“Exhuming McCarthy” – R.E.M.’s Song That Explains Dictionary.com’s Word of The Year

Since Donald Trump has won the presidential election and Brexit was approved, it seems only fitting that each has a direct influence on the 2016 Dictionary.com “Word of the Year” released today.

Xenophobia – noun: Fear or hatred of foreigners.

In a nation that was built on immigration it seems interesting that the word of the year would be so appropriate when it has such negative denotations and connotations. But the word “xenophobia” captures so much of what is happening in this nation and in other nations.

And the word of the year also shines further light on the fact that irony makes this nation and world “go ‘round.”

Consider the poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colussus”, that is affixed on the base of the Statue of Liberty near Ellis Island.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

How that poem and the word “xenophobia” can collide in the same sentence seems implausible, except we are talking about a country that just elected Donald Trump as president. And we are talking about a country that not so long ago immersed itself into a Red Scare led by the one and only Joseph McCarthy.

Just this past summer, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, who hypocritically tried to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about an affair when he himself had ethical issues to answer for, offered one of the most McCarthyistic (yep, made that up) suggestions of the last fifty years when proposed that we deport all practicing Muslims.

As reported in The Atlantic by David A. Graham in the July 15, 2016 issue,

Newt Gingrich effectively called for the deportation of all practicing Muslims from the United States Thursday night. His suggestion, which would almost certainly be unconstitutional, represents perhaps the most sweeping call for a religious test proposed by a mainstream political figure over the last few years, which have seen a strong backlash against Islam.

“Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported,” Gingrich said on Fox News. “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia—glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door.”

Of course, Donald Trump stoked those very fires that Gingrich continued to fan when he suggested that we ban all Muslims from coming into America. That, and he helped cement the word “Xenophobia” as the Word of the Year when he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border.

So in mock-celebration of the xenophobia being practiced in a country built on immigration that supposedly practices freedom of religion and freedom of speech and expressions, I offer another poignant R.E.M. song for the mix tape that is already dedicated to this next administration.

“Exhuming McCarthy”

 

You’re beautiful, more beautiful than me
You’re honorable, more honorable than me
Loyal to the Bank of America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Vested interest, united ties
Landed gentry, rationalize
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted, enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

“Let us not assassinate this man further, Senator, you’ve done enough.
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
sharpening stones walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
You’ve seen start and you’ve seen quit (I’m addressing the table of content)
I always thought of you as quick

Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)
Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)

Loyal to the Bank of America? Check!
You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals? Check!
Look who bought the myth By jingo, buy America? Check!
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? Damn right –  Check!

Thank goodness that many high schools still teach The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s dramatic allusion to the Salem Witch Trials to give the next generation a look at what it means to target people based on circumstantial evidence at best. In fact, it’s what happens when we confuse logical fallacies with real logic.

Such misappropriation of knowledge and common sense allows for xenophobia to grow and take root, sweeping through isolationist mindsets like wildfires during a drought.

But of course, Trump and Gingrich may want those flames to be fanned.

It means more books will be burned.

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