Every day I find a word-for-the-day in my email box. Sometimes I know it; often I don’t. Once in a while it elicits a blank stare.
Today was a blank stare kind of morning—my reaction to prosopopeia.
Even the definition was abstruse: a figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking or acting. It’s a little like personification if that helps.
I was just about ready to add prosopopeia to my “never use” list when I remembered that (1) Trump is still president, (2) he once said he had “the best words,” (3) he actually has the worst words, (4) words are powerful, and (5) knowing prosopopeia makes me more powerful than the man whose dictionary traverses the language from “beautiful” to “sad” with very few stops in between.
Maybe that part about being powerful is a bit of a stretch.
But prosopopeia is relevant today, especially as we embark on the second half of Trump Term One and continue to fret over where our country is headed. There has been, over the past two years, a good deal of invocation of the Founding Fathers—attempts to deduce what they would say and how they would respond to a tyrant in their midst.
They had their own. A king. As we apparently do.
Now you can claim that an external threat differed from our internal one, but don’t forget Russia, and there’s the fact that even during the revolutionary period Americans were divided: there may have been no red baseball caps, but there were Redcoat-sympathizers, Loyalists. Tories.
And on the right side of history were Jefferson, Adams, Paine—if we invoke prosopopeia, what do these thinkers say in the face of the current crisis?
One thing is certain: they don’t throw their hands up in despair, nor do they look the other way and hope everything resolves itself. Instead they look the rest of us squarely in the eye and paraphrase Benjamin Franklin who, at the end of the Constitutional Convention was asked if we had a Republic or a Monarchy and responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Two and one-half centuries later, that’s where we are. Can we keep what we have?
Foreign intervention and domestic malfeasance now threaten that republic; stupidity and ignorance threaten its democracy. These are the times…well, you know the rest.
We don’t need big words, but we need strong ones, not only from the Democrats but from the Republicans who have maintained or regained perspective. The issues are out there, and they don’t involve DNA tests or former candidates. Instead they involve our health, our safety, our liberty.
Prosopopeia is not the answer: voting is.
(Even so, prosopopeia is better than bigly.)