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Forbidden Words

To those not familiar with what passes for thinking in many Trump appointees, including those at the CDC, it may be hard to understand how the various words offend.

In a demonstration on Tuesday night, Human Rights Campaign projected the seven words banned by the Trump administration in CDC budget documents onto the president's hotel, confronting him with the very words his appointees are attempting to avoid. (Photo: @HRC/Twitter)

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.

— Hippocrates, Breaths

What the Trump people are doing today bears no similarity to what the Nazis did in the early 1930s.  Those were the days of book burnings and other activities that were designed to suppress ideas that differed from the philosophy of the Nazis. Joseph Goebbels was in charge of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and in that capacity took control of all forms of German communication, including newspapers, magazines, movies and radio.  Any points of view that contradicted the Nazi points of view were censored or eliminated from all media. On May 10, 1933, professors, students and librarians marched in Germany and threw books into huge bonfires. Nothing like that is happening in the United States under the Trump regime. What the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is doing is simply attacking a very few words. Here was the news of December 15, 2017 that was reported by the Washington Post.  And it is not cause for alarm.

On December 15, 2017 it was reported that seven words in the English language have fallen out of favor with people at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  According to someone at a meeting that took place on December 14, 2017, policy analysts at the agency were told that seven words or phrases were not to be used in official documents prepared for the 2018 budget for the CDC.  The exiled words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based”, and “science-based.”  To those not familiar with what passes for thinking in many Trump appointees, including those at the CDC, it may be hard to understand how the various words offend.  Although there are doubtless other explanations, one reason “fetus” is offensive is that for those who are opposed to abortion, as many Trump supporters are, the word depersonalizes the child in the womb, treating it as an object rather than a baby. “Transgender” is offensive because those who do not want it to appear in official documents believe that its use acknowledges a group of people whose belief in their sexual identity is a figment of their imaginations and should not be dignified by appearing in CDC documents.

To understand the objections to the use of “evidence-based” and “science based,” it is helpful to go back almost ten years to the Texas State Board of Education that struggled with the same concepts.  Two thousand nine was the year that board confronted the difficult task of deciding what words should be put in science text books.  The problem was especially acute when addressing the pesky questions of climate change and evolution.  In 2009 the school board was led by dentist, Don McLeroy.  He and his like-minded colleagues on the board were successful in causing Texas science text books to include discussion of what were described as the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories such as evolution.  In an interview following the school board’s action, Dr. McLeroy said of the board’s decision to address both sides of evolution and other scientific theories: “Wooey.  We won the Grand slam, and the Super Bowl.  Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution.”  Explaining his enthusiasm, he said that “evolution is hooey.” (In fairness to Texas it must be observed that it now has a more enlightened school board and its scientific instruction comports with science rather than Dr. LeRoy’s beliefs.) The explanation offered by the CDC spokesperson for banning the use of “science based” or “evidence based” was eerily reminiscent of Dr. LeRoy. According to the agency, an appropriate alternative to “science-based” or “evidence-based” was to say that: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” 

The CDC’s attack on the English language bring to mind former President Barack Obama’s comments at the Economic Club of Chicago on December 5, 2017 as reported by Miranda Green on CNN..  In his remarks, the former president said: “You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly.  And we’ve seen societies where that happens.  Now presume there was a ball room here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ‘30s that looked and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity.  And then 60 million people died. An entire world was lunged into chaos. . . .There have been periods in our history where censorship was considered OK. We had a president who had to resign prior to impeachment because he was undermining the rule of law. At every juncture we’ve had to wrestle with big problems. . . .”

The former president’s warning was timely even though some people think we are a long way from that now. Just give Trump more time and see what happens.

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Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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