Sunday, July 30, 2017
The obscene present participle
It's the rarity, I suppose, that gives swearing its power. If every other word is "fuck"—as is the case with our new White House director communications director, Anthony Scaramucci—the words lose their sting, at least somewhat.
Or so we can hope. Scaramucci, for those reading this in 2027, burst into public awareness late last week with an obscenity-laced tirade to New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza.
It was shocking, considering he was the man newly hired to put a happy public face on the ongoing train wreck disaster that is the Donald Trump administration.
Lizza's Thursday post pinballed across Facebook—that's where I read it. Though that still didn't prepare me for Friday's New York Times where, on page A20, Scaramucci's words were printed without the squeamish dashes that other newspapers quaintly employed.
(The Sun-Times, I'm sorry to say, couldn't even bring itself to use squeamish dashes; merely mentioning the Mooch spoke "in language more suitable to a mobster movie than a seat of presidential stability" without even hinting what those "graphic terms" might be).
Does it matter? I suppose not in the long term, our-country-sliding-into-the-shitter big picture. Did many people sincerely tremble to read the obscene present participle itself (sigh, a present participle is a verb ending in "ing" used as an adjective, such as "Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic" though I suppose, since Scaramucci is not literally commenting on Preibus' sexual activities, it probably should be considered an intensifier rather than a present participle).
I would argue that Scaramucci's exact expressions are important as reminders—as if any are necessary, and they are—of just who we elected. A crude liar, cruel bully and perpetual fraud. Though in terms of last week's explosions—the Senate effort to scuttle health care for 30 million Americans going down in ignominious defeat, the president tweeting away the right of transgendered persons to serve in the military—the director of communication's potty mouth is a distant third. And we haven't even begun to consider that the new chief of staff is a retired general.
My moment with the Times reminded me of when—some 20 years ago—it fell to me to edit Kenneth Starr's transcript regarding the Monica Lewinsky testimony, and, sprout that I was, I kept trotting back to the managing editor's office to explain that I was leaving in this word or that sexual act because it seemed significant and I wanted him to understand that it would be in the transcript which the paper would print and people would then read.
The world endured. It tends to plow forward on its own momentum. The media keeps pointing out that Trump had promised to support GLBQT rights during the campaign, as if he hadn't already voided the whole idea of a "promise." Why are we acting as if something significant hasn't changed? We need to get with the program and understand the total disconnect between words the president says today and words he says tomorrow, between what he commits to doing and what he actually does.
An obscene word is jarring, and seeing them in print bothers some people. But comparing a few curse words to the grotesque obscenity unfolding daily in Washington, D.C., it's a trivial matter. It's like seeing your house on fire and worrying that you left the lights on. There is no question that four years of Donald Trump will leave us a lesser nation, our political discourse debased, our judgment skewed, our institutions crumbling. Though let's not blame Trump; we had to deteriorate a long time to get to such a reduced state that the man could have been elected in the first place. I can't say it too many times: he is a symptom and not a cause. We're the cause.