Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Be shrill

It's not bad to be divisive for good purpose

Issue: "2009 Books Issue," July 4, 2009

I hate the word shrill. I mean I have a visceral reaction to it. I'm sure there is a legitimate use for the adjective that denotes a "high-pitched or piercing tone or sound"-like dog training. But I never hear that use of it. Since my radio is more often turned to political than canine news, I get to hear shrill as an ad -hominem, and it makes my skin crawl.

"Ridge Calls Limbaugh 'Shrill'" is the silliest headline I have read in ages. It crystallizes all the reasons I find better things to do than follow politics. I picture the local elementary school newspaper, The Glenside Bears, running with the lead story "Johnny Calls Eddie Dorky."

For the record, if there is one word that singularly does not apply to Rush Limbaugh, it is shrill. Anyone who has heard him over the years, and who will care to admit it, will be impressed that he speaks as a free man (in stark contrast to the pack that is after him). May as well rewrite Independence Day and call Patrick Henry shrill: "Give me liberty or give me death!"

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Let us peruse the following quote from former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge for a scintilla of substance:

"Well, I think Rush articulates his point of view in ways that offend very many. It's a matter of language and a matter of how you use words. It does get the base all fired up and he's got a strong -following. But personally, if he would listen to me . . . the notion is, express yourselves but let's respect others' opinions and let's not be divisive . . . let's be less shrill."

I was imagining the High Priest Caiaphas in Ridge's interviewee's seat on CNN:

"Well, I think Jesus articulates his point of view in ways that offend very many. It's a matter of language and a matter of how you use words. It does get the base all fired up and he's got a strong following. But personally, if he would listen to me . . . the notion is, express yourselves but let's respect others' opinions and let's not be divisive . . . let's be less shrill."

If you want to talk about divisive, the Bible says it's not bad to be divisive for a good purpose, as when there's some winnowing to be done: "For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Corinthians 11:19).

Note the religious resonance to these Republican party paroxysms. It is the secular mirror image of Christianity's desperate attempts to look relevant to its base. One faction wants to throw all the distinctives overboard in order to save the Church-a strategy of throwing out the faith to save the faith. The other faction wants to put its confidence in God no matter how many parishioners walk across the street to the friendly gay church.

The second group knows we have a plumb line for what a Christian is-the Bible. A Christian is what the Bible says a Christian is. In the case of what a Republican is, there is no physical "bible." That enabled Karl Rove to say, "If you say you're a Republican you're a Republican."

On a recent tour of Washington, I had a five-minute encounter with Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who evidently doesn't do small talk. He opened our conversation with, "Where are the great men?" I thought he was talking about war heroes. He clarified by pantomiming, with two hands in the air, the incremental drift to the left of the so-called Christian and political standard bearers, as all the while they imagine themselves to have held their ground just because the measure of distance between them and the crowd they're sycophantically lagging behind appears to remain constant.

Colin Powell and Tom Ridge, elusive as water, lacking any moorings that would keep them from drifting down the beach with the tide, want to be "inclusive" and to "reach out" and be "less judgmental"-and, of course, not "shrill," all words they adore and never get around to defining. This is code for "abortion," which is always the elephant in the room. These men are all about saving the Republican Party, a Pyrrhic victory which they vainly imagine will be achieved by giving it up to Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Where are the great men?
If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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