Remote as we may think we are from the horrors of the German propaganda machine, the applicability of Steiner’s concern to the condition of contemporary American English may be obvious upon brief reflection. The generation of students coming through high schools and universities now expect to be lied to. They know about “spin” and about the profiteering agendas of corporate advertising. They have grown used to the flippant, incessantly ironic banter that passes for conversation and avoid positive claims by verbal backpedaling: “like” before every clause that might threaten to make a distinction one might argue with, and “whatever” after approximations that never reach solid declarative ground. They also recognize, because these corruptions have been so pervasive in their short lifetimes, how much political discourse consists of ad hominem argument, accusation, smear campaigns, hyperbole, broken promises, distortions and lies. If they’re reading many of the mainstream news magazines and papers or watching network television or following Twitter feeds or browsing social media, they are receiving a daily diet of euphemisms, overgeneralizations, and evasions that pass for political and cultural analysis. Though they are being taught in classrooms to be critical of empty rhetoric and unsupported claims, the debased currency of public discourse is what is available to them, and so their own language resources are diminished and uncertain. They need our help.
From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre