Donald Trump’s ascent may require a redefinition of political terms and the loosely-wielded media buzz-phrases that frame campaigns and governance.
Here are five of them worth considering for a linguistic shake-up:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.”
The problem with “conservative” as a sweeping political label is that in America, individuals revere some institutions as they exist but deplore others.
A believer that the U.S. military needs a buildup might also applaud radical changes to traditional aid entitlements or libel laws.
Or a participant in peaceful anti-abortion or anti-police-brutality protest who relies on the precedents of the First Amendment might also wish to see removal of, say, the Constitutionally-created Electoral College or Federal Reserve Bank.
Several right-of-center commentators have said Trump is not a conservative. In September, Rush Limbaugh said: “”I wish conservatism was on the ballot.” Peter Wehner in Commentary magazine called Trump “philosophically erratic.”
Fiscally, the president-elect doesn’t seem oriented toward austerity. He wants big public spending on infrastructure projects, something tea-partyers in Congress have shunned.
With Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, Washington D.C. must swing rightward. Is conservative the right word? Does “Trumpism” redefine it?
In the 1950s, a British journalist named Henry Fairlie used the term to describe powerful people in his country such as the prime minister and the head of the BBC.
It caught on in the U.S. in the volatile 1960s. But by 1981, Fairlie bemoaned its use.
“The Establishment,” he said, “can be used in almost any country about almost anything ... precisely because of its vagueness and its shapelessness.”
Volumes were written and spoken in 2016 about “establishment” parties and candidates of whom voters had grown sick. Trump’s “anti-establishment” flavor helped him capture the GOP nomination and defeat Hillary Clinton.
Instantly the 70-year-old Trump represents an establishment of his own. Few billionaire real estate developers, hotel and golf moguls, TV bigs and high elected officials can truthfully be called “outsiders,” unless perhaps we’re talking about social prestige — the “new money” at the country club.
Since Trump’s appointees so far come from various corners of the military, the Republican Party, congressional and business establishments, maybe his power base, once fully established, can politely be called the “new establishment.”
Per Wikipedia: “A public — private partnership (PPP, 3P or P3) is a cooperative arrangement between one or more public and private sector actors, typically of a long term nature.”
The debate is ongoing. If Trump doesn’t choose to separate himself from his private business interests, or if he has his relatives running both government functions and family companies, it could redefine the term. That is, what used to be called conflicts of interest, if widely accepted, could just be an enhanced version of “PPP.”
That is, the partnership could mean something much more personal and intimate. Perhaps Trump and family will be its very embodiment.
Merriam-Webster calls it, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”
Sometimes this can mean euphemism, as in calling a bald guy “folically challenged.” In Trump’s declarations, ‘PC’ threatens our very existence.
“The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly,” Trump said. “We’re not acting clearly. We’re not talking clearly. We’ve got problems. If we don’t get tough, and if we don’t get smart and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing left.”
He also repeatedly called President Barack Obama and Clinton the true founders of ISIS. In that instance, the attack on political correctness was merged with the factually incorrect. The question now is whether political correctness changes.
Some on the left will argue that “alt-right,” the vaguely-defined faction that helped elect Trump, is a politically-correct-style euphemism for neo-fascism. For all we know, it may become a term that the Democrats hurl at Republicans, correctly or not.
Merriam Webster calls it “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.”
At one point, it was taken as synonymous with patriotism. On the right, Trump aide Steve Bannon insists he’s an economic nationalist, not a white nationalist, which is a term that applies to white supremacists.
There has been something called “left-wing nationalism” going back to the French Revolution. This may fit the definition of Bernie Sanders backers who like many Trump supporters opposed corporate-driven “free-trade” deals.
In any case, the word’s usage as meaning conservative and anti-global has increased with the rise of similar movements in Europe. For now, in Trump’s world it has become shorthand for opposition to “global elites” and the sentiment conveyed by the slogan “America First.”