RECORDING AMERICAN HISTORY

Historians will remember (assuming the DeVos Department of Education does not create an alternative reality) that America’s public policy was once at least loosely based on objective facts. Members of Congress were allowed to ask questions and read legislation before they voted — maybe even improve the legislation. It would have been unthinkable to scribble down a bill affecting the health of tens of millions of people and slip it through a committee at 4:30 in the morning.

Private citizens and nonprofit groups had input and even testified before Congress. There were public comment periods, and Senators didn’t run away from constituents at town hall meetings. There was a differentiation between facts and opinions. There was a public record and there were cost estimates.

All this information was committed to a written “record,” a noun derived from Old French circa 1300, meaning memory, statement, or report.

Factual written records can help us learn from our mistakes and hold people accountable, but they can be troublesome for some who would rather that certain things be forgotten, such as the hearing record where incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied and said that he had not talked to the Russians before the election. 

The Devolution of Recorded Truth

In the 1800s, as technology advanced, the noun “record” also came to mean “a disk on which sounds or images have been recorded,” such as real and true photos of two inauguration crowds of vastly different proportions.

Or recordings of an imaginary wiretap.

In 1883, we find the word being used in reference to “a best or highest achievement,” for instance the number of people at your rallies or the size of your electoral college margin or your TV ratings or how big your hands are or how high your wall will be or the number of women you have grabbed by the crotch or the breast.

Records used to be measured and based on reality, but now they are established by random tweet.

The verb form of “record” is older, from 12th century Old French, and it means “to repeat, reiterate, recite, rehearse, get by heart,” as in White House spokespeople reiterating that, for-heaven’s-sake-what-is-wrong-with-you-people, the president didn’t mean what he said literally, which has now morphed into “The President believes what he said.” Period.

They know that one by heart.

Restoration of the Record

Interestingly, the original Latin source of the verb “record” might provide America a way out of its current moral and ethical crisis. The verb “record” comes directly from the Latin word “recordari” which means to “remember, call to mind, think over, be mindful of.” The roots of this word come from re (restore) and cor (genitive cordis: the heart).

Restore the heart.

Can we remember and be mindful of our roots as a generous, open-hearted immigrant nation — stained though we’ve been by genocide and slavery — and restore the heart of America?

I pray that the record will show that we did.

Today’s word prompt: record

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