Once, it was possible for people to have a conversation, to trade ideas, to express feelings, to talk. But that was a long time ago, before we entered the Age of Sounding Important While Saying Nothing.
Now, there are two modes of communication only and neither one of them allows for plain talk about things that matter. In the first mode, the one used for subjects of Import and Significance, which these days is just about everything, we engage in A Meaningful Dialogue. All else falls under a catch-all rubric known as A Frivolous Exchange.
Most of what passes for discourse in this Time of Bombast, especially as it issues from politicians and the puffed-up types who often run corporations and universities, from the TV talk-slingers, and even from sports natterers like Tim McCarver, the baseball bore, sounds something like this:
“Our people have been trying to establish a meaningful dialogue with their people, but their people don’t want to hear what our people are saying. Maybe after we have reduced their capital city to more manageable proportions and shown a firm hand to another several hundred thousand of their brethren they’ll start paying closer attention. Our people on the ground say it’s impossible to establish a meaningful dialogue with terrorist-types and everyone in that country is a terrorist-type or terrorist-like. At the end of the day we will only have done what was in their best interests, but meanwhile what passes for important communications has only been a frivolous exchange.”
The foregoing might have come from the State Department, the Pentagon, the White House, the Senate, the House or any number of Washington blathermouths. Under analysis, it will be found to be composed of an unidentifiable mushy material strung together in meaningless sentence-like structures, which when joined together in a bundle resembling a paragraph, gives an impression of coherence while it is, in fact, utter gibberish.
On a more personal level, we are likely to hear something quite different and yet sickeningly similar:
“I came down here with your vote of confidence to get a job done for you and all the American people who yearn to breathe free. I hope that you will join with me to carry forward with a program we can all get behind and push over the top and down the other side and up the next hill and over the mountains of attainment as we strive to go forward and not backward. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, in his second inaugural, “Ask not what you can do for the average American, ask what the average American wants and then promise it to him.”
People who get elected saying things like this usually talk about having a ‘mandate,’ much as ordinary folk talk about having a job. A mandate, of course, exists on a much higher plane than a mere job and is akin to a holy calling. Mandate and destiny often ride in the same gilded linguistic carriage. Among American politicos there is a brisk trade in mandates, not unlike pork bellies and corn futures. “The people have given me a mandate and it is my destiny to carry it out.” The only verb arrangement that seems to go with mandate is ‘carry out,’ although ‘carry out’ when not coupled with ‘mandate’ has wide application including ‘carry out your plans’ and ‘carry out the garbage.’
Why anyone would want to go around burdened with a mandate is a question best left to those who seek our votes, but the question is certainly the stuff of A Meaningful Dialogue and would not result in A Frivolous Exchange. It is impossible to be frivolous about a mandate, just as it is impossible to talk of love in A Time of Bombast. Unless, of course, you’re talking about your country. In that case you can use the word ‘love’ as often as you can get it in, leaving room enough, needless to say, for ‘mandate’ and ‘destiny.’
That would look like this: ‘Ask not whether an American loves his country. Ask whether it is his destiny to carry out his mandate.’ And don’t ask what this might mean.