WASHINGTON — The House speaker dismissed the actions of a U.S. president as merely “trolling.” And the nation’s attorney general knocked America’s university students as a bunch of sensitive “snowflakes.”
These terms are hardly new. But President Donald Trump’s presence in Washington has fundamentally changed how politicians are talking in this once-stuffy town that long prided itself on civility and decorum.
A look at the latest political slang making the rounds:
Trolling refers to the practice of incessantly posting nasty words or images online as a way of provoking one’s opponents.
It’s what U.S. intelligence agencies have accused the Russian government of doing on social media leading up to the 2016 election. And it’s what Trump does on Twitter when he posts repeatedly about “Crooked Hillary” Clinton and “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.”
That’s why “trolling” was an interesting choice of words by House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday when he was asked about Trump’s plan to revoke the security clearances from top former national security officials who criticize the president. (Officials often keep their security clearances active in case their expertise is needed later by their successors or future employers.)
“I think he’s trolling people, honestly,” Ryan told reporters with a slight shrug.
Ryan picked up on the fact that the president’s threat achieves exactly the same goal as online trolling — goading one’s critics to lure them into a public spat and shift debate to a topic of his choosing.
And while this might seem obvious considering Trump’s Twitter feed, the idea that a Republican House speaker would shrug off a Republican president’s threat as mere trolling shows how much Washington — and its lexicon — has changed.
Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, on Tuesday said colleges are creating a generation of “snowflakes.”
This has been a longtime favorite quip among conservatives who believe younger generations have been so coddled by their liberal parents that they have grown up to become overly sensitive and fragile. The term is part of a broader culture war between liberals, who want to see expanded rights for minorities and an atmosphere of inclusiveness, and conservatives who denounce those efforts as political correctness run amok.
In the case of Sessions, the attorney general believes college campuses are the worst offenders for creating these so-called “snowflakes.”
“Rather than molding a generation of mature, well-informed adults, some schools are doing everything they can to create a generation of sanctimonious, sensitive, supercilious snowflakes,” he said, reading from prepared remarks at a high school leadership summit in Washington aimed at encouraging conservative activism among students. (Sessions also at one point repeated the chant of “Lock Her Up” in reference to Democrat Hillary Clinton.)
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the term “snowflake” has had numerous meanings over the years, including a person who favored slavery in the 1860s in Missouri.
But by 1996, the book “Fight Club” included a line the dictionary says may have given the word its current meaning: “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”