Obscenity’s Not Just a Set of Words

January 9, 2019 by Leonard Pitts

As a general rule, I don’t curse a lot.

I’ve found that I can usually express myself effectively enough without it. And it’s always seemed to me that foul language, used ubiquitously, loses its primary value, i.e., its ability to shock or to state a thing with force. How seriously should anyone take the F-bomb you drop after being passed over for promotion when you are also known to drop F-bombs because the store runs out of Frosted Flakes?

I know this places me outside the norms and mores of this era that, where language is concerned, is something of a free-fire zone. And that’s fine. I just wanted to contextualize my response to last week’s exuberant vow from newly sworn Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. In case you missed it, she promised to “impeach the motherf—–.” Meaning, of course, Donald Trump.

Those words have made her the latest darling of the political left; indeed, you can already buy T-shirts emblazoned with her battle cry. But from where I sit, Tlaib is just the latest in a lamentable and bipartisan line of political leaders dropping verbal litter into the public square. I am old-fashioned enough to regret the coarsening of our political dialogue and to believe the privilege of public office obligates one to speak to our better angels, not our worst.

That said, I’m less vexed by Tlaib’s words than by the right-wing response thereto. Many Republicans seem to have caught the vapors at being subjected to such an ungentle expression. You had Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley lamenting her “nasty, ridiculous, outrageous rhetoric.” You had Rep. Kevin McCarthy chiding Democrats for “foul language.” And did Donald Trump (!) really call Tlaib’s statement “disgraceful”?

Lord, give me strength.

For any Trump acolyte, much less the so-called president himself, to deride anyone for saying a bad word is an act of hypocrisy truly Brobdingnagian in scale. Trump, after all, has been a veritable Vesuvius of invective and insult from the day he first oozed onto the political scene. The man who spoke of grabbing women “by the pussy,” who called NFL players “sons of bitches,” who derided 17 percent of humanity as living in “shithole” countries, does not get to lecture anyone, anywhere at any time on inappropriate language.

Moreover, Republicans might want to look in the mirror before they complain about anything being obscene. The word is defined by Merriam-Webster as that which is “abhorrent to morality or virtue.” And that might as well be the official slogan of the Grand Old Party.

Because obscenity is not just a set of words. It is also a set of attitudes and actions.

As a direct result of GOP attitudes and actions, we live in a country where programs to feed the hungry face deep cuts while we give tax breaks to billionaires, immigrant children are snatched from their families and lost in a labyrinthine system, voting rights are stolen from vulnerable people, the government watches supinely as the planet overheats and mentally deranged people purchase assault weapons while children as young as preschool age practice active-shooter drills.

But we should be outraged at the bad word a little known congresswoman said? No.

In their attitudes and actions, Republicans routinely curse the Constitution, profane America’s ideals and vituperate its values. So for as much as one could do without Rashida Tlaib’s potty mouth, it’s hardly the most offensive thing in our political lives. A far greater obscenity plays out every single day in headlines of preventable calamity, tragedy, degradation and loss.

And in too many Republicans who just don’t give a damn.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

© 2019 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Opinions

How to Nurture a Mission-Driven Culture for a Growing Millennial Workforce Opinions
How to Nurture a Mission-Driven Culture for a Growing Millennial Workforce
January 17, 2019
by Victoria Macdonald

With Millennials emerging as the largest demographic in the American workforce, companies are struggling to understand how to engage a rising tide of young employees who are looking beyond a paycheck to a sense... Read More

Obscenity’s Not Just a Set of Words Opinions
Obscenity’s Not Just a Set of Words
January 9, 2019
by Leonard Pitts

As a general rule, I don't curse a lot. I've found that I can usually express myself effectively enough without it. And it's always seemed to me that foul language, used ubiquitously, loses its primary value, i.e., its ability to... Read More

America’s New Year’s Resolution Opinions
America’s New Year’s Resolution
January 2, 2019
by Robert B. Reich

After Donald Trump's first bizarre year as president, his apologists told us he was growing into the job and that in his second year he'd be more restrained and more respectful of democratic institutions. Wrong. He's been worse. Read More

Israel’s Upcoming Elections Opinions
Israel’s Upcoming Elections
January 2, 2019
by Dan Cohen

Israelis will go to the polls to elect a new parliamentary government (The Knesset) and a Prime Minister on April 9. Unlike the US, it is not a binary choice between Democrat and Republican. Read More

Trump’s Shutdown and the Economic Precipice Opinions
Trump’s Shutdown and the Economic Precipice
December 24, 2018
by Robert B. Reich

I was in Bill Clinton's Cabinet when Newt Gingrich pulled the plug on the federal government in the mid-'90s. It wasn't a pretty picture. A long shutdown hurts millions of people who rely on government for services and paychecks. Read More

The Narc on the Shelf Opinions
The Narc on the Shelf
comments 1

Thirteen years into this parenting gig I was pretty sure that I was acing low-key holiday parenting. Kids get something big-ish from us, modest things from Santa (equality, ya know), a few books, maybe an experience, but, most importantly NO ELF ON THE SHELF. Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top