Defend Words - Fight Fascism
How to spot fluency in doublespeak and protect the integrity of language
In 2016, when I knew a Ponzi schemer who had abused the trust of his TV following - Donald J. Trump - was going to be elected president, I began firing off columns from my Maewestside Tumblr. They’re all there if you want to read them, beginning with Dooshbaggery and Other Things I’ve Resigned From, written on September 17, 2016, at 3:02 pm.
I note the date and the time as artifacts of the before times - that moment when my old life ceased to exist. I began firing off columns as evidence to my children that their mother was paying attention and doing everything she could to prevent a calamitous fraud on our nation.
I had interviewed Trump’s victims a decade earlier - people who had sunk their life savings into a pyramid scheme, because he told them it was a good investment. They - like all his other schemes - were the investment, not the janky video phone he was pitching.
As someone who has made a living with the precision of words, I knew there was something additional distressing me about Trump. Yes, I knew he was a con man, and a cheat, but when I would hear him speak, there was something else - something that echoed from my past that chafed.
I had seen Hershey Felder at the Geffen Playhouse perform a one-man Irving Berlin show, and for me, the sun and the moon and the stars sets on the songs of Berlin and Fred Astaire musicals. In 2016, I was interviewing Felder, and I have no idea how the topic of Trump came up, but he told me I should check out an interview his wife did that week on the subject.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me his wife was Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada. I immediately researched the news clip, and it was in listening to her CBC interview comparing Hillary Clinton and Trump from July 26, 2016 that everything clicked:
“You see the vocabulary of misogyny coming out, and that is really shocking because a lot of us like to feel good when we see women doing well and making advancements… but to see the rear guard vocabulary and the fact that Donald Trump has totally removed any inhibitions about speaking in the cruelest way, it’s really shocking.”
The vocabulary of misogyny. There it was. The words he directed at women - at Hillary, at Rosie O’Donnell, who became a fierce ally of mine in the Resistance - made me recoil. It brought back the 19 f**king 80s for me, the last hoorah of the patriarchy.
Donald F**king Trump was going to bring back the ‘80s, where greed was good and women were objectified - and we just couldn’t have that. So I wrote and I warned and I wrote and I warned and I wrote and I warned.
And, well you know the rest.
On November 8, I sat in a cellar bar in downtown Los Angeles, watching the color red reflect on the mirror behind my table, my back to the television screens that were updating the election results. The worst had happened, and I felt like a mother who had failed.
But I never stopped writing.
I had to invent a new vocabulary for this war. My training in broadcast news and my training as a nightlife columnist taught me to use an economy of words. I also had to get the attention of people in a noisy world, detonating my counteroffensives to Trump’s bullshittery often in 140 characters or less.
I started writing about gaslighting - before Teen Vogue - I began using the phrase “real fake news” - only to have Trump twist the phrase to mean something else entirely. I began to notice a pattern - I would introduce a phrase as a direct hit on his lies, and the word or phrase would be picked up by him or his team immediately, and wrenched away from its original meaning. I dubbed his admin Scamalot, a direct hit to editors at magazines who tried to turn Melania into Jackie O. They were so negligent.
The world was upside down. Projection was everywhere.
Echoes of Inigo Montoya in Princess Bride telling the villain Vizzini - “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I knew by early 2017, we were engaged in a different form of warfare. I went after Brad Parscale hard. I created a petition to see the Trump ads, I wanted them compared to the Russian troll operation ads. I wanted to see where there was overlap.
When I wrote my “warfighting” thread - parsing Keir Giles’ NATO Handbook of Russian Information Warfare, I received calls from friends who told me Trump started using the word ‘warfighting.’
We are in a war of words. Words have specific meanings, and in the mouths of professional propagandists, they are constantly misused.
Trump is a professional propagandist, and that is why I took his 2024 speech and ran it through Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works, because once you see how he repeats the same fascist tropes in abuse of truth, it gets much easier to view with an analytical eye. Almost like a doctor diagnosing a patient - fascist trope, repetition, fascist trope, repetition, repeat.
For so long, the sane majority just stood outraged at his words, but knowing the categories - victimhood, the mythic past, sexual anxiety, law and order, propaganda, unreality, conspiracy - drains his verbal toxic soup of its potency.
That is why I found Huckabee so ineffectual Tuesday night. She used the same fascist tropes.
We need to defend the truth of words. We cannot cede ground to the Fifth Column traitors, wrapping themselves in the flag, and wearing AR-15 lapel pins.
We are in an information war, and defending words is critical to winning.
These traitors are fluent in doublespeak, their currency is lies - to agitate, provoke, cause outrage, and dog whistle to racists and bigots.
David DePape, the radicalized assailant with ties to Russia who attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer - called KTVU from San Francisco County Jail, and it is clear his mind is twisted about the definitions of “freedom and liberty” and “tyrannical global fascists.”
The victimhood tropes that Trump and Mike Flynn use as currency, along with their abuse of truth, are radicalizing people to violence.
As I have said repeatedly, we need President Biden to acknowledge the information war so we have resources to fight it. We need media to step up its game and stop parroting the “alternative facts” of traitors and those who led a violent insurrection against our country. The army of militias believed the lies promoted by this cynical cabal, who profited off death and destruction and who continue to profit today by selling the Big Lie and victimhood.
As an investigative reporter, I can tell you, facts and words do matter.
The dismissive words the FBI planted in a CNN story earlier this week was like a bad cop planting drugs in an innocent victim’s backseat, except let’s consider the scale…
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