Words matter. In a democracy, they matter a lot. Ours is a do-it-yourself government. We don’t have a king or a dictator to solve our problems because we chose to solve them all ourselves – using the majority’s wisdom. In order to do that, we have to agree on a couple of things: to begin with, what are our problems? To solve that question, we all need to be on the same page. We need to agree on what “is” versus what isn’t. American conservatives will never be on the same page as the rest of us. They’re so convinced they should remain America’s dominant culture that they even attempted to overthrow the government! However, before they turned to physical violence on January 6, 2021, they got violent with English. Hell, they downright hijacked the language.
It all started with “All men are created equal”. Our founders penned those words but didn’t quite mean them. They meant the “all men” part. Women were not equal to men in their eyes. As for the “men being equal”, our founders meant only white, Christian, land-owning men like them. Great concept, crap execution.
The Second Amendment is another prime example of conservatives hijacking the language. When James Madison wrote the 2A, he was addressing a very particular problem. The states – as sovereign entities – feared the federal government might use physical force to impose its will on them. To reassure those states, Madison gave them – the states – the right to keep militias – we now call them National Guards. And Madison gave the militias the authority to arm – and de-arm – the citizens serving in them.
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a Free State,” Madison wrote, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. So, it says We The People have the right to keep and bear arms but as part of a well regulated militia. Plenty of conservatives have argued that back when Madison wrote the 2A, “well regulated” meant “in good working order”.
Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. So what?
That’s not what Madison was writing about or even thinking about. Another important point: Madison avoided using the word “own”. He could have written “the right of the people to OWN arms…” but he didn’t. He chose “keep” and “bear” specifically because they DON’T equal “own” – certainly not in a contract which is what the Constitution is – a contract between us all.
Ever rent a car or an apartment? You got to “keep and bear” them. But you did not own them. Similarly, if I joined the California National Guard and showed up for training, I wouldn’t take a gun with me. The Guard would give me a firearm – as needed. And then, when I’ve finished my service and I head for home? I’m giving back the Guard’s firearm. It was never mine to begin with.
Scalia And Heller
Even Antonin Scalia would grudgingly agree with me. We hold up his Heller decision as the logic undergirding our whole “have all the guns ya want” culture. But, ya know what word is missing from Heller? “OWN”. Scalia never uses it – because, he knows, he can’t. In his conclusion, Scalia uses the word “possess”.
That’s because one of the definitions of “possess” is “own”. But Scalia knew damned well that, in a contract, “possess” cannot equal “own”. Scalia knew he couldn’t put “own” on the table because first he’d have to explain why Madison never used it to begin with. That would have killed Scalia’s point dead.
Instead, Americans are ending up dead. Gun shot by the bucketload. Because conservatives hijacked the language.
Then there’s “religious freedom”. Spoken by fundamentalists and evangelicals, “religious freedom” means its literal opposite. When the majority of us tell the religious that they have “religious freedom”, we mean they have to the freedom to practice their religion – whatever it is. What the religious mean when they say “religious freedom” is that they have the right to impose their religion on everyone else. They have the “freedom” to do that.
“Religious freedom” is the bullshit foundation for the right’s bullshit anti-abortion stance.
Until Roe v Wade passed, fundamentalists and evangelicals (all Protestants), mostly supported abortion rights. They did NOT see a fetus as a human. In fact, these religious bigots often mocked Catholics and the Catholic church for their Medieval stance on abortion. What caused the switch?
Why, racism of course!
The religious right has a history of using their Bibles to justify slavery and all sorts of terrible behaviors. In America, the religious right (using their Bibles as justification) fought bussing and other forms of desegregation. Hell, the religious right even supported anti-miscegenation laws (that prohibited Black people and white people from having sex and getting married).
The religious right used bussing to trigger its congregations and raise money. When bussing died as a cause, they had to find something else. Roe v Wade provided an opening. The religious right took it.
Hell, they hijacked it.
Every time a Christo-fascist cow like Marjorie Taylor Greene spews the words “religious freedom”, she means its diametric opposite. Her freedom equals persecution for everyone else.