This New Yorker article , though written by a peever, is interesting.
Today, thanks to the confluence of factors that, by now, are familiar—including, but not limited to, secularization; atomization; plain anguish born of rightful impatience—we speak no longer within one language (where understanding is hard, but possible) but across the gulf that seems, every day, to widen between many. We quibble over words, codes, signals, whistles. A speech, however clever, is increasingly unequal to the task.
I don't know why the author bashes Obama for his use of language. He appears to be the most articulate of our recent batc of chief executives. Compared to erstwhile prez Trump, he's in another higher category.
Proof, you remind me of the now old joke about Dubya and Dick Cheney having breakfast in an upscale restaurant. Cheney orders his breakfast, then Dubya says to the waitress, "Honey, I'd like a quickie." She slaps him and walks away in a huff. Cheney says, "That's pronounced "keesh," George.
Michelle Bachmann was praiziing Trump, pointing out how the country would have increased religious freedom under his leadership. She related an anecdote which she thought illustrated the country had gone to hell. During a meeting with The Donald, he recalled how things had changed for the worst. "At one time, everyone wished you a Merry Christmas." Then he said something she never found odd. "Even my Jews said Merry Christmas." I wasn't aware he owned any.
I agree, goofy. The premise was intriguing. I would have liked a full development of ideas.
"The old common language"-- which he refers to later as "Protestant-Enlightenment" puportedly practiced by Douglass, Lincoln, Ida B Wells, Chavez (?!)-- "has all but evaporated, perhaps permanently." Really? Many of Obama's speeches probably do fill the bill I think he's talking about.
But what Is Protestant-Enlightenment language? I can put together a hazy idea of Protestant Enlightenment thought. This would be a marriage of Protestant 'word of God = truth'-- rejecting Catholic Church [manmade] trappings, and perhaps tempering Biblical teaching per historical & social realities-- with the onslaught of 17th-c. & continuing rationalism built on scientific discoveries. Not really sure how this is embodied in the specific language of the cited speechifiers. Examples would be great.
As to this theoretical language's perhaps-permanent evaporation (or "collapse", as the headline claims), Cunningham cites secularization, atomization, and despair.
I get secularization: in our era, traditional grand political speechifying is hampered by having to walk a tightrope along a spectrum from fundamentalists to atheists-- exacerbated by recent decades of immigration from Hindus & Muslims.
But what is 'atomization'? Is he talking about that reverse of the American 'melting-pot' into disparate ethnic groups (we've been seeing it since the '60's). I think that's part of a natural push-&-pull-- the assimilation-at-all-costs attitude of immigrants countered by 1st&2nd-gen Americans to preserve ethnic heritage. Including the efforts of Afro-Americans long here to lay claim to pre-slavery African ways. Small wonder, what with the secularization of longtime American Protestants & Catholics combined w/an influx of religious Latinos, Hindus & Muslims, that newer Americans seek to maintain ethnic enclaves. 'Atomization' seems an exaggeration, & unnecessarily pejorative. It assumes there is no way to unity, despite the fact that folks keep coming here for that-- unifying-- bill of rights.
"Despair": are we talking about despair in the face of repeated mass shootings? If there is despair among the populace, I suspect it has a lot more to do with a general sense that one's vote counts for nothing-- a sense of democracy undermined-- elections manipulated by gerrymandering & legally-limitless campaign donations & policies purchased by lobbyists. No manner of speechifying can wash that away.
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Does this have to do with what E. D. Hirsch called "Cultural Literacy?"
As for despair, are we really in a less safe world than existed in England under Cromwell, or in 15th-16th Century Spain? Probably not, but we know about Machiavellian politics more widely, and of atrocities more quickly.