Wednesday, July 16, 2014


It's a wonderful word, despite the fact that its meaning is not so benign.  It's one of those words that stand out for their remarkable precision, whose sound seems perfectly to reflect their meaning.  Say it out loud, "vituperative," and you can't help but feel the small-mindedness, the bitter vengefulness, the blame, the pent-up anger that the word so potently condenses.  Its etymological origin is the Latin vituperatio, the act of blaming, and it comes also in the form of a verb, vituperate, and a noun, vituperation.

This is not a word that I use often.  In fact, I can't remember the last time I used it.  It came to me yesterday morning as I read this front page New York Times article about the recent bitter Republican primary in Mississippi that pitted a Tea Party challenger against the incumbent Senator Thad Cochran--a nasty, mean-spirited campaign in which the Senator eventually prevailed by a last-minute appeal to black Democratic voters!  What an irony!

But the word has a much wider application, in today's politics, than a single primary election.  Sadly, it characterizes virtually everything that is happening--or everything that fails to happen--in the nation's capital.  It describes the source of our national paralysis, our seemingly irresolvable mutual distrust, our animosity bordering on hatred.  In such a vituperative atmosphere, good words like tolerance, compromise and compassion wither into a state of poisonous denial, negativity and refusal.

I do not, myself, buy into that argument that both sides are equally to blame for this pitiful state of affairs.  I see the vituperation largely directed from one side against the other, from the right against the left.  I'll admit, I find the ideas and values of those on the right deplorable--as they, apparently, find mine.  As an aspiring follower of the Buddhist dharma, though, and as one brought up in the tradition of Christian values, I fail to see any evidence of the spirit of compassion or tolerance in the utterances and actions of the right.  On the other side of the equation, I see in President Obama a man who I believe would choose to promote and uphold those values, were he not hog-tied by the ignorance and animosity of his opponents.

America is barely recognizable these days, especially to those of us who came here looking for the opportunities it seemed to promise.  Its former generous, can-do, welcoming spirit has degenerated into mean-spiritedness, paralysis and, yes, vituperation.  It seems we even direct our self-righteous rage against poor, frightened children.  What a spectacle we provide to a once-admiring world, when we choose to neglect, on every front, the responsibilities our wealth brings with it.  I often hear the protest, "We are better than that."  I cling to the belief and hope that this is true.  It's just that we have strayed far from the path on which we all set out.  Let's hope that it proves no more than a temporary aberrance, and that we survive our current corporate empire America's efforts to create a cash crop of our collective minds.

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