It’s time we bring back analogies on the SAT. Okay, okay, we probably shouldn’t. They were racist/classist and not remotely reflective of actual college preparedness skills.
On the other hand, being able to make comparisons is a useful life skill. I always thought coming up with a passable comparison was as easy as falling off a log (but I was also rather perturbed that I was among the first batch of students who didn’t have analogies on their SATs, so what can I tell you?) As we’ve seen recently, however, I was mistaken.
Sean Spicer said Assad is worse than Hitler because Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people. How dumb do you have to be to say that? I mean even if you don’t remember 10th grade world history, you should know that making a comparison where Hitler comes off favorably is a bad idea.
I actually happened to be watching Don Lemon’s show when Jeffrey Lord compared Donald Trump to Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather he compared their obstructionist tactics, but, as Lemon pointed out, that amounts to the same thing. Lord also seemed to compare Trump to the colonists at the Boston Tea Party–less offensive, but equally stupid.
What is more troubling than these individual comparisons, though, is the general laziness with language. I can never quite tell if this stupidity stems from genuine incompetence or from something more malicious. Hearing Jeffrey Lord refuse to apologize for offending Lemon, everyone on Lemon’s panel, and probably quite a few viewers–an apology that would have cost him nothing–and then digging a deeper hole, making less offensive but more outrageous comparisons, pushed me toward the latter.
That’s a lie. It pushed me toward thinking it’s both. People can be mean and dumb at the same time. And that’s what seems to be happing.
Frank Bruni recently lamented the death of “who”. More and more politicians (and presumably regular people) are saying, “people that,” instead of, “people who.” Bruni is an excellent writer who manages to make a political point out of bad grammar, although the piece does start reading like an apologist’s explanation by the end. Overall, though, I think his point is that we are all becoming lazy and imprecise in our use of language. I agree.
But it’s also more than that, as he too briefly mentioned at the beginning of the piece:
This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there. We’re supposed to refer to “the trash that” we took out or “the table that” we discovered at a flea market. We’re not supposed to refer to “people that call my office” (Rubio) or “people that come with a legal visa and overstay” (Bush).
And that’s what bothers me about Spicer and Lord’s metaphors. They aren’t just representative of laziness or stupidity (though I’m sure that’s a factor, since it takes a certain lack of knowledge to say that Hitler didn’t gas his own people). They are representative of a larger, more insidious problem: bad dudes are masking their malice in idiotic statements. Just as in the election, too many people can write offensive comments off as uninformed rather than both uninformed and downright mean.
We made that mistake during the Republican Primary and, of course, during the general election. Let’s not keep making excuses. Let’s call it like it is. Spicer and Lord–and Trump–say things that are (to be as clear with my language as possible) mean, not just dumb.