On September 20, 2021, a date which will live in infamy, Pentagon spokesman and rear admiral John Kirby answered a question about what caused the American military’s murderous drone hit on ten innocent Afghans, including seven children, by saying, “I really am not in a position today to relitigate the tick tock of — of what happened and in what order.”
Readers in future generations, or perhaps this generation, may need to be told that “tick tock” is an inside-the-beltway term for “sequence of events”; “relitigate” is a term used by guilty politicians to create the erroneous impression that their deeds have already been definitively reviewed, as by a court of law, and the defendants have been acquitted; and “the beltway” is a road surrounding Washington DC, a city of refuge for liars and fools. Pace Admiral Kirby, these people are always “in a position” to “relitigate” anything, and they do so constantly. This habit is particularly evident in their relitigation of other people’s rights.
The special infamy of Kirby’s statement is . . . well, let me put it in this way. Can you imagine anyone in the past emitting such stinking shibboleths? Even President Nixon didn’t say, “I really am not in a position today to relitigate the tick tock of this Watergate thing.” Even President Carter (I’m sticking to notorious liars here) didn’t say, “I really am not in a position today to relitigate the tick tock of that Iran hostage problem.” Even they didn’t shoot that kind of spit into the faces of normal people.
This column has, many times, suggested that, while every age has its share of grotesque and intellectually assaultive lingo, the growth of government has meant that in our age most of it comes from people like John Kirby. That’s where “relitigate” and “tick tock” came from in the first place, and the same type of people are always available to revive and spread this type of repellently elitist language.
Even President Nixon didn’t say, “I really am not in a position today to relitigate the tick tock of this Watergate thing.”
One of the best, or worst, examples, is the recent prevalence of the word focus. On the same September 20, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reluctantly visited the border with Mexico, where immense crowds of immigrants were massed. A journalist named Julio Rosas asked him whether he would agree that there was a crisis at the border, to which Mayorkas replied, “I’m going to stop you right there. Let me just say very clearly. We are focused on meeting the challenge, we are focused on the mission.”
Well, that’s a conversation stopper, all right. Very clearly, Mayorkas wasn’t going to answer Rosas’ question. But maybe a translation is needed here, too. Focus is a word meaning, “I’m busy; go away.” Challenge is a word meaning “I’m not up to my job, but you’d have to dynamite me out of it.” As for “focus,” you’ll recall the hundreds of times the word was used during the Afghan crisis, often as a noun with the adjective “laserlike” before it. A question was asked of a general, a president, or a secretary of something; the answer was that “we” are continuing “our” laserlike focus on some vague generality. Since then, focus has grown like kudzu in my inbox, as people who want to sell me things, or attest to their fervent desire to establish a productive relationship with me, or simply order me to do something, testify that they have more focus than Kodak ever put in a camera. They want me to see them as religious zealots who are focused on their mission. This efflorescence of focus is the signal that the government has hatched yet another swarm of diseased verbiage and loosed it on the populace.
“I am focused on” is a coverup for inability or unwillingness to say what you are actually doing. But we are in a position today where coverups are being replaced by outright lies. Not that governments have never lied before, or that many of them haven’t functioned primarily by the use of lies. I want to emphasize the word “outright,” outright in the sense of telling you things that you know aren’t true, and that the teller knows that you know aren’t true. The whole Afghan affair was a saturnalia of outright lies. The same can be said of “the science” as commonly interpreted by the priests of anti-covid. Conditions at the southern border have produced almost nothing but outright lies.
As for “focus,” you’ll recall the hundreds of times the word was used during the Afghan crisis, often as a noun with the adjective “laserlike” before it.
Here’s the most outright of these, so far — and as if from a plan to throw the lie into the sharpest possible relief, it was preceded by a fanfare of buzzwords. Yet again, it happened on September 20. Chief White House Liar Jennifer Rene (“Jen”) Psaki was asked why foreigners who visit the US legally are required to be vaccinated, while people crossing the border illegally aren’t hassled about that at all. (By the way, just to keep things honest: I’m not in love with government regulations in this area, no matter whom they afflict.) Her “answer” started in this way. Talking about illegal immigrants, she said:
As individuals come across the border, they are both assessed for whether they have any symptoms, if they have symptoms, the intention is for them to have to be quarantined. That is our process.
An interjection: on September 24, speaking of the illegal immigrants who appeared on the border at Del Rio, Texas, and who, according to his claim, numbered 30,000, before they were suddenly whisked away, no one knows exactly where, Alejandro Mayorkas said: “I do not know whether anyone was sick with covid.”
But to return. If you’re wondering what “both” is doing in Psaki’s first sentence, you’re not alone. Yet in a word salad you can expect to find lots of foreign substances. The big, though rotten, vegetables in the Psaki salad are the buzzwords intention and process. Notice the careful choice of these ingredients. Psaki made sure not to drop in anything that would show whose intention or process this is. Our won’t do it, unless she means that she herself sat down with southern border agents to concoct this mess that she is pleased to call a process. Maybe it’s because I wrote a book about prisons, but when I hear process I think of sentences like “We got ten new inmates to process in.” Sweet naif that Psaki is, a woman completely unacquainted with normal life, in which people are continually undergoing some kind of process that, like prison intake, treats them as objects, and resent it, helplessly and furiously, she regards process as a good word. Of course! It’s native to government bureaucracy, in which nameless things are always being done to nameless individuals, and we, the perpetrators, are proud of that. In Psaki’s remarks, individual has no relation to individuality or individualism. Quite the opposite — it’s a synonym for amorphous people, people being processed, four-limbed objects that public servants like Psaki never want to see or meet, and can hardly find words to characterize.
Then there’s intention. That’s a buzzword because it suggests that, oh, some human being must have been thinking about this, must have had some goal or purpose, possibly or likely a good purpose. How reassuring. In current practice, however, intention is merely ass-covering. If it emerges — as it already has — that no one was actually handling the health problem, Psaki or one of her numerous assistants can point to the fact that she never claimed that anyone was; she was focused on the intention. There was a process, a pathway, a roadmap, a plan, a wish, a desire, a hope, a vision — an intention. Nothing happened, but the intention was a good ’un.
It’s native to government bureaucracy, in which nameless things are always being done to nameless individuals, and we, the perpetrators, are proud of that.
So much for the lead-up. Now we’re ready for the main event. When, in the words of Yahoo News, Psaki was “pressed for further explanation” of how illegal immigrants are different from, say, tourists from France, who have to be vaccinated, she said:
They [illegal immigrants] are not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time. I don’t think it’s the same thing. It is not the same thing.
Now we have a more straightforward concept of intention. It’s a matter of what actual men and women really, consciously want to do. Unexpectedly, we’ve arrived at a region of normal speech. But what do we find? We find that our highly vaccinated, superbly passported tourist from France is different from a probably unvaccinated illegal migrant because . . . the latter isn’t intending to stay in the United States.
That is why, presumably, the (im)migrant traveled to the barrens of Northern Mexico, waded the Rio Grande, and waited, unhoused, in 100-degree heat, before being put on a plane to be shipped to resettlement somewhere hundreds of miles away, with a paper that says he is supposed to report for an immigration hearing, which, with high probability, he will not attend, because he will already be living permanently in the United States. This is the person who is not intending to stay here.
Meanwhile, the Parisian visitor puts up at a hotel, visits Times Square and the Metropolitan Museum, is disappointed with both, not to mention the food, and returns to Paris, thus indicating that he is here for the long haul. Such a person, as Psaki suggests, needs ironclad proof of vaccination; the other guy . . . why bother?
These froglike prophets of the state recognize no limits on the power of government, or of themselves. Why shouldn’t they just do or say anything they want?
Barack Obama wrote about “the audacity of hope.” Now we need to consider the audacity of lies. The audacity of a lie is a measure of the contempt the liar has for his audience. It’s clear that the American state — which is both deep and superficial, depending on whether you’re looking at its social composition or its intellectual power — is reaching for the maximum of audacity and contempt. I know you’re thinking of similar examples of boldfaced lies, delivered by the gang of thousands who control what they call our democracy. The lies are continuous, emphatic, grotesque, apocalyptic — literally so. “And I saw three [or more] unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world” (Apocalypse 16:13–14, King James Version, of course).
Where these beings come from, how they are trained to croak, what kind of psychic and other rewards they strive for and obtain, how they work their “miracles” upon the hearers — these are interesting questions, although the answers are likely to be as simple, banal, and downright dumb as the creatures themselves. So why go into that now? The important thing is that these froglike prophets of the state recognize no limits on the power of government, or of themselves. Why shouldn’t they just do or say anything they want? And they do. They care less and less whether you understand that they do. Their lies are their way of boasting about their power.
There’s a healthy contrast with a banal figure from the past, President Taft, who said in response to a proposal for some kind of action, “Oh no, I couldn’t do that” — meaning that it was just plain wrong to do it, so he wouldn’t even consider it. Today, every kind of language is heard in the halls and warrens of government, except one kind: the language of limitation. No one ever says, “Oh no, we couldn’t do that.” The thing that matters, the thing that in private and now in public is admired and celebrated, is what can be denied, what can be twisted, what can be spun, what can be gotten away with; and the ideal form toward which all the “whats” are tending is, “Anything at all!” We are fast approaching the condition of 1984, in which we common people are expected to look at white and call it black, while recognizing, of course, that it was white all along.