Words mean something, especially when it’s time to vote

As a newspaper journalist, I’m very interested in what comes out of people’s mouths – words and the way they’re spoken.

Words have power – way more than most of us actually employ in those texts to our friends and family. “Lol” can mean a lot of different things, and a lot of times the meaning is perhaps fortunately vague.

Therefore, the way they are spoken is also important.

Language usage can give us a lot of clues about a person: their personality, upbringing, intent, state of mind, biases, etc. etc.

What people say is always an issue in elections, particularly the presidential ones, but it’s become a truly major focus this time around.

What’s really been in the crosshairs this time around with regard to language are two things: “political correctness” and honesty.

You’d have to have been confined to a desert island for the last few decades not to be intimately familiar with the term “political correctness,” which has become a favorite of right-wingers to describe all manner of excesses for which they blame the Left: crack-downs on free speech, particularly on college campuses and in the public arena; termination and other actions against non-conformists who don’t toe the party line; removal of religious symbols from public places, threats to military chaplains’ religious liberties, and much more – far beyond the scope of this page. Specifics are easily found with a Google search.

I agree with Donald Trump that, in many senses, this election is about political correctness. But I don’t think he means exactly what I do.

Trump has been free and frequent with his criticism of the way things are. He’s clearly positioned himself as a purported antidote to Barack Obama and he’s flung the term we’re talking about here around with great abandon.

Unfortunately, Trump has, in my opinion, consistently used reaction against “political correctness” as a justification for brash, belligerent, bullying and boorish public statements and behavior during his campaign, mistaking vulgarity and insult for “political incorrectness.”

Yep, he’s definitely different than Obama.

“Political correctness” can indeed be abuses of constitutional liberties – and has been in a multitude of cases. But it also can incorporate another, more positive, important element of public discourse: courtesy.

When one is assuming leadership a nation, one generally is expected to speak with reason and forethought, as past presidents have discovered when the mics were left on.

And when negotiating with people who aren’t necessarily one’s bosom buddies, it is generally quite prudent to avoid saying everything you might really be thinking, whether it be a discussion with your neighbor over chickens, a vehicle purchase, or trying to get the schoolteacher to deal with your kid in a way that you think is appropriate.

Many of the other nations in this world aren’t necessarily our friends. We’re viewed by many as domineering, imperialistic and uncaring. What’s true is that, as a nation largely “protected” geographically from the rest of the world by two oceans, many Americans don’t put a lot of stock into the need to get along.

In this day and age, though, whether we like it or not, it is wise for us to make an effort to be neighborly. And neighborliness requires self-restraint.

Yes, Trump has certainly identified problems that have arisen under the Obama administration and may even be the president’s fault. But he has not demonstrated an ability to articulate his solutions to those problems in a very diplomatic manner, if he has articulated any at all.

And one particularly troubling trait of Donald Trump is that he doesn’t take criticism well. If he were to be elected president, he could expect plenty of that. Constantly lashing out at people who annoy him is, well, something I was taught not to do in kindergarten.

Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, certainly no political conservative, once stated that debate over ideas should be “uninhibited, robust and wide-open.”

Brennan wasn’t saying it had to be comfortable, because free speech is not; he was saying that it should be fair game to challenge ideas with rational, defensible arguments.

We live in a democratic system of government. Argument is part of the deal, but ideally it is articulate, intelligent discussion that weighs the pros and cons of what’s being set forth in the public arena. I realize that we haven’t seen a lot of that in our halls of government in recent years, but it’s still the ideal.

Branding with some sort of dismissive names – or worse – anybody who disagrees with you, or consistently and blatantly ignoring actual facts in public discourse is nothing more than resorting to the kind of fallacies most of us were taught in school to avoid.

And that brings us to Hillary, because she certainly falls short on credibility.

Both Hillary and Donald are very high on the Pinnochio list generated by the Washington Post Fact Checker, I noticed recently.

Politifact, the helpful fact-checking feature produced by the Tampa Bay Times that exposes false or notably inaccurate statements made by public figures, lists scores made by both Trump and Clinton.

Clinton’s dishonesty, most recently evidenced her untrustworthiness with regard to truth in a statement on national TV to FOX News’ Chris Wallace that FBI Director James Comey had cleared her of misleading the public about her rogue email server at the State Department: “Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people, that there were decisions discussed and made to classify retroactively certain of the emails.”

She’s lied about a lot of things: the Benghazi terrorist attack, her infamous secret emails, that she once tried to enlist with the Marines and was turned down, that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary (she was born six years before he scaled Everest), that her grandparents were “all” immigrants (only one was), that she came under sniper fire in Bosnia, and that she “came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” All false.

Many noteworthy thoughts about honesty and integrity could be repeated here. But this one, by Thomas Jefferson, should suffice: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

Unfortunately, I think the real question for us Americans is: Do we care?