The Write Stuff: It’s a Crisis!

Alan Crawford write_stuff
20 May, 2021


The Write Stuff

Alan Crawford write_stuff
May 2021

It’s a Crisis!

Most of us will find things we like and don’t like about what Joe Biden has done in his first months in office. I’m in the uncomfortable position of liking something he has done that everyone else either hates and is roundly denouncing (Republicans) or kind of likes but is running away from (Democrats and the media). The administration has done this: It has decided against calling the situation at the southern border a “crisis.” It is studiedly avoiding the word, though the president has slipped and used it anyway, leaving press secretary Jen Psaki to explain it away .

Now Politico — which says it is merely echoing a directive from The Associated Press — also doesn’t want its reporters calling the influx of unaccompanied children a “crisis.” Here’s what Politico told its staff: “While the sharp increase in the arrival of unaccompanied minors is a problem for border officials, a political challenge for the Biden administration and a dire situation for many migrants who make the journey, it does not fit the dictionary definition of a crisis. If using the word ‘crisis,’ we need to ask of what and to whom.” Crises, evidently, require these questions and answers to them.

Alan Crawford is a published author and journalist who, in his books and articles, has written on the period of the United States’ founding and the American tradition.

Other news outlets have followed suit. The administration doesn’t like the word presumably because it ramps up anxieties about a situation the urgency of which it wants to play down. Biden’s right-of-center critics like the word because they believe its use shows that Donald Trump was right to talk about the need for a “beautiful wall.”

Fair enough. Politics, they say, ain’t beanbag.

But I like the administration’s decision to drop the word for another reason. Everything these days is called a “crisis,” and if everything is a crisis, then the word has lost all meaning, and nothing is a crisis.

It took no more than two minutes to find these references in recent news articles, and then I stopped, figuring the results alone would make the point: financial crisis, housing crisis, mental health crisis, pension crisis, public safety crisis, water crisis (Flint, Michigan), power crisis (Texas), humanitarian crisis (Ethiopia), COVID-19 crisis (India), climate crisis (entire world, possibly universe).

There’s even a Western crisis, which isn’t about the decline in good movies about cowboys, apparently, but has something or other to do with wild horses.

It is time for a moratorium on calling things crises, just so the word can get a much-needed rest and we can get a much-needed rest from it. Once some time has passed, and the word returns — but only after much thoughtful consideration by its employers — maybe it will have a little spring in its step and actually mean something again.

There’s little reason to think this will happen, though, because the cable news shows rely on it so heavily to keep the rest of us suckers tuned in. It’s hard to imagine what Wolf Blitzer, for example, would do if he couldn’t use the word. The self-serious CNN anchor might have to find another line of work altogether. Of course, he would have to change careers, too, if he couldn’t say “indeed.” Worse things could happen.

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