Semantic discord is rooted in confusing labels and titles

Charlotte Chipembere, Staff Writer

For far too long, important political discussions have broken down due to semantic discord, which is when two parties disagree on the meaning of a word or several words that are crucial to furthering discussion of the issue at hand. Oftentimes, semantic discord arises not out of genuine misunderstanding, but as an opportunity for petty jabs at an opponent or as a snappy slogan that ends up turning away more moderate political thinkers.  

For example, someone who aligns with pro-life viewpoints is traditionally characterized as someone who advocates for the life of the child and the continuation of a woman’s pregnancy. The vagueness of the title “pro-life” has allowed the conversation of abortion to divert from the actual issue and is now a talking point from the left, surrounding the “conservatives’ twisted logic.”  The rebuttal to the title “pro-life” is that if one is truly “pro-life,” they should be fighting to preserve life in all instances, not just inside of the womb. It is often argued that someone who is pro-life needs to be pro-life “womb to tomb,” as opposed to just “pro-birth.” If they are truly supporting a pro-life stance, they should then also be against the death penalty and advocate for policies that ensure every child is fed, housed and educated. This rebuttal is not an illogical pushback to the title. Pro-life can mean many things, but pro-birth can not. If conservatives want to cut straight to the discussion of what is supposed to be a single issue, they would adjust the label.

Similarly, in response to the racial injustices that have occured this year, left-leaning protestors gave their movement a slogan poorly worded and lacking its true ideals — “Defund the Police” — that it must be explained to actually convey its goals. A slogan is supposed to be catchy and memorable. “Defund the Police” has become memorable for the wrong reasons. For those who glance at headlines, it sounds like the left is trying to completely eliminate police budgets; this perception has led to confusion surrounding the true intentions of the movement.

This result is incredibly frustrating because such a radical slogan was unnecessary. America was ready for reform, but not when it was presented in such an extreme fashion.”

Former president Barack Obama spoke out about the dangers of using the ambiguous phrase “Defund the Police” by saying that it turns off moderate voters. For the left, the intent of this statement was to advocate taking funds out of the police force and reallocating them into support for other responders and minority communities. This process would be done in hopes of reducing crime and police brutality. For the right, defunding the police has been interpreted as abolishing the police. President Donald Trump capitalized on this idea with several campaign videos depicting a dangerous society in which one could not call the police to save themselves from an intruder. President Trump and others’ interpretation is a clearly fabricated example of what defunding the police actually means, but by taking the phrase at its literal definition, this result is plausible.

Furthermore, a phrase like “Defund the Police” only attracts those who already agree. Obama questioned whether we “actually want to get something done or [if we] want to feel good among the people you already agree with.” Not everyone was on board with Obama’s perspective. Backlash from members of Congress and other political figures, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, highlights that the rhetoric is purposefully uncomfortable; polite policy language is ignored.

Research shows that most Americans agree that racism exists in the criminal justice system and that reform is needed. In turn, one would hope that Democratic activists would not give up on the other side and try to be more appealing in their advocacy for a more just system. Instead, many who aligned with the Democratic party bought into petty politics by creating a slogan that would obviously not be well-received by Republicans. This result is incredibly frustrating because such a radical slogan was unnecessary. America was ready for reform, but not when it was presented in such an extreme fashion. There should not have been the expectation that “polite policy” to be ignored, in fact, moderacy was what was needed to win votes. In the last election, some congressional seats were lost due to the candidates’ promotion of “defunding the police.” Defund the Police has defunded its cause. There is so much power in a name, and in this case, power to push people away and hinder development and progress. Instead, movements and individuals need to choose names that are authentic and representative of their goals and ideals, so that true change can take place.


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