The Really Scary Thing About the CDC’s Seven “Banned” Words

The two words we should be worried most about? Fascism and authoritarianism.
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The Trump administration has banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and two other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services) from using seven words in budget documentation.

Photo by Manfredi Caracausi/Getty Images.

This is how it happens: one day, you read that your government has begun censoring language.

Not thug-controlled Russia or Rocket Man’s North Korea. The United States. In 2017.

From an administration that already seemed brought to us by Sinclair Lewis and George Orwell came this whopper Friday, according to The Washington Post and other sources:

The Trump administration has banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and two other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services) from using seven words in budget documentation. New York Times reports suggest the move was not meant as an outright ban but rather a “technique” to help win Republican approval. Whatever the level of language control was intended, here they are:

vulnerable

entitlement

diversity

transgender

fetus

evidence-based

science-based

Ladies and gentlemen, your Seven Dirty Words for 2017. George Carlin would puke up his Vicodin.

Orwell territory: my literal first thought at reading this was, Double plus ungood. They really are putting words down the Memory Hole now. And then, weirdly, I wanted to shout, “Fake news!” at it.

Instead of “indecent” words upsetting to TV censors (and their audiences and advertisers), these seven are objectionable to the right-wing agenda of Trump and the Republican Party, from their contempt for the vulnerable and the social safety net to their bigotry, their anti-abortion mania, and their denial of science.

But the Trump administration helpfully provided CDC analysts with some alternate terms, reports say. For instance, instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” they are encouraged to use: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” Because if there’s anything the scientific method relies on, it’s “community standards and wishes.” At least that’s the message I got from Inherit the Wind.

This is how it happens—the same “it” in Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here: fascism, authoritarianism.

It’s those words we need to stop being sheepish about.

But we didn’t go from Sinclair Lewis to Sinclair Broadcasting all at once. As many have pointed out—especially those comparing 2017 America to 1930s Germany—it’s as gradual as Pepe the Frog in a pot of water set to boil.

Conservatives have been using language to tip the reality scale for some time. For instance, Florida Gov. Rick Scott had notoriously banned the use of “climate change” and “global warming” among his state employees a couple years ago. And it only got worse.

Earlier on the day of the CDC word-ban news, Bob Garfield from On The Media had tweeted:

I replied with one more to Garfield:

FREEDOM = get fleeced/go die.

This was the day that the FCC, under humble servant of the people Ajit Pai, ignored the will of most of them and repealed Net Neutrality. Before that, I had tweeted:

Why the double-speak tweet-dump?

This week, the Republican-controlled Congress will vote on “tax reform” (“tax pillaging” must have focus-grouped badly) that ruthlessly stomps on the “vulnerable” and will likely lead to slashing “entitlements” (see above). And, like “freeing” people from Obamacare or banning discussion of “climate change,” it promises an impressive body count.

For anyone not yet getting the picture of how these villains are using language, there’s Gleb Tsipursky’s bluntly titled, “Trump’s Censorship of Science Will Kill People,” in Newsweek on Saturday.

“So what would happen if the CDC is unable to make accurate recommendations and implement effective public health policy?

Simple: people will get sick and die,” Tsipursky writes. Daring to use one of the forbidden words, he continues, “The diseases and deaths will come from among the most vulnerable. Hundreds of babies have already died due to taking homeopathic medications which were not vetted by the Food and Drug Administration. 2017 has seen the largest measles outbreak in the US, which mainly impacts children and babies.”

Dispensing with sublety, Tsipursky emphasizes, “Many more children and babies will get sick and die as a direct result of the Trump administration’s censorship of science.”

So far, the CDC response seems to be holding ground. Director Brenda Fitzgerald tweeted Sunday:

Sharing information on Twitter and other social media is one way we have—for the time being—to fight back. Share the information they’re trying to disappear. And share your outrage.

Even for a would-be tyrant, Trump wants to be liked.

Tsipursky is also the author of The Truth-Seeker’s Handbook: A Science-Based Guide. He suggests: “You can make a difference by Tweeting your thoughts using the hashtag #CDC7words and emailing, writing, and calling your federal elected officials to express your concerns over this deadly censorship.”

Meanwhile, we’ve been bombarded with so many language abuses that it’s as if Trump and the GOP had been inoculating us with lie-pox. Trump lies 5.5 times every day and will rack up 2,000 by year’s end, The Washington Post reports. He repeatedly attacks the “fake” news media and declared us the “enemy of the American people,” for, uh, reporting what he says and does. That is, we’re “evidence-based,” and he’d like to disappear us, too.

And the language control works both ways. In an Emperor's New Clothes scenario, Trump's staff reportedly shields him from words or reports that would set him off on tantrums. With that in mind, I have a list of seven alternate words and phrases that CDC workers can use, for the time being:

special counsel

emoluments

obstruction

collusion

treason

impeachment

prison