September 22, 2023

Letter to the Editor: Public discourse

Recently the opinion page of the Newton Daily News had a letter from Senator Ernst, presumably from a staff member, and a letter from Representative Dunwell. These letters to the editor should typically be considered opinion pieces, or in the case of our elected representatives, reports of their activities on our behalf. These letters constitute public discourse.

Public discourse is a somewhat nebulous phrase and needs some elucidation. I will try to give some for the public good and strictly for the reason that there may be some who are not familiar with “public discourse”. Familiarity with it should be encouraged, especially when it comes to the pronouncements of our elected officials. Hence the following.

There are two rules that one must follow when engaging in public discourse. First, no assertion of current events should be based on actual facts. Second, if rule number one is violated, the facts asserted should have nothing to do with each other. These are two very simple rules and should cause little stress to learn and follow when engaging in public discourse.

As an example of Rule No. One, Senator Ernst’s pronouncement that “Biden is trying to make your 401(k) broke and woke” is an excellent example. To translate this statement in recognizable English, it says “The President of the United States is trying to make you a pauper by destroying your investments”. There are two nonessential facts here — Biden is President and there are such things as 401(k)s. But the crucial messages in the statement are “broke and woke” neither of which are actually facts. They are adjectives used as facts and can mean just about anything to anybody if anything at all. They have no actual content. They simply function as words to encourage a particular response in those reading them.

As an example of Rule No. Two, Representative Dunwell’s pronouncement that there is a new piece of legislation working its way through the House involving issues of teachers and the Ombudsman. Apparently, in the mind of Representative Dunwell, there are teachers and there is an office of Ombudsman and they are placed in the same sentence indicating some relation to each other. There are two facts — there are teachers and there is an ombudsman. However, they have no connection to one another and constitute an example of Rule No. Two. Using two totally unrelated facts together is unintelligible purposefully and is not to provide information, but again is simply to obtain a reaction from the reader — its sole purpose.

Hopefully, these illustrations are useful in understanding public discourse. After all, we live in a democracy and we the people are supposed to be in charge. And to be in charge, one needs a minimal level of understanding of the political process which includes public discourse. I hope this was helpful.

Richard E H Phelps II