of the world.
“Once upon a time” in America, the words of presidents were sacrosanct. We could all rely on their veracity. We expected presidential leadership to inform, inspire, and comfort. The crisis came and went, but we all knew, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured us at the height of the Great Depression, that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But that was “once upon a time” in America. Not NOW!
“Once upon a time” in America, presidents comforted, gave hope, and revealed concrete plans for dealing with catastrophic emergencies.
Always before, words were spoken to enlighten, unify, encourage and bring certain hope. Always before, some historian, theologian, or speech writer helped presidents find the right words to console the American people. Always before, presidents cobbled together the right words to appeal to the “better angels of our nature.” But not NOW!
Lyndon Bains Johnson, speaking during the tumultuous days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, said, “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation, but not a fact.” Presidents used to challenge our better angels. But that was “once upon a time.”
We all saw on live television the horrific explosion of the Challenger shuttle, when seven brave American astronauts perished. President Ronald Wilson Reagan spoke of how, just that morning, these brave souls “waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of earth, and touched the face of God.”
“Once upon a time” in America this was what presidential leadership sounded like!
When 168 people were killed by a right wing domestic anarchist in the Oklahoma City bombings, President William Jefferson Clinton told the survivors a day or so later, “You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything, and you have certainly not lost America; for we will stand with you, no matter how many tomorrows it takes.” Those unifying words were “once upon a time” what were expected of our President.
On September 11, 2000, the single deadliest terrorist attack in the history of mankind took place on American soil. Almost 3000 people were killed and over 25,000 were injured. President George W. Bush addressed the nation saying, “Today our nation saw evil — the very worst of human nature — and we responded with the best of America.”
“Once upon a time” in America we had leaders that were up to the task of leading. But not NOW.
When twenty small children and six heroic adults were massacred in an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, President Barack Obama struggled not to cry and told a shocked and grieving nation, in simple words, “Our hearts are broken today.” President Obama cried that day. So did I. I bet you did, too!
And when a pitiful, misguided young racist killed nine people gathered in a Bible study in a Charleston, South Carolina church, President Obama went to the church and eloquently spoke of the amazing and saving Grace of God. He even broke out into song, singing the wonderful old hymn “Amazing Grace“. Because “once upon a time” that’s the sort of thing presidential leadership did!
Today, over 100,000 people are dead due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation is coming unraveled as the result of needless police brutality in Minneapolis, Minnesota. President Donald John Trump says nothing about the sorrowful milestone caused by the pandemic or the senseless murder of a black man at the hands of cocky police!
This would be outrageous behavior for a third grader and no responsible parent would tolerate such mean-spirited foolishness. His tweets are nasty and disruptive and have had to be regulated by the corporate platform on which they appear. Why? Because they are not true! Because they are so vile they might insight more violence. They are designed to divide the American people, and are far from the unifying words that are now so desperately needed.
In these days of raging death from COVID-19, and a raging public disgusted by injustice, President Trump tweets ugly words, calling people crazy, losers, fat, drunk. He even makes fun of folks who obey his own administration’s recommendations by wearing masks and obeying social distancing recommendations!
This President recently tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful kids protesting the injustice of a murdered man at the knee of brutal police. All of this in order for him to have a staged photo opportunity holding a borrowed Bible in front of Saint John’s Episcopal Church, (the Church of the Presidents) in Washington, DC. How disgusting! Words fail to describe the hypocrisy of this devious stunt. Some things are so outrageous, so wretched, so despicable, and so scummy, that words are rendered impotent!
What on earth is he thinking? Does he know no shame? Whatever happened to the dignity of the Presidency?
Mr. President, words matter! You could console a grieving nation. You could recognize the rawness of our broken hearts. You could rise to the level of presidential leadership we’ve all come to expect. Americans are not hallucinating, Mr. President. We see the pandemic’s death toll and we saw George Floyd crying “I can’t breathe” in Minneapolis.
No president before you has abused the most powerful pulpit in the world with the gusto you have! Not LBJ during Vietnam, not Nixon during Watergate, not Clinton during Monica Lewinsky. No sir, you like to brag about being the best president ever, and here is one place where you have truly excelled! No one has ever abused the pulpit of the presidency like you. No one!
“Once upon a time” in America, presidents would craft words that centered us in chaotic times like these. Words that strengthened our resolve, gave comfort and hope and reminded us of our faith in God and our faith in tomorrow, were once in the job description of presidents. But not now!
Will “once upon a time” ever come again? Will we some day go “back to the future?” I pray that we will!
Words matter!New Albany MS, Northeast MS news, politics, Presidents in crisis