Watch Your Language

I think it was Tallyrand who said “speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts.” Political spinmeisters, advertising executives and faux scholars are proving him prescient; they have perfected the use of language to label and deceive, rather than communicate.

The following paragraph is typical (no link, as I have forgotten where I got it):

The Sanders-led progressive movement has successfully tugged the party to the left, bringing ideas that seemed fringe in 2016 to the center of the mainstream Democratic agenda. Many of the party’s presidential hopefuls now embrace some of the biggest planks of the Sanders platform, from Medicare for All to legalizing marijuana to rejecting corporate donations.

A genuine Leftist–vanishingly rare in the U.S.–would laugh at the suggestion that universal health care (once proposed by Richard Nixon), sane drug policies based upon sound medical research, and campaign finance reform (championed by John McCain) are somehow “far Left.” But that’s the state of political discourse in America these days, where ideology and animus trump both evidence and the careful use of language.

Peter the Citizen, an expert on social welfare programs to whom I’ve previously cited, recently sent me a good example of the way it works. (Peter is hardly a bleeding heart liberal–he worked in the Reagan White House. He just believes that research projects should be designed to find answers to questions, not manipulated in order to confirm pre-existing biases.) The issue was whether recipients of certain social programs should be required to work in order to qualify for benefits.

He wrote:”I believe work requirements can be a useful policy tool, but they must be reasonable, realistic, and based on sound evidence.  Too much of the debate today ignores these factors and is based on misreading the credible evidence that exists (i.e., the random assignment experiments of welfare-to-work programs) or, even worse, relies on studies with fundamentally flawed methods.

“How effective are work requirements?,” a paper by Angela Rachidi and Robert Doar of the American Enterprise Institute, came in for special scorn. The authors purport to find evidence that “largely supports” extending work requirements to non-cash programs like SNAP  and Medicaid, and they argue that critics of work requirements have “misread” and “misrepresented” this research.

As Peter notes,

It turns out that it is Angela and Robert who have misread the evidence.  They mischaracterize the arguments of “critics” of work requirements, misinterpret the results of random assignment experiments, and then over-generalize from a limited number of demonstration projects to make claims about work requirement proposals that would operate on a much larger scale, for different programs and populations, and with different levels of funding.

Peter’s paper critiquing this “research,” can be found here.

Peter also referenced an article titled “They’re the think tank pushing for welfare work requirements. Republicans say they’re experts. Economists call it ‘junk science,’” by Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post. In the article, Dewey described the newfound influence of a think-tank named Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) (given the name–the label– I assume its an offshoot of that well-known organization “Grandmas and Kittens for Good Government.”)

But hey–they are saying what Paul Ryan and the Koch Brothers want to hear, so they must be legit, right?

House Republicans – including [Speaker] Ryan, who was introduced to the group in 2016 through Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback – have repeatedly proffered the FGA’s analysis as proof that most Americans support strict work rules in welfare programs and that such rules boost income and employment.

While the FGA’s “studies” have support among some politicians, their work is not seen as credible by serious observers.  To understand why, it is informative to compare their methodological approach for making claims about the impacts of work requirements (and other welfare reform policies) with generally accepted criteria for assessing the soundness of an evaluation.

In 1997, Peter co-authored a monograph with Doug Besharov and Peter Rossi – Evaluating Welfare Reform: A Guide for Scholars and Practitioners – which described and explained those “generally accepted criteria.”  Peter applied the criteria the to the FGA’s “research,”  and developed the following “report card”: “How Do the Foundation for Government Accountability’s Evaluations of Welfare Reform Measure Up? A Report Card (Hint: The FGA Fails)”:

In 1984, Orwell introduced the concept of “Newspeak,” language imposed by the governing Party. The purpose of Newspeak was to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits “proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, (the Party ruling Oceana)”– and simultaneously to make all other modes of thought impossible.

The “alternative facts,” of Trumpworld, politicians’ increasing use of language to obfuscate and label rather than inform, and the bastardized “research” of zealots and ideologues are creating an environment in which their version of Newspeak displaces actual conversation and distorts reality.

We. need to watch our language.


  1. Sheila, here is your missing link:

    It’s hard to believe language matters to all, when I can’t stand any longer to listen to the State of the Union, or even a brief sound bite from the president. I used to love to listen to President Obama speak – it was nearly poetry. Now, it’s senseless babble.

  2. Hear, hear…so true. Our schools need to teach students and their parents how to recognize diabolical political speak so that they learn when it’s the opposite of what they propose and understand.

    George Orwell would think his prophesies have come true. Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy would think we’ve surrendered to the Russians.

    Just vote Democratic. It’ll answer your questions the way you want.

  3. Sadly, our schools are becoming more corporatized. Ball State’s corporatist board took over Muncie Community Schools because the people were too stupid and elected corrupt board members (so the story goes).

    Yet, after the takeover, Ball State was faced with a moral dilemma; keep the racist John Schnatter on an institute along with the Koch brothers or remove it and lose $3.5 million. As a side note, BSU is a PUBLIC university and Muncie’s students are 40% brown.

    BSU’s corporatist and republican appointed governing board was the only public university who sided with Schnatter/Koch.

    Another point, all welfare recipients of welfare must be asked if they would like to register to vote. I’d love to have access to state data on what percentage say, “NO.” I bet it’s less than 50%. Most say, “It doesn’t matter, they all do what they want.”

    It doesn’t take much to fool people into going against their best interests. It’s also very hard to fight for these groups which is why the DNC kisses corporate ass when they see a giant movement brewing from their left.

    I can only imagine what types of employers are after this pool of workers…but I’d bet they are paying very low wages for sure.

  4. “Watch Your Language” covers as vast area these days where lies from the president and his current head attorney, as well as his remaining appointees who are part of our daily “newspeak”. By the way; I am trying to get into Orwell’s “1984” because language from all sides has convinced me I should already be familiar with it from start to finish. I will keep trying but in small doses.

    The evangelicals need to be at the top of the list of the admonishment to “Watch Your Language”; just this morning I read a quote from some unknown preacher of that denomination that “Rachel Maddow plans to lead a bloody coup and behead President Trump on the White House lawn”. They are doing almost as much damage to this country as those sitting in the White House. Trump questions why his own attorney Cohen would tape their conversations; the answer is simply that Cohen recognized his long-time client as a liar and a thief of high level…it was for self-protection. Same with Omarosa; it is common and accepted knowledge that government security and intelligence issues should not be spread around in any form; general conversations do not fit that description but she quickly learned the same self-protective action as Cohen. As with “Fire and Fury”; they on-going, day-to-day contacts within this government are where much of the action is. Dick Cheney’s war mongering conversations should have been taped throughout his 8 years in the White House. I believe Bush simply played “follow the leader” and carried out Cheney’s orders.

    Jane reminded us of the pleasure of listening to President Obama speak; it was always enlightening, informative, heartfelt and could be counted on as truth. I sorely miss that man and his language in my daily news. What is the count of those of Trump’s inside the White House supporters and DOJ long-time employees who are “no longer with us”? It was their language in opposition to Trump which brought about their heave-ho. And the list is apparently endless; which is primarily a violation of their 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech. Their language, which may have been in poor taste and thoughtless, should have been kept private…did they speak in private and is “outing” their language part of the Russian hacking? Today; all roads lead to Russia!

  5. Another log on the fire here is the Right Wing Authoritarian Regime (GOP) is starting to refer to “the private sector” as the “the productive sector,” a clear nod to their disdain for government…if it’s not private, it’s not productive (read: useful.) Think about that a moment. Ironic isnt it how the government they hate so much is the same one that gave them the right to say such things freely.

  6. Sheila,

    “We need to watch our language.”

    We ALSO need to go further and CHANGE some of our language before it is too late. We continue to talk like there hasn’t been a FUNDAMENTAL political change with the election of Donald Trump as president.

    Will we ever wake-up? I’m betting, we will. Vote Blue?

  7. This is not really germane to your topic today, but one name stood out and my first thought was, oh, how the disproven are forgotten, and what is he doing today???
    Sam Brownback.

  8. Do you think Trump is a nutty, dangerous, even traitorous?
    Here’s a list of Hoosiers who “served” us as ELECTORS in 2016 in the ELECTORAL COLLEGE, PLEDGED AND DID VOTE UNANIMOUSLY
    FOR Donald Trump and Mike Pence for POTUS and VPOTUS respectively:
    Are they now saying they didn’t know then what they know now?

    Stephanie Beckley, Jamestown
    Daniel Bortner, Bedford
    Laura Campbell, Carmel
    Jeff Cardwell, Indianapolis
    Donald L. Hayes, Jasper
    Randall Kirkpatrick, Ligonier
    Ethan E. Manning, Peru
    Macy Kelly Mitchell, Indianapolis
    Edwin J. Simcox, Fishers
    Kevin Steen, Muncie
    Chuck Williams, Valparaiso

  9. Regarding the names of lobbying groups, William Buckley’s son (I forget his first name) wrote a novel that mentioned a group called “The Friends of Tuna,” formerly The Tuna Fishermen’s Association.

  10. From Gary Younge, a columnist at The Guardian on August 9:


    “For quite some time during the primary season for the 2016 presidential race, Democratic party leaders were delighted that Donald Trump was leading the Republican pack. They assumed the brash reality TV star would expose the bigotry of the Republican base before flaming out and leaving a more plausible candidate beholden to an energised mob, and consequently unelectable. After Trump insulted Heidi Cruz (a Goldman Sachs executive and wife of fellow Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz) for her looks, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, said: “I want Donald Trump to talk every single day for the rest of this election.” He did. And he won.
    Good news for Democrats after Ohio result – but warning signs too.

    More than two years later, Trump is still talking. Last week he branded journalists “horrible, horrendous people” to a large crowd in Pennsylvania, who chanted, “Lock her up!”, referring to Hillary Clinton. “We’re building [the wall],” he told them. “And we’re going to start getting very nasty about it … It’s our country, so get the hell out.”

    The question is: who is still listening? And do the Democrats have anything more convincing to say this time? A slew of election results earlier this week gave some indication as to the impact two years of Trump’s presidency are having on the electoral and political landscape.

    The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Way down. In a congressional byelection in Ohio, the Republicans appear to have eked out a narrow victory with just a one percentage-point margin (postal votes have yet to be counted). Trump, of course, claimed this as a triumph. But this was in a white, mostly suburban district that Republicans have held since 1982. Trump won it by 11 percentage points in 2016; the previous Republican incumbent enjoyed margins three times as great. It shouldn’t have been close. But the Republicans threw everything at it, including visits from the president and vice president. The Democrats need to win 23 House seats in order to win control – according to the Cook Political Report there are 68 Republican-held seats as, or more, vulnerable in the lower chamber. Strong Democratic showings in three congressional primaries in Washington state, some in districts where Republicans were thought to be quite safe, further illustrated that this was no one-off.

    But while they are down they are by no means out. Trump’s approval ratings are only marginally lower than Barack Obama’s were at this stage in his presidency, and trending up. The proportion of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is also growing, and is at a considerably higher level than at this point during Obama’s first term. A majority of Republicans support separating immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border; 44% believe Trump should have the power to close down news outlets; and most approve of his handling of Russia. He is no longer an outlier. This is his party. It is a sign of both his power within it and the damage it is causing that Cruz has invited the man who ridiculed his wife to campaign with him in Texas – a state where Republican presidents generally go to get money, not votes.

    Support for Trump is intensifying even as it shrinks. This makes sense. Trump has slashed taxes for the rich, significantly relaxed regulations for business and will soon have named two conservative supreme court justices. He is delivering for his base – which is overwhelmingly white and suburban or rural. And with every gratuitous attack on a black sports star or the media, and every xenophobic aside or outburst on the global stage, they love him more. It’s not that they don’t know how it looks to the outside world or his opponents; it’s that they don’t care.

    Democrats have, so far, been the passive beneficiaries of the outrage that has ensued. The large marches in the capital, demonstrations at the border and gun-control protests all illustrate significant enthusiasm for combating the Trump agenda. But there is a disconnect between these electoral gains and this political energy. The Democratic leadership has decided to stand not so much against Trump’s agenda as in the way of it. A Washington Post poll last year showed a majority of registered voters thought the Democratic party stood for nothing other than being against Trump.

    A year and a half after the most bigoted, misogynistic, jingoistic president in living memory won the election and polluted the political culture, Democratic leaders are still just letting him talk because they aren’t clear what they have to say for themselves. “That message is being worked on,” said the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, Joseph Crowley, last summer. “We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that’s coming together now.”

    A year later Crowley, who had been in Congress for 19 years and not faced a primary challenger in a decade, lost his seat in a primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old activist, in one of the greatest political shocks of the year. Ocasio-Cortez is one of a record number of women (overwhelmingly Democrats) running this year, including 11 gubernatorial nominees for major parties; Sharice Davids in Kansas, who would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress; and Rashida Tlaib, in Michigan, who’d be the first Muslim congresswoman (there is also a record number of Muslims running). Ocasio-Cortez is a self-described democratic socialist who ran on a platform of free education and healthcare, ending the privatising of prisons and the abolition of ICE – the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency responsible for implementing family separation at the border.

    “We have to stick to the message, ‘What are we proposing to the American people?’ Not, ‘What are we fighting against?’” she said after her victory. “We understand that we’re under an antagonistic administration, but what is the vision that is going to earn and deserve the support of working-class Americans?”

    In the runup to this week’s elections Ocasio-Cortez toured the country, drumming up support for radical candidates within the Democratic party. Nearly all of them lost. That the left insurgency should fail to enjoy a seamless ascendancy should surprise few. Roughly two-thirds of Democrats say they would not vote for a socialist. What is truly intriguing is its presence means the question is seriously being asked. The fact that several candidates have won Democratic nominations as “socialists” suggests people can be persuaded. Just a few years ago the label “socialist” here was at best an eccentricity and, more commonly, a slur. Now it is central to a potentially viable and vibrant constituency of activists and voters that can no longer be ignored.

    For now, letting Trump talk every single day, virtually uninterrupted, appears to be the official Democratic party game plan. With three months to go until the midterms they have proved they can provide opposition; they have yet to indicate they are willing to provide an alternative.”

  11. I would appreciate it if people would stop using the verb “trump.” I am a native-born Hoosier and playing euchre nearly is a genetic trait, so this is painful. We should drop this word – Aaarrgghh!

  12. Unfortunately for everyone, well, almost everyone – the Republicans have been far and away more successful at everything that matters. The Overton Window has moved so far right that even the ACA – the Bob Dole/Republican/Heritage Foundation healthcare plan of the 90s was panned as a radical left wing plot 20 years later.

    A Bernie Sanders character – whose ideas aren’t particularly extreme when compared to every other major country on Earth, is dismissed as a loon by both 99% of media and most of the political class. Most US candidates are either crazy/scary to the right (R) or right of center (D). There’s not a lot of plain old center/center left/or left out there.

  13. We are living in a golden age of sophistry. Sadly, with higher ed institutions relegating philosophy and other liberal arts to the cut-out bins of commodified knowledge, there aren’t many people around who can recognize modern sophistry for what it is and effectively counter it.

    Yes. Reclaim reason this November. Vote the GOP onto the ash heap of history.

  14. Mark,

    “I would appreciate it if people would stop using the verb “trump.”

    I totally agree. How about NAZI? That’s not a verb. Is that better?

  15. So I voted in our primary – we are mail in but I always hand deliver. And of course the next day the matter over Keith Ellison breaks – who I voted for to fill the seat of the vacated States Attorney General. But there it was – ‘Abuse allegations’. There is a man sitting at the seat of CEO in CBS who was charged with RAPE! And the Senator who represented me – Al Franken had to leave his seat because of a right-wing neo-nazi voice box who accused him and even called him FISH LIPS and BIG NOSE! Language has a lot to teach us indeed. The words I see spoken in this battle for hearts and minds are primarily made of LIES. The whole damned thing. I don’t give this nation a chance of remaining a true democracy any more. In fact in these words I would characterize our situation: “We are at the END of this ‘democratic’ nation!” Watch our words… the real problem is that the RIGHT WORDS ARE NOT BEING SAID, to the right person(s), by US the electorate.

  16. “Vote the GOP onto the ash heap of history.” At a brown bag lunch in Yale Divinity School in November, 1964 following the Goldwater debacle, a Yale history professor proclaimed the GOP was indeed on that fabled heap of ash. From those ashes and during the intervening 52 years the forces of autocracy and incivility grew step by step to take over our land. Don’t be deceived by hope for a blue wave. The forces of fundamentalist Xnty, Corporatocracy, and white privilege will not be easily defeated. Even if the blue wave approaches tsunami strength a half century of corruption will not easily be rooted out; Democrats don’t have a religious counter to Pence’s troops; Democrats love Corporatocracy, and Democrats allow only a smattering of non-white females in our leadership.

  17. Wayne,

    “Don’t be deceived by hope for a blue wave.”

    You’re absolutely right. We need help from Independent voters, as well as, from former Republicans. That’s why our only chance, for a real change, is to create a PURPLE TSUNAMI.

    Vote Blue?

  18. Wayne,

    “Even if the blue wave approaches tsunami strength a half century of corruption will not easily be rooted out; Democrats don’t have a religious counter to Pence’s troops…..”

    You’re right again. We don’t have a RELIGIOUS counter to Pence’s troops. But we do have a counter. It’s an EXISTENTIAL one, which is best labeled as PREVENTION OF FUTURCIDE.

    Vote Blue!

  19. LbJ in ’64 was thought to have thrown the GOP onto the proverbial ash heap. From those ashes and during the intervening 52 years the forces of autocracy and incivility grew step by step to take over our land. Don’t be deceived by hope for a blue wave. The forces of fundamentalist Xnty, Corporatocracy, and white privilege will not be easily defeated. Even if the blue wave approaches tsunami strength a half century of corruption will not easily be rooted out; Democrats don’t have a religious counter to Pence’s troops; Democrats love Corporatocracy, and Democrats allow only a smattering of non-white females in our leadership.

  20. Marv @ 8:10 am. I would agree with Gary Younge analysis. After Agent Orange was elected, I had hoped the Democratic Party would finally jettison their timidity, center right politics and fully embrace a Progressive Agenda. It would take a strategic plan, the will and outreach to implement a Progressive Agenda, as outlined by Bernie Sanders and others.

    Instead, the Establishment Corporate Democratic Party decided to run against Agent Orange. Telling as Younge notes, “A Washington Post poll last year showed a majority of registered voters thought the Democratic party stood for nothing other than being against Trump”.

    Independent voters decide general elections. I have seen very little substance that the Democrats Corporate Establishment is offering to Independent voters, except Blue Wave crap. How do you convince Independent voters to vote FOR a Democrat??? Other than Agent Orange is bad, what are you bringing to the table??? As the old commercial said – Where’s the Meat??

  21. Monotonous,

    “How do you convince Independent voters to vote FOR a Democrat??? Other than Agent Orange is bad, what are you bringing to the table??? As the old commercial said – Where’s the Meat??”

    We’ve both been pretty much on the same wave length the past few years.

    The answer is in the past, which Trump/Bannon know very little about. The MEAT is in a MULTI-LEVEL FLOWCHART of the RELIGIOUS RIGHT/FAR RIGHT MOVEMENT since 1970 [See the Rand Corporation on WEBWAR]. Trump/Bannon have MIS-PERCEIVED the PAST MOVEMENTS OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT, FAR RIGHT MOVEMENT which has created a FATAL MISCALCULATION on their part.

    Vern does a good job in reporting the SURFACE MOVES since 1970, however, you can only take EFFECTIVE ACTION with knowledge of ALL the LEVELS OF MOVEMENT, especially the DEEPEST one that CHARLES KOCH has complete control over.

    What would have happened in W.W. II, if SONAR had not been invented to control the SUB-SURFACE threat to the Allies, in the form of German submarines.

  22. First: Amen Dirk Gently

    Second: As to welfare/work requirements, John Galbraith effectively categorized them as non-starters in his last book, The Good Society. I won’t quote from it, but it is a short book, well written and to the point (for the most part). Worth your time if you are interested in economics that doesn’t “trickle down.”

    Third: Vote blue dammit!

  23. Monotonous,

    In short, the NAZI in the White House can’t deliver DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY. If that is true, how can any sane American VOTE other than BLUE!

  24. Orwell with his 1959 tome (1984) and Newspeak gave the masses the managed version of speech as a weapon. George Lakoff, retired cognitive brain science professor (UC – Berkeley and, incidentally, one who earned his doctorate at IU) later gave us a more sophisticated look at “framing” but both were, of course, predated in the use of language as a weapon by Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, who with lies told repeatedly persuaded many German Lutherans and Catholics that Jews, gypsies, communists and homosexuals were vermin deserving of extermination.
    I think the tandem of language misuse and framing of issues in combination, especially where there is authoritarian or wannabe authoritarian control (Hitler, Trump, Mussolini et al.) is a weapon of war via control of the media as dangerous to democracy as atomic bombs, and perhaps even more dangerous, since such a weapon is regarded passively as “just words.” Someone should point out that it is “just words” that often get us into confrontation in political, social and economic situations. Remember the Maine, Remember the Alamo, Remember Pearl Harbor, Greed is good, Minorities are inferior – come to mind.

    Republicans, who don’t have the votes and must resort to other strategies, are now smearing liberals as “left” in an attempt to suppress by language. This amounts to nothing more than Lakoffian framing used out front to delegitimize issues such as single payer, wage inequality, childcare etc., issues that are not left or right but rather ones that need be addressed to bring us into the 21st century along with the rest of the civilized world. Perhaps Lakoff, a liberal Democrat now retired and a blogger, could be recruited by the DNCC to counter-frame such Republican framing attempts to change the subject and divert the polity’s attention which would help us have an honest election – for a change.

  25. and winston smith,was the person,who changed history per big brothers needs,and the masses agreed. we can see the think tank mentality,but mostly,we here that dog whistle telling us again,how it must be. anyone here who,works in the social sector of goverment in regards to social programs know,setting up the ones who are on the programs,have issues and more roadblocks,besides,trying to place them in programs. if living stacked in a city,many dont have cars,child care outside of usual hours,and basically doing this,can cost far more than the outcome. living here in nodak, my wife drives 50 miles each way to work,times the winter,also. but my focus has always been decent paying employment,and a living wage. if im looking between lines here,maybe some simple math is needed,we are socalled taped out for employees who are skilled? we are scraping the bottom? weres the people who dont want to work?(somehow that one doesnt command attention) and we see,buisness insist on OJT$ and tax incentives or they whine and cry(walmart) first off,want to end this,its called a living wage,second,tell your wall street buddies to go f,,, themselves,its all on the wall,t.v. and commercials, how to invest on our backs and rip off the wages of the ones who are working,its called our greed… keeping the working class next to poverty,via,wages,threats of job loss,investing in growth,etc(afterall,they dont use thier money) weve allowed the buinesses in this country to demand,(extort)with whole hearted approval by congress.. if no one wants to say it,i have no living and breathing with,the very working class they spit on..this proclaimed idea of bolstering the labor force with reciepents is akin to albert speer,holding slave labor,to,the death. go figue,this is just a attempt to keep the minimum wage what it is,and pad that labor force into the deeper greed of this whole mess… a living wage,would cut crime,stimulate the economy,and set people to a freedom we havent seen since reagan. wall street needs to be taxed,made to follow the labor,and be forced to bring economic advantages to the country they,live and invest in. like i tell every sob who doesnt like to,pay taxes,theres plenty of third world nations where you can shit in a bucket and walk a dirt path to,your job,go find one….

  26. It’s seems that lying as a profession has evolved. It used to be a small business, a local one, not very sophisticated and generally offered a temporary solution for hiding misdeeds or selling underperforming goods and services. It’s gone from those modest beginnings to defining much of our world.

    The fact that it has reached professional status has blunted considerably the shame of it, it’s inherent disrespect for both liar and recipient.

    Now we have a whole government based on it. We have whole industries professionally applying it. We have pervasive entertainment as pagan gods celebrating it.

    It’s there a path back to truth as an expectation in all human transactions?

  27. Pete,

    “Is there a path back to truth as an expectation in all human transactions?”

    From my over 40 years of research, this excerpt from “They Thought They Were Free” is the only guidance I have found. I’ve posted it a few times before.

    An excerpt from
    They Thought They Were Free
    The Germans, 1933-45
    Milton Mayer

    But Then It Was Too Late

    “What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

    “What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

    “This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

    “You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

    “Those,” I said, “are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’”

    “Your friend the baker was right,” said my colleague. “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

    “To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

    “How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

    “Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

    “Yes,” I said.

    “You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

    “Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

    “And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

    “But your friends are fewer now. Some have drifted off somewhere or submerged themselves in their work. You no longer see as many as you did at meetings or gatherings. Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

    “But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

    “And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

    “You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

    “Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

    “What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.”

    I said nothing. I thought of nothing to say.

    “I can tell you,” my colleague went on, “of a man in Leipzig, a judge. He was not a Nazi, except nominally, but he certainly wasn’t an anti-Nazi. He was just—a judge. In ’42 or ’43, early ’43, I think it was, a Jew was tried before him in a case involving, but only incidentally, relations with an ‘Aryan’ woman. This was ‘race injury,’ something the Party was especially anxious to punish. In the case at bar, however, the judge had the power to convict the man of a ‘nonracial’ offense and send him to an ordinary prison for a very long term, thus saving him from Party ‘processing’ which would have meant concentration camp or, more probably, deportation and death. But the man was innocent of the ‘nonracial’ charge, in the judge’s opinion, and so, as an honorable judge, he acquitted him. Of course, the Party seized the Jew as soon as he left the courtroom.”

    “And the judge?”

    “Yes, the judge. He could not get the case off his conscience—a case, mind you, in which he had acquitted an innocent man. He thought that he should have convicted him and saved him from the Party, but how could he have convicted an innocent man? The thing preyed on him more and more, and he had to talk about it, first to his family, then to his friends, and then to acquaintances. (That’s how I heard about it.) After the ’44 Putsch they arrested him. After that, I don’t know.”

    I said nothing.

    “Once the war began,” my colleague continued, “resistance, protest, criticism, complaint, all carried with them a multiplied likelihood of the greatest punishment. Mere lack of enthusiasm, or failure to show it in public, was ‘defeatism.’ You assumed that there were lists of those who would be ‘dealt with’ later, after the victory. Goebbels was very clever here, too. He continually promised a ‘victory orgy’ to ‘take care of’ those who thought that their ‘treasonable attitude’ had escaped notice. And he meant it; that was not just propaganda. And that was enough to put an end to all uncertainty.

    “Once the war began, the government could do anything ‘necessary’ to win it; so it was with the ‘final solution of the Jewish problem,’ which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its ‘necessities’ gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.”

    Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966, 2017 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

  28. Thank you for another excellent post, Sheila.

    I have found that one way we can examine research from a “think tank”, is to read the Mission Statement. If it talks about showing that “free enterprise” and “private sector” answers are best, or states that it is looking for non-governmental, free enterprise answers to problems — well that is starting with the answer. Of course that limits the possible solutions to a problem and leads to squeezing the data into impossible knots, if that is what it takes. As an example, compare Mission Statements from the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institute. The difference is instructive.

    On the subject of “leftish” Bernie, compare FDR’s Second Bill of Rights with Bernie’s proposals. This is also instructive.

  29. Len,

    “I have found that one way we can examine research from a “think tank”, is to read the Mission Statement.”

    That doesn’t work in all cases. What happens if the MISSION STATEMENT is misleading, deceptive, or otherwise FRAUDULENT?

  30. Marc,

    “Marv, I just saw your response to my post of yesterday – okay, I am with that. Now we need a verb.”

    Let’s try a transitive verb: The NAZI in the White House is EXTERMINATING democracy, both social and procedural.

  31. Marc,

    With Trump, we’re now left with two nouns: NAZI or EXTERMINATOR. Which one do you think is more accurate? Or how about a combination: NAZI EXTERMINATOR?

  32. See List of Nicknames used by Donald Trump at

    “United States President, businessman, and television personality Donald Trump became widely known during the 2016 United States presidential election and his subsequent presidency for using nicknames to criticize foreign leaders, media figures, and politicians. His use of derogatory nicknames has been characterized as bullying by various media outlets.

    List follows.

  33. Marv,

    It is possible that they lie in a mission statement, but whenever I have looked, they are fairly open, perhaps believing (correctly) that mission statements are usually boring and unread – except by potential funders.

Comments are closed.