The Power of the Phrase: SPLC, ACLU, and 'Hidden Persuaders'

As a poet and essayist, I have always been interested in the power of the phrase: the epithet, the slogan, the aphorism, the idiom, the cliché, the qualifier, the tag, the label, the title and the name. Of course, such locutions often carry neutral implications as mere designators, or may generate what Vance Packard called “hidden persuaders,” some of which can be quite clever and even impressive. For example, the FedEx logo. The company acronym contains a hidden symbol which one can glimpse with a little attention, namely, the white-space arrow implying forward motion between the concluding "E" and the lower case "x."

The problem is, as we should all be aware, that phrases may also be used for nefarious purposes, insinuating themselves into the mind as signifiers for non-existent “realities” or as de facto claims that are wholly fraudulent. The names of many totalitarian dictatorships bear misnomers like “Democratic” or “Republic” or “Free,” which fool only the credulous and the partisan. Does an area of the Pacific Ocean belong to China because it is called the South China Sea?

But it is astonishing how many people fall for the appellative shell game, accepting without skepticism or critical thought the radiant energy of such -- let’s call them -- deceptors. They must mean what they say, especially by dint of incessant repetition. This, according to Goebbels, is how the “Big Lie” operates. I have conversed, much to my chagrin, with many otherwise sensible people who have swallowed the phrasal and lexical subterfuge hook, line and sinker.

In an article for PJ Media, “The Semantic Whoredom of the Left,” Sarah Hoyt unpacks such words for us -- words, she explains, “that are in common use voided of their signification and filled with meanings they were never meant to have, meanings that can only be understood if you share the basic assumptions of leftist liberals.” We may regard them as semiotic false flags where connotations substitute for denotations, or as Hoyt writes, the Left is “holding perfectly good words captive and making them commit acts against their nature.” Regrettably, the gullible are routinely taken in.

A few well-known examples from current political discourse include buzzwords, whether pejorative or unctuous, like “alt-right,” “fascist,” “social justice,” “Zionism,” “patriarchy,” “racist,” “woke,” “hater,” “diversity and inclusion,” “hope and change” and innumerable others. These are neither conceptual classifiers nor reality signifiers, they are “just a handful of words,” as Jack Kerwick says in an article perforating academic groupthink, whose purpose is to beguile and delude. Such words and phrases have come either to signify the opposite of their original meaning or to compromise the ability to make distinctions between truth and falsehood. They are intended to function as instruments of censorship, coercion and befuddlement against those who believe in freedom of speech, thought and assembly.

Left-wing sites and faux-liberal communal enterprises are adept at recruiting noble and positive-oriented phrases and tags as forms of covert deception, especially regarding titles for their various political organizations. A smattering of examples:

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

Located in Alabama, it is described as a non-profit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation, but this is far from the truth. In the words of Robert Spencer, it is nothing but a “defamation factory,” subsidized by George Soros and tasked with defending leftist and subversive groups and smearing conservative sites and individuals. It is not poor, is not a genuine advocate for the poor, and it has no respect for the law except in devising ways to use it as a weapon, as in launching frivolous suits. Its notion of justice is a vicious burlesque. A proper designation for SPLC would be Southern Political Libel Center.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

This tax-exempt outfit has nothing to do with civil liberties, as it grotesquely describes itself. Quite the contrary. It has worked over the years to promote a campaign of “liberal” obstructionism. It has worked to prevent the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, to defeat pro-life initiatives, to protest President Trump’s travel ban on arrivals from terror-sponsoring Muslim nations, to attack a loyal patriot like Sheriff Irwin Carmichael of Mecklenburg County in North Carolina who abided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to turn over illegal immigrants to federal agents. It is taking a role in influencing election results. It is now, according to an internal memo, tempering its commitment to the First Amendment, wary of “the extent to which [free] speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values”; after all, “Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed." The list goes on. A more appropriate moniker might be American Cozenage League Unlimited.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)

To begin with, there is no “Palestine,” a fake country invented in 1974 at the Rabat Conference minus all the elements that characterize the historic existence of a nation. A vast proportion of its “citizens” hail from South Syria and Egypt (including some of its most famous representatives, such as Edward Said and Yasser Arafat, both Egyptians). These are students who are manifestly not for justice in Palestine, or justice plain and simple. They are students massively ignorant of history, including their own history, who are given to anti-civil disruptive behavior on college campuses, and who promote a campaign of terror against Israel. A more accurate designation of SJP would be Students for Jihad in Palestine.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

What is planned is not parenthood but the absence of it. Its purpose is to provide abortion services, that is, the indiscriminate slaughter of the unborn and selling of fetal tissue for profit. As James O’Keefe reports in American Pravda, citing a video released by the correctly named Center for Medical Progress, a “clinician picks through a tray of body parts … and discusses the market value of each.” Project Veritas has abundantly shown Planned Parenthood to be nothing more than a for-profit butcher shop. Nor is Planned Parenthood averse to recommending illegal abortions and refusing to report cases of statutory rape, as it is lawfully mandated to do. PPFA should be better known as Professional Project for Annihilation.

Antifa

Billing itself as anti-fascist, an insurgent army of brownshirts, political vandals and masked guerrillas, reminiscent of Germany’s Baader Meinhoff and Italy’s Red Brigades, Antifa protesters are in the business of causing social mayhem and damage to public and private property in the name of “liberation.” It can be defined as a crypto-fascist organization counting, by some estimates, up to 200,000 members. As The Hill reports, violence against innocent citizens, “and more importantly, law enforcement, which the Antifa routinely violently opposes, is not the result of a few bad apples. It’s the fundamental philosophy of the loose confederation of Antifa cells … All of it tactical toward achieving the goals of destroying the American culture, society and economy. Never mind that the tactics are themselves the tactics of the fascist.” Its proper name would be Profa.

Readers can play this Game of Truth for themselves, disambiguating a host of such duplicitous organizations engaged in the practice of nominal chicanery, like ACORN, CAIR, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and so on. The seductive allure of such names and titles is extremely powerful. The capacity to distinguish between honest language and corrupt language is crucial to the cleansing of the mind and the ability, as Matthew Arnold celebrated in his poem “To a Friend” (and expanded in Culture and Anarchy), to see life steadily and to see it whole. Or at any rate, in our contemporary context, to help us see through the verbal charade that the political left practices on a significant swath of the electorate.