It’s that time of year when the major dictionaries announce their “word of the year.”
Oxford Dictionaries picked toxic since it reflected the “ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year.”
Dictionary.com chose misinformation because the “rampant spread of misinformation poses new challenges for navigating life in 2018.”
And Merriam-Webster opted for justice as it was the “top lookup throughout the year, with the entry being consulted 74 percent more than in 2017.”
Now it’s my turn.
For 2018, I first considered ad hominem — the debate tactic of attacking an opponent’s character rather than his argument — due to the preponderance of personal insults that now pepper political dialogue.
Sophomoric was another consideration, thanks to the daily tweets from a certain president who frequently sounded “conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature.”
But I’ve decided my word of 2018 is delusional — “holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument.” My choice was influenced by the sheer number of people who maintain a death grip on their beliefs even in the face of irrefutable proof — that is, facts — that debunk those beliefs.
We saw it, to a degree, in Connecticut with the gubernatorial campaign. On the Democratic side, Governor-elect Ned Lamont promised during his campaign to fully fund Educational Cost Sharing, to toll out-of-state tractor trailers (a constitutionally dubious plan), and to increase the property-tax credit for middle-class homeowners — all with no specific strategies to replace the lost revenue. Delusional? Perhaps slightly.
Republican Bob Stefanowski, meanwhile, ran on a continual promise to eliminate the state income tax — almost $11 billion in annual revenue — by doing nothing more than “running Connecticut like a business” and implementing “zero-based budgeting.” Pressed on specifics, Stefanowski avoided the press right up to election night. Delusional? Getting warmer.
The real delusional behavior in 2018, of course, was on the national level. That certain president mentioned earlier surely appears delusional, considering his recurring refusal to tell the truth. Fact-checking website PolitiFact, for example, compiled 11 pages of Donald Trump’s lies, while the Washington Post’s Fact Checker counted 6,420 “false or misleading claims” in the first 649 days of his presidency, including an average of 30 a day in the seven weeks before the mid-term elections.
Indeed, Trump has inspired the Post’s Fact Checker to create a new category. Usually rating the veracity of statements on a “Pinocchio scale” from one to four, the Fact Checker created the “Bottomless Pinocchio” for politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.”
Trump, however, is not so much delusional as he is devious. The actual delusion occurs in those citizens who continue to support him despite his blatant dishonesty.
Just one of the multiple examples that underscore this point is tariffs. Earlier this year, the president placed billions of dollars of duties on Chinese products to “fix” the U.S. trade deficit with that country. China promptly slapped tariffs on American goods, including a 25 percent duty on U.S. soybeans, a move that caused a 94 percent decline in American soybean sales, according to federal data reported by the New York Times.
Trump’s subsequent “fix” was to provide farmers financial assistance to the tune of $9.5 billion, claiming on Twitter, “I am making good on my promise to defend our Farmers & Ranchers from unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations.”
So let’s connect the dots: Trump imposes tariffs on China that cause China to impose counter-tariffs on American farm products. Trump then gives money to farmers to help cover their losses and quickly pats himself on the back for using federal tax dollars to ease a problem that he created.
You’d think such presidential ineptitude followed by smug deceit might upset Americans — especially farmers. Not the case.
FiveThirtyEight reported last week that Trump is “enormously popular among residents of rural areas” — where most farmers reside — “with a 61-percent approval rating and a 26-percent disapproval rating.” What’s more, Trump’s overall approval rating is 43 percent. So what gives?
In a word, Americans are delusional. How else to explain a populace where 4 in 10 people still support a president who lies several times a day? So I rest my case: delusional is the word of the year.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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