2016 election, English language and grammar, federal job, Trump, Writing

A bad spell of whether

It’s official. We’re in a national crisis. You don’t have to take my word for it. Plenty of more authoritative authorities than your Uncle Grumpy have exposed the shocking truth: the White House can’t spell.

In Washington, you know you’re in trouble when two big stories about your problem surface like enemy submarines on the same day. Now, both the Washington Post and the Associated Press have articles listing the spelling and grammar gaffes the new administration has inflicted on the public.

The list isn’t short. Some of these mistake are mildly humorous, like the news that “Teresa May,” a British porn star, would visit the White House instead of Theresa May, the prime minister. (Irrelevant parenthetical question: Since the PM is of the female persuasion, shouldn’t she be called the prime mistress? A lot more people would listen to her speeches!)

But yuks aside, this is an official White House document mucking up the name of a foreign head of state, and not just any old state but bleedin’ Britain, FFS! In the name of equal-opportunity diplomatic insults, another release referred to Colombia as “Columbia.”

Then there was the presidential quote on the official inauguration poster that read in part, “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great.” They blamed a third-party vendor for that one, which is sheep flop.* Having been both vendor and vendee,** I can testify that the client must always, ALWAYS, review and approve the product before it goes to press. Other gems include “unpresidented,” “lose cannon,” and “attaker” for “attacker” (27 times in a single document).

Of course, we all make mistakes, including the very media that reported these. Before I’d even had my coffee this morning, the Post smacked me with, “Capitol Hill Republicans have tread carefully….” It’s trod, folks.

Some of the administration’s fumbles probably stem from plain carelessness, compounded by internet-induced ADD. However, I suspect they’re also caused by what the AP headline suggests as a solution: “Hey, Mr. President: It’s time to make spellcheck great again.” Sorry, but spellcheck wouldn’t have caught Teresa, Columbia, no challenge is to great, or the misuse of “historical” for “historic” in another tweet.

As I told my students in the writing workshops I used to teach, spellcheck can’t save you from yourself. It’s no substitute for thorough reviewing and proofreading by people who know and care about the English language.

This requires time and effort. But correcting and apologizing for mistakes eats up a lot more resources! You can’t even measure the damage that typos, malapropisms, and BAD writing can do to your credibility. I shudder to imagine what people thought of my old newsroom when we quoted a pope as saying, “Life begins at the moment of contraception.”

So block out some proofreading time, get yourself some reading glasses, and be your own spellchecker. Remember, even if you’re as ancient as Uncle G, it’s never two late too lern to right good English!


*A euphemism. Use your imagination.
**An actual word! It means, “the person to whom a thing is sold” (Dictionary.com). I could’ve just said “customer,” but this way I get to demonstrate that I know how to use a dictionary.

2016 election, Fiction, Florida, humor, Internet, Trump

Alternative Dave

“A top aide to President Trump said the new White House is using new metrics to assess the size of Trump’s inauguration:’ alternative facts‘” – USA TODAY, January 22, 2017.

In the spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation with our new president, I humbly offer these alternative facts about myself:

I possess a full head of striking blonde hair with nary a trace of grey. I also have the physique of a young god and a set of dazzling blue eyes that are often compared to those of the late Paul Newman.

I am a Pro Bowl tight end for the Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons.

My short story “The Fourteenth Pelican,” shattered sales records and led Carl Hiaasen to quit writing fiction about Florida. “This guy’s too good. I’m done,” said he.

I’m the first man in history to climb Mount Everest naked. (Got to use that physique for something!)

I graduated from college in two years flat with an unprecedented quadruple major: nuclear physics, philosophy, sports writing, and music performance, with the focus on being the world’s first punk-rock oboist. I still have Johnny Rotten’s phone number.

No matter what you heard about Bob somebody winning the Nobel Prize for literature, I am the actual winner! I delivered my acceptance speech by streaming video from the driver’s seat of my BMW M3 GT2 while competing in the 24 hours of Le Mans, which of course I won, while setting a new course record of 21 hours.

I don’t like to brag. I’m a humble, reticent Midwesterner, reflecting my roots on the great prairie of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I lived with my parents and eleven brothers and sisters.

As a boy, I could plow 100 acres in a single afternoon. With just my fingernails!

I usually know when to stop writing.

2016 election, Clinton, life, Politics, Trump

I approved this message. Please listen.

A polarizing Republican, both loved and reviled for his views and his record, widely suspected of dark misdeeds. A game but weakened Democrat, lacking the passion and charisma of other Democrats and struggling to overcome campaign blunders. A young voter unhappy with those choices.

I know this sounds too familiar. But I’m not talking about Trump and Clinton in 2016. “Young voter” means me, and no one except a kindly 90-year-old would call me young anymore. This was another election year, when I made a decision that I regret to this day – which I hope with all my heart that no one who reads this will repeat in November.

It happened the first time I was eligible to vote. I had no intention of going Republican because of peer pressure from college friends and classmates, and because the candidate repelled me as he did millions of others. For reasons I can’t fathom now, the Democrat seemed flat, unimpressive, unlikely to deliver on campaign promises, and not worth my support. The nominees’ gaping differences – in policy, demeanor, integrity, and fitness for office – just didn’t register.

In a moment of 18-year-old smugness and blindness, I decided not to cast a ballot for either side. Though people I knew worked to register Democrats and get them to the polls, I didn’t join them. On Election Day I stayed home.

The year was 1972. The Republican was Richard Nixon and the Democrat was George McGovern. My one vote would’ve been buried by the 49-state tsunami that handed Nixon his abbreviated second term. But McGovern, rest his soul, was definitely the better man and despite his failings as a candidate would have been a far better president.

If you weren’t around back then, the legendary Hunter S. Thompson summed up the situation pretty well: “McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”

I’m still embarrassed that I couldn’t figure this out. I wish I could say I stood for something and used my precious voting power to help my country. I can’t.

But I haven’t missed an election since. And I can say this: Whether you’re 18, 98, or somewhere in between, please, please, put down your phone and VOTE. Help us avoid a disaster worse than anything Nixon wrought.

Don’t be a self-righteous schmuck like I was in ’72. Be a mensch instead.

I’m David Swan and I approved this message.

2016 election, history, life, Politics, Writing

One nation?

The Second American Civil War began not with a cannonball but with a tweet. In the early morning of November 9, 2016, the defeated right-wing Republican presidential nominee* called on his followers to “Resist this socialist plague by any means necessary. Be ready to quit these ‘United States’ to build a new nation where we can be free again.”

Mainstream Republicans, pundits, bloggers, and ordinary Americans of every stripe agreed that, as they’d suspected all along, the ex-candidate was, quite simply, as crazy as a loon. But within days, a Dallas-based “grassroots” movement, funded by billionaires’ money, was urging Americans to renounce their citizenship, cut all ties with the federal government, and give up their Social Security, Medicare, military pensions, VA benefits, and much more.

In a few months, fully 75% of Texas Republicans joined the “renouncers,” and the idea spread over the land like a spring flood. In Mississippi, the state legislature declared every federal law since 1865 null and void within the state’s borders (though for the moment it didn’t try to stop Mississippians from receiving SBA loans, tax refunds, or crop subsidies). In Athens, GA, a mob of university students, most of them too young to legally renounce anything, burned the Stars and Stripes and screamed for the death of the new president.

As one of the organizers explained, “We could’ve gone out to West Texas right after the election and planted a flag for the new independent republic of whatever, but we would’ve been laughed out of town. We knew we had to get the numbers first and show that plenty of people were really serious about this and then make our move.”

The move came at high noon on July 4, 2017 when the Texas legislature, after revising its rules to head off another filibuster by someone like Wendy Davis, voted to formally sever the state’s relationship with the other states. The White House planned to just ignore the noise out of Austin, believing itself on solid political and constitutional ground. Even Justice Antonin Scalia had declared years earlier that, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

But no sooner had the gavel cracked down on the final tally when the cameras cut to a park in San Francisco, where a half-million people had suddenly gathered to demand a new independent nation called Free California. “Why should we not reap the same benefits, and use our freedom to take real action to save our earth from climate change?” one speaker asked, to loud cheers. “Why only them? Why not us? Why not us?”

In what historians now agree was a cataclysmic blunder, the White House blinked. Instead of standing on the Constitution and telling both sides, in effect, “Are you kidding me?”, the president invited the separatists to a “summit” to “reaffirm and recommit to our shared American values.

By the time the summit was held, Texas and California had been joined at the table by more than a dozen other states and one peninsula – the Upper one in Michigan, where the “Yoopers” were now ready to part ways with not only the Lower Peninsula but the rest of the country. By the next year, Texalina stretched from New Mexico to the Outer Banks, Oregon and Washington had joined California in Pacifica, New York and New England had formed their own republics, and Florida was still debating whether to go solo or remain tied to what was left of the USA (a decision complicated by the prospect of issuing visas and passports to snowbirds).

This was inspired by recent events in Ukraine and Crimea. Obviously there are differences: Russia’s actions were outrageous and clearly illegal under every relevant international law and convention. But the way our politics are heading, are we any less volatile? Could we decide someday that we’re just a bad patchwork and we might as well ditch the whole thing?

I still doubt it. But I never thought my uncle’s satirical predictions about traffic would come true either.

*When I wrote this in 2014, I thought the nominee would be someone like Ted Cruz. No one yet imagined it’d be Trump.