Pronouns and Politics
Pronouns are what is happening. Who knew?
Pronouns were called to my attention a year ago when the City of Seattle asked me — electronically — what my “preferred pronoun” was. This in my capacity as a Seattle Urban Naturalist and Parks Department volunteer. I was mystified by this request, until it was pointed out to me that this reflected a concern for those who did not identify with one of usual genders. “He” or “she” wouldn’t do it.
Meanwhile, other pronouns may be relevant in the upcoming elections. Chris Buskirk, a Republican commentator, who appears every now and then on NPR’s “Newshour,” notes that despite rumors (and hopes in some quarters), of a “blue-wave” this fall, it may not happen.
Why? Because of pronouns. Pronouns like “our.” Buskirk writes that a new crop of Republican candidates are speaking in terms of “our,” “we,” and “us,” as they express and tap into a longing for a sense of shared community and common identity among Americans.
“This is why Mr. Trump’s rhetoric works. When he speaks off the cuff, he talks about “we,” “us” and “our.” He has said repeatedly that we love our farmers, our police, our flag and our national anthem — even our coal miners. It is an odd construction, or at least one we’re not used to hearing. It speaks to the essential fraternity of the nation, but when Mr. Trump says it — maybe when any Republican says it — too many people don’t believe that they are included in the “our.” They hear something much narrower than what is meant. People reject the essentially wholesome message because of the messenger. That needs to change because they are, in fact, our farmers, our police and our coal miners, and we should love them. The bonds of civil union that ought to hold us together demand that we love our fellow citizens in their imperfection even as they love us in ours.
“This year’s class of Republican candidates seems to get that in ways that they didn’t in 2016. As a result, the Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional vote dropped from 13 points in January, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average, to 3.5 points at the end of May. A Reuters poll, which recorded a 14-point Democratic edge in April, gave Republicans a 6-point advantage last month.”
As readers of this blog will expect, it is stretch for me to think positive things of Donald Trump. Still, I think Buskirk is right on two counts.
One, the idea that there will be a giant blue wave come November 2018 seems to me doubtful, short of some sort of Trump-induced cataclysm between now and then. Despite the many ways this President continues to offend and dismay, the unemployment rate is lower than forever, there are more jobs, and the economy is humming. That is tough to buck.
Two, the unifying “our” and “we” type pronouns do speak to people. We can — and should — respect the rights of various constituency groups and minorities, but that’s not in itself enough. We need a sense of a whole beyond the parts, of a unum (one) beyond the pluribus (many).
Democrats are too often the party of the pluribus without a unum. On the other side of the coin, one might wonder if the Republican’s unum, “one,” really has room for the many who are not white, male or evangelical Christian.
But Buskirk, I think, is right. The pronouns matter. The capacity to speak of and to the “we,” “us,” and “our” is important and will forestall a blue-wave unless Democrats find their own capacity to speak convincingly in the plural pronouns that unite a people and give a sense of larger meaning.