Plutocrat. Kleptocrat. Bureaucrat. There aren’t many words that end in “-crat” that have a positive connotation. This is one key reason that Republicans have been on a decades-long quest to relabel the “Democratic Party”: the “Democrat Party” just sounds worse. Republicans from Joe McCarthy to Newt Gingrich have attempted to drive this shift in colloquial reference to their opposition party and its activities.
Here, in the highly polarized age of Trump, it seems to be really taking hold. There have been countless passing references in the media recently to the “Democrat Party”, “Democrat proposals”, “Democrat infighting” and other adjectival uses that show the Republican plan to steal the “-ic” is working.
So what? Who cares?
There are three key reasons why this matters:
It is intended as an epithet. When you hear a Republican referencing the “Democrat Party”, it is basically the equivalent of giving the rhetorical finger to the opposing party. Imagine if Donald Trump got really frustrated with the Canadian Prime Minister and started intentionally calling him the “Canadite” Prime Minister, randomly changing the self-referential suffix that Canadians have adopted. Canadians call themselves Canadians. One should refer to others in the way they have chosen to refer to themselves. Anything else is a direct attempt to sling an insult. And, as you can see, Democrats refer to their party as the “Democratic Party”. Always have. See?
The media should uphold a norm that any reference to a group should be in line with the way that the preponderance of the members of that group refer to themselves. Indeed, this is the stated norm of at least one news outlet as noted here by Ron Elving, Political Editor at NPR, when this topic arose in 2010.
The Republicans can’t get away with this. If usage of “Democrat” as an adjective becomes the norm – or even becomes acceptable colloquially – they win. They will have successfully and patiently re-labeled their opposition party. In an age of rampant disinformation and information warfare, this would be dangerously empowering to a party that is all too inclined toward using rhetorical tricks to sway minds.
The “Democratic Party” is actually the most “democratic party”. It’s accurate. In comparing the two parties, it is clear that one is the party of voter suppression, institutionalized economic & racial inequality, and benefits to corporations over people. That’s the Republicans.
This third point is a historical and key rationale for why Republicans have sought to relabel Democrats. They don’t want to cede the idea that the opposition party is the party of the people, which the word “democratic” implies.
It is in the strategic interests of the Democratic Party to fight against the swelling Republican usage of “Democrat” as an adjective. It’s a rhetorical fight worth fighting. The media need to be called out when they parrot this Republican strategy, as do Democrats themselves when they succumb to this “new normal”. The adjective is “Democratic”. Stick to it.
But if it starts to take hold, I would like to put my vote in for a re-labeling of the “Republiac” Party.
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