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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Oh, My

Bruce Castor, one of Trump's impeachment lawyers, went on a weird tangent in his opening statement about how people refer to the Senator from their state as "my Senator," arguing that this is a sign of respect and reverence. But this made me think about the use of the possessive for government officials.

I use the possessive to describe Senators from my state because there are many Senators. I cannot say "the Senator" because that does not distinguish her from the other 99. The possessive identifies a particular Senator based on one personal fact that serves as a shorthand--he represents me. But it has nothing to do with respect. For example, "my Senators are craven, cowardly supporters of insurrectionists and a wannabe authoritarian with no respect for the Constitution."

I do not use the possessive to describe the President because there is only one President and no confusion in saying "the President." The possessive for a unique officer also feels monarchical ("My Queen") or dictatorial ("Mein Fuhrer"). But it again has nothing to do with respect--I have never labeled Presidents I like as "my President."  Trump liked to use the possessive to describe himself ("I am your President").  Which may explain some things.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 11, 2021 at 10:26 PM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

I am not going to deny reality and say that Trump wasn't serving in an office known as the presidency and all that.

But, I myself don't have to say "President Trump." That is a choice. If I was in an official role, I very well would have an obligation to use such an honorific. But, I'm not. The "my president" thing to me is part of that. Trump didn't meet the bare minimum -- something that in various ways even the likes of Andrew Johnson [especially given his racist times] did -- warranting that label in my view. He is "the occupant" to cite one person's dig at him, not "my president."

I realize that the result on some level is that some people will use bad judgments here. So, Obama or Biden won't be "my president" for some people. Fine. Can't be helped. I compare it -- and this is not a bad comparison either given Trump's history -- of someone in a parish where the priest is known to be a child molester.

But, it is pushed under the table & he continues to serve. If a Catholic parent didn't want to call him "Father John" or say he was "my pastor," even if the person formally had the role? I would not think it bad. Or silly.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2021 11:21:32 AM

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/presidential-inauguration-2017/not-my-president-not-now-not-ever

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/america-gives-trump-earful-not-my-president-s-day-rallies-n723371

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/11/not-my-president-thousands-march-in-protest/507248/

These are the same people who led an *actual* rebellion in Seattle in 2020 with nary a word at the time they were saying this or rebelling against federal authority.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Feb 12, 2021 9:59:18 AM

Which is part of why I hate the "not my President" chant (I was going include this in the OP, but took it out). It is partly because I do not like the possessive for a single individual. And it is partly because Trump was, in fact, the President (and "your" president, if you insist on the possessive) whether you like it or not. Denying that basic fact (as opposed to disavowing what he does) is silly.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 12, 2021 9:02:15 AM

Prof. Risch beat me to saying the same thing. I would just elaborate a little on the president aspect. To me, one reason it's particularly a thing for presidents is that you can have the scenario of a popular vote loss but electoral college win. Obviously that's not possible for senators or any other kinds of elected officials. The PV/EC discrepancy has a way of really upsetting those who voted for the PV winner.

It can go the other way for presidents too, I think. Some people who are especially passionate do refer to "my president" as a way of expressing pride. For example, even now, Amazon continues to sell "Donald J. Trump is My President" t-shirts (yours for only $15.95!).

The presidency is such an important and unique role that it tends to evoke strong feelings in both directions. Senators are of course quite significant too, but it's just hard to imagine that many people use "my senator" because they're so proud, rather than as a convenient shorthand for "the senator from my state".

However, I'm actually not sure that everyone would use "my" in the example Prof. W. gave at the end of the second paragraph. (I assume that refers to a scenario where the person speaking did not vote for the senator in question.) Even though "my" does primarily distinguish the senator in one's home state from the remaining 99, it's not just limited to that. Using it also creates an association—even if not a particularly strong one—between you and that person. So if the senator supports and/or did something bad, you'd likely want to distance yourself from her or him. You could do that by, instead of using "my", saying just "Senator [Last Name]" or even simply "[First] [Last]". Both of those options seem more impersonal.

Also, I think it's worth pointing out that, e.g., "My Queen" to show reverence is for addressing the monarch in the second person. Likewise in Game of Thrones, the smallfolk say "m'lord" when speaking to nobles. But I actually got curious enough to pull the transcript and it seemed like Castor was talking about something a little different. He was discussing the use of "my senator" in the third person to show pride, not respect.

In closing, a short quiz: What's the most important consumer product to have at the ready for a Bruce Castor opening statement? That's right, MyPillow!

Posted by: hardreaders | Feb 11, 2021 11:40:20 PM

I think you are right about senators, but not the president. See, e.g. "not my president."

Posted by: Michael Risch | Feb 11, 2021 10:39:59 PM

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