Maine Republicans were furious over the post by Rep. Scott M. Hamann and called on House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to take action against him. Some, including Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage, said Hamann should resign.Sigh.
Demi Kouzounas, chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party, issued a statement calling Hamann “unhinged and dangerous.”
I'm so tired of hyperbole.
The trouble started with hyperbole. The lawmaker said in his ill-mannered Facebook post,
“Trump is a half term president, at most, especially if I ever get within 10 feet of that [vulgar term].”This, of course, is not true. Rep. Scott Hamman is not going to kill the president if he finds himself within ten feet of him. He's just not.
It is also hyperbole when Chairwoman Kouzounas calls the legislator "unhinged and dangerous."
Please. That is ridiculous.
Everyone is being ridiculous. (Uh oh. Now I'm using hyperbole. Apparently it's catchy, like a disease.)
During the recent Maine budget crisis, when we descended into an actual government shut-down, both sides of the aisle used the exact same hyperbolic language to point out the flaws of the other side. Representative Stacy Guerin, a Republican, posted on Facebook:
"The Democrats are holding the state hostage over an increase in the lodging tax that they do not even need to balance the budget."Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, a Democrat, blamed the Republicans, calling them,
“hostage-takers that have shut the state down because they don’t know what it’s like to be a working-class person who needs these paychecks.”I certainly understand the metaphor here, but the word "hostage" is so...loaded. It's a crime to take someone hostage. So each side is calling the other side criminal. This is not what we mean when we say we must find common ground.
Should anyone read this post, he or she might be tempted to explain why his or her side was right in this case—why the opposition really were being bullies or hypocrites, that it rather was like a hostage situation. But that is not my point. I'm trying to get my head around the concept of public discourse, and how the hyperbolic language being used creates even vaster (more vast?) divides between those with opposing viewpoints.
Hyperbole is also a pretty standard form of click-bate when we are scrolling through our favorite social media outlets. Consider these headlines:
- Mark Hamill shuts down Donald Trump staffer in 1 blunt tweet
- Woman From Ariana Grande Concert Perfectly Shuts Down Islamophobia In One Tweet
- Russell Crowe Shuts Down Body Shamers in One Strong Tweet
If only all of these hyperbolic statements were true! We'd be done with that pesky Trump staffer, done with Islamophobia, and done with body shamers. Wouldn't that be swell? But of course Mark Hamill, the woman at the Ariana Grande concert, and Russell Crowe can really only do so much, especially with a measly 140 characters.
Unfortunately, our country's Chief Hyperbolite (I don't think that's a word, but it should be) is also our Commander in Chief. And while it's pretty clear to see that Mark Hamill, Russell Crowe, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Anne Coulter, Sean Hannity, and even that gal at the Arianna Grande concert have done zero actual shutting down with their tweets, it seems that Trump's are somehow more effective.
It's true that to some degree, reporters pick and choose what to report. Many a person has felt misrepresented by the media. Quotes are provided out of context, certain language creates a spin, details are arranged in just such a way...so it's not surprising that the president might feel...disappointed...with his portrayal in the news.
Still, the president labeling every news story or agency that presents him unfavorably as "fake" is taking a toll on our country. My brother, while awaiting his ride at a hotel in western Illinois, found himself in the presence of a quantity of Trump supporters. They were bemoaning the terrible treatment of Donald Trump by the news media (rather than the terrible treatment of this country by the president), which prompted my brother to write:
The idea that the BBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, The New Yorker, Le Monde, Le Figaro, The LA Times, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, the Boston Globe, the CBC, Opera News, NPR, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Highlights for Children, Animal Planet, Teen Vogue, Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Knitting, HuffPo, Reuters, the Associated Press, Cat Fancy, and Cooking Light are all having meetings at which they coordinate their efforts to make up mean things about DJT and his merry band of flesh-eating wraiths makes me want to knock their heads together until they shatter and release a flock of cuckoos.Perhaps my brother, too, has a flair for the hyperbolic. He isn't really likely to bash peoples' heads together. I feel reasonably certain.
But maybe when Trump calls the news media "fake," that isn't so much hyperbole as it is lying.
After all, hyperbole is defined as, "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally." Hyperbole is supposed to be obviously untrue. Yet Trump wants us to believe what he is saying about the media. And many people do believe him [See cuckoos for brains, above]. But as my brother pointed out (in an admittedly hyperbolic fashion), it is impossible that all of the media are colluding (!) to make up stories about Trump.
Hyperbole is a favorite tool of satirists, employed often by the likes of those who work for The Onion and by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker* and by my brother.
Regarding his inappropriate comments towards the president, Rep. Scott Hamman stated in his public apology,
“My intent, when I wrote [the post], was in fact to critique and criticize the increasing presence of this language over the last couple of years. The words were grotesque and inexcusably vulgar, terms that are too prevalent in the rhetorical lexicon of contemporary American politics.”Hamman was going for satire. He was intentionally using parody and hyperbole to snipe at an old friend on Facebook, and now he has been removed from his legislative committees for words that were not intended to be taken literally, words used in intended exaggeration for effect, a.k.a. hyperbole.
It is interesting to note here that Governor Paul LePage of Maine has not been removed from anything, though it wasn't all that long ago that he expressed his desire to shoot Representative Drew Gattine from the Maine legislature between the eyes. In the governor's own words,
“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825. And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be [Alexander] Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”And this was after leaving an expletive-laden voice message on Rep. Gattine's voicemail, in which he also said, "I'm after you."
But...LePage is being hyperbolic, right? No one really thinks he is truly after Rep. Gattine. (Wait—lets ask Rep. Gattine and his family.) If he were, he would have faced some consequences, right?
So was it hyperbole or not? He never said it was. But it seems we've brushed it off as idle talk, as exaggerated statements not meant to be taken literally.
Was Gattine's charge that LePage is racist also hyperbole?
I believe it was a charge leveled seriously, and and we ought to discuss it seriously, but we can't, because the opposing sides have already walked their ten paces and are prepared to turn and fire.
(Or am I being hyperbolic?)
Perhaps my problem is not with hyperbole, per say. I'm a fan of satire, after all. The problem is with hyperbolic statements intended to be perceived as truths. Or taken as such by unwise readers or listeners.
Or when the utterer cries Hyperbole! after the fact, after he or she is already in hot water, hyperbole becomes a scapegoat, which does not suit it one bit.
And I believe the governor (and the president, for that matter) gets away with this because hyperbolic statements are everywhere now. We think in excesses and extremes, which makes communication among people with different viewpoints literally** impossible.
*If you click on the Borowitz link, you'll see the title "Satire from the Borowitz Report" at the top of the page. I'm pretty sure this used to just read "From the Borowitz Report." And in case readers don't know what satire means, they've added the sub-title "Not the news." I guess The New Yorker didn't want anyone to think Borowitz was writing real news, which is probably wise of them, considering the state of our nation.
**And I do mean literally in a literal way, not a figurative way, as it is so frequently used. But that's a lament for another day.