A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 30, 2014.
Photo by Tami Chappell/Reuters

With lists of ‘forbidden’ words, Trump World goes Full Orwell

Updated

Within a few days of Donald Trump’s inauguration, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer upbraided reporters with demonstrably silly claims about crowd sizes, followed soon after by Kellyanne Conway’s embrace of “alternative facts.”

It led the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan to make the case that “we’ve gone full Orwell.”

The observation was more than fair at the time, but with due respect to Sullivan, I think the case that we’ve “gone full Orwell” is even stronger now. The Post reported over the weekend on the administration’s lists of “forbidden” words:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases – including “fetus” and “transgender” – in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

George Carlin introduced us to his “seven dirty words” 45 years ago. Evidently, Trump World has updated the list in its own unique way.

The Trump administration’s interest in word-choice apparently extends beyond the CDC. The Washington Post also reported that another agency within the Department of Health and Human Services received related guidance, told to use “Obamacare” instead of the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces.”

The paper also found that the State Department is now supposed to refer to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance.”

“No explanations were given for the language changes,” the article added.

And that’s a shame, because some of this is bizarre, even by Trump administration standards. I might be able to come up with some kind of twisted explanation for why Trump World feels uncomfortable with words like “vulnerable” and “diversity,” but “fetus”?

For its part, an HHS spokesperson yesterday did his best to downplay the story yesterday, telling the New York Times in a written statement, “The assertion that H.H.S. has ‘banned words’ is a complete mischaracterization of discussions regarding the budget formulation process. H.H.S. will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. H.H.S. also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”

As best as I can tell, the spokesperson didn’t deny the accuracy of the reporting.

Update: The CDC’s director has also weighed in, and she didn’t exactly deny the reporting, either.

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