On the eve of our nation’s 241st birthday, Ezra Klein’s latest posting ‘America, the diminished’ on Vox made a somber and humbling read.
In the age of Twitter, he rightly laments the diminishment of America and Americans on several levels: though the circumstance and occurrences might appear quite surreal, they are real. Going through his list (by the way, not quite complete by any measure), I for one came out – to put it mildly – greatly pessimistic. Even if only a fraction of this diminishment translates into actual reality (not the ‘reality’ of the ‘show’ we now talk a lot so fondly about these days), it should scare us as a nation.
And for that reason alone, every patriotic American – liberal, conservative and whatever else – must read Mr. Klein’s piece.
If I could get into his head, I could confidently speculate that while he was compiling this, he was looking at the events of the past six months, not as a liberal blogger but rather as a compassionate centrist with a great degree of concern for the direction we are heading into on the national as well as the global level.
In a piece last year, I had written, ‘Come January 20, 2017, I will miss Mr. Barack Obama: both as the US president and a wonderful human being.’ I had never imagined in the wildest of my dreams that barely within six months of his leaving, I, like millions of others would mourn his departure from the grandest citadel of democracy on this earth. What is more pathetic, is that his absence is felt more intensely with every passing day. So, as I read Mr. Klein’s list of diminishments in the past six months, I ran through in my mind the list of ‘enrichments’ we all saw and cherished in Mr. Obama’s eight years in the presidential office.
There is no denying that like any other before him, president Obama had made many difficult choices and decisions during his time in the office. But above all, what stands out is his exemplary decency, his basic humanity and his unwavering fortitude. We all saw his generous, expansive and all-embracing outlook towards all Americans and others around the globe. We felt his genuine compassion for all. Don’t we miss his crying in public without an iota of embarrassment, shame or guilt, when talking about the Sandy Hook school massacre and the need for gun control?
His sanguine diplomacy – both with his friends and adversaries on the national and global levels brought his endearment all around the world. His conscientious commitment to science and environment and the zealous pursuit to mitigate poverty, illiteracy and life-threatening diseases on a global level, had morphed him into a force, the like of whom we haven’t seen in a long time.
During his two terms in the office, we witnessed several fine traits of Mr. Obama’s character as a President, as a devoted and doting father and as a hopelessly romantic husband. He challenged the runaway and fugitive dads who by choosing to abscond, had shirked their paternal responsibilities and deprived their kids the greatest gift of their life: love. By publicly crystallizing his feelings for the First lady, Michelle Obama and, saying: “I’ve made a lot of great decisions as president. The best decision I ever made was choosing you. Thanks for putting up with me. I love you.,” he sealed the most awesome legacy of his presidency – not to mention, totally shutting up even the best screenwriter in Hollywood!
His eloquence as well as the choice of words was exemplary! When he spoke – at any event, in any setting – he mesmerized his audience; people paid rapt attention to him and hung on to every word he uttered. Why? Because there were elements of civility and dignity in his manners. There was wisdom in his speech. There was honor in his message.
Today, when the language – during the last presidential debates and post-inauguration – has rapidly eroded and been rapidly reduced to a mixture of unabashed racial slurs and unchecked demeaning profanities that sound more like low-life guttural lingo, I’m reminded of Mr. Obama’s eloquent oratories. His fine statesmanship reminded us of Rev. Martin Luther King, President John and Senator Robert Kennedy, all at once.
And it all boils down to a very simple fact: how do we use our communication skills (which by the way, unbeknownst to most of us, do include verbiage, tone, temperament, body language and gestures)??
On this aspect alone, I cannot but be reminded of some of the finest teachings of my religion that form the basis of a good human being. Qur’an implicitly and emphatically instructs its faithful: Speak to people in the best manner (2:83); invite with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in the best way (16:125); and do not turn toward people (in contempt) and do not walk through the earth exultantly, indeed God does not like the self-deluded and boastful (31:18); be moderate in your pace and lower your voice, indeed the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of a donkey (31:19); investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful (49:6); let not a people ridicule others, perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule other women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by offensive nicknames; avoid much negative assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it (49:11-12).
The enduring diminishment of our political and social will to solve the dire problems facing our nation within our own shores and far beyond, will have far reaching consequences much after the current 4-year cycle of central politics. The threats are enormous and our leaders’ resort to Twitter to solve (or create) problems at all levels is anything but myopic. There is only one outcome of this perilous Twittery course: disaster.
In the midst of all the camaraderie unleashed by Twitter, I also wonder about the fate of language in the next ten years. Will the dear old English language remain still a medium of romanticism, wonderment, amazement and literary creativity? Will it continue to harken us to enjoy the likes of Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Frost, Yeats and Maya Angelou? Or, will we eventually become the prey of the brilliant yet sultry and seductive mimicry of the tweets by Alex Baldwin, Tina Fey, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan of SNL and, their in-depth incisive analyses by Steven Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon and Bill Maher of late night shows?
Several of my pre-election premonitions/dreads have be realized: many of the presidential as well as humane traits of the previous occupant of the most sacred citadel of democracy have already ceased to exist and don’t even seem to matter anymore.
As a Muslim-American, this 4th of July I miss a president who had the courage to go to a mosque, venerate the greatness of Islam, remind my people of their rich legacy, acknowledge their contribution, appreciate their belonging and assure their place in the United States, especially when laced with the Muslim ban, the current rhetorical onslaught on Muslims has never been more vicious and anti-Islam sentiments never louder.
The linguists, the language experts and the shrinks might argue, but just gauging from the damage that has been done to our pre- and post-election thought processes and psyche, it wouldn’t take anyone to come out from Yale or Harvard with an MD or a PhD or MD/PhD both, to be flabbergasted by the catapulting role of this diminutive 140-character devil called Twitter in our lives as a nation. If nothing – nothing else at all – it has made us more vicious, more venomous, more aggressive, more intolerant, more abusive, more bullying and more threatening: characteristics, we usually ascribe to some ugly, mean and ferocious animal, while talking to our children in their formative years!
So, I thought I would send this 140-character message to another kind of founding fathers – those of Twitter (even though, as of yesterday, out of utter disgust as to the degree of diminishment and lowliness it has brought to the communication ability and prowess of 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 71-year-olds, I don’t have a Twitter account):
@twitter To assess the sheer toll of garbage spread so far I looked @ the symbol closely: Reminds of a toilet seat where u shit from mouth.