I read with some amusement Nathan King’s guest column two weeks ago calling for me to be “held accountable” for employing The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered. I am curious how that accountability would occur. Perhaps King envisions an inquisition run by students and administrators to purge malefactors who use language that offends. After all, my “antiquated” use of The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered was supposedly an act of hate speech and sexism, and normalized an act of violence.
Well, I could use this column to advocate for free speech, but I suspect the recent visit of Milo Yiannopoulos has given us enough free speech to last a lifetime. Instead, I will explain my use of The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered. Since there was nothing in my remark remotely hateful (who, precisely, do I hate?) or sexist (The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered apply to both women and men), it seems my principle error was assuming too much knowledge on the part of readers. So, allow me to explain.
The pertinent part of my earlier column addressed the possibility that Republican candidate Donald Trump might be able to force himself on an unwilling partner ““ hence the use of The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered. But how can my language be accurate when Trump seemingly has the support of a large faction of the Republican electorate?
When political scientists study political parties, we study them in three components. First, the party organization is comprised of the official party leaders and managers ““ national and state party officials, such as Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Second, the party in government is comprised of elected officials ““ senators, representatives, governors and other elected officials. Third, we also study the party in the electorate, which is composed of all the voters who identify themselves as Republicans and Democrats and vote that way.
Half a century ago, all three elements of the party played a role in the nominating process ““ but the first two elements played the most important role at the national conventions. Since the 1970’s that dynamic has changed, and the party in the electorate has played the most important and influential role in nominations, aided and abetted by the news media.
For a man coming from outside politics, Trump has done remarkably well at appealing to voters. He is, after all, the GOP frontrunner. However, he has yet to win a majority of the vote anywhere, and there are still far more voters who oppose him than support him. He also clearly does not have the support of the other two components of the party, either the party organization or the party in government. Very few party leaders or elected officials have endorsed him, and with the exception of some elements in the talk radio field, he does not enjoy the support of most Republican-leaning interest groups.
This situation presents the GOP with a conundrum. The party wants to win in November, and by any number of empirical measurements this is a winnable year for the GOP. But the party may be forced to accept a nominee who will be a huge general election risk.
That’s why I made use of The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered. I did not employ the term casually or trivially. I did so deliberately, because what Trump represents is the prospect of someone, by force of personality, by demagoguery, through threats and bullying, forcing himself upon an unwilling partner.
But there is a deeper reason why I used The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered. Trump may somehow succeed and end up in the office once held by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I care about the health of the constitutional order. With Trump, we have someone who seemingly has no deep understanding of the separation of powers system. He thinks midnight tweeting makes him a modern day Daniel Webster. He thinks it is perfectly fine to threaten other constitutional officers if they oppose him. He thinks leadership is ordering military personnel to violate the rules of war, which they’ll do because he’s a leader.
Trump evidences no constitutional temperament. Just as he threatens to force himself on an unwilling party, he represents a profound threat to constitutional government.
So, my use of The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered was a deliberate one, and I don’t apologize for it. It does not normalize any act of violence ““ such a notion is patently absurd. But it does call attention to a nomination system that is failing to screen out unqualified individuals.
Where I truly erred was calling a simile a metaphor. For that, you can hold me accountable.
David Crockett is a professor of political science.