Erik Larson

Oct 21, 2008

The American People

Has anyone noticed that politicians, pundits, and just about anyone on the T.V. or air waves now refers to “Americans” as “the American people”? It’s everywhere now. Bush isn’t immune (though also not exclusive). Nor McCain . Or Obama . Why? What’s wrong with the succinct, and perfectly adequate—in the sense of referring to what’s intended—“Americans” moniker?

Maybe it’s a silly question. Maybe the talking heads just need some lexical variety. But I’ll take the bait. I’ll suspect otherwise. Here’s how I propose to develop the suspicion:

Used by itself (that is, as a noun, not an adjective), “American” seems to have become a loaded word—it now carries with it some cultural baggage that might at any time backfire, with terrifying social consequences (he’s not a real American, or that’s an attitude typical of an American , or I’m proud to be an American … this last a statement which, when uttered with a country music twang, is equivalent to pronouncing yourself an ignoramus…). On the other hand, “the American people”, well, that’s just the smart, hard working humans who happen to live and work in the United States of America. They’re not, for gosh sakes, Americans ! How vulgar! They’re just those citizens out there. Members of the set of American citizens. Ahh yes, the slow, steady, creepy creep of political correctness. Could it be? Could it be!

Well, until we get it sorted out, do feel free to proclaim: “ I’m proud to be a member of the American people! “ (although you’ll sound like a geek for doing it); this is immune to any backlash that simply proclaiming yourself an American might invite. (I have, however, heard rumors that this may itself get further modified to allow only a reference to being a member of a set of humans living in North America, between Canada and Mexico. Will confirm if true.) But, to return. At all costs, go easy on the singular American label, please. Don’t be vulgar.

Postlogue

Later it was reported that many heard, in the hallways, on the streets, the resounding battle cry “ Members of the set of American people, unite! “ Indeed. We have nothing to lose but…