RICHMOND >> Twitter, television and texting have changed the timing of household words. It once took days, months, even years for a word to imprint itself in the daily language of Americans. It has taken no time at all for "radicalization," a major vocabulary word by anyone's standards, to garner a top place.
The word doesn't get a separate spot in my New York Times' dictionary of 1982 – only "radical" gets that. Now it's defined everywhere on the Internet, including the following: "A process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice."
Daily, we hear about the radicalization of young men in countries where they have for one reason or another become more than disenchanted with their lives and the places where they live and have decided to join ISIS in its terror-oriented campaign. They have embraced a cause that somehow satisfies their need to escape their present life and find a new one — violent and destructive.
Thus we end up with groups that strike terror into the hearts of people in Syria, France, Yemen, Mali and other places with surprise attacks that put thousands of people, including Americans, on edge. We may not be lying awake worrying about bombs here in the Berkshires, but we can't ignore what's going on.
We also should not ignore some scary things that are happening without bombs. Presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson have the potential to radicalize us with their wild statements about things we must do. Trump wants to bomb everything, suggests registering all Americans who practice Islam into a huge computer directory, and wants to close the door to the traditional American welcome of refugees.
Ben Carson made new headlines recently for linking the arrival of Syrian refugees with the presence of a rabid dog in your neighborhood. Perhaps the worst statement of all came from David Bowers, a Democrat and mayor of Roanoke, Va., who thought the Japanese internment camps during World War II indicated how we could deal with people we feared. Most Americans who have thought about it at all know that the internment camps were one of the worst moments in the history of our democracy and something that would "never be repeated," in the words of President George H. W. Bush.
Here are some quotes to think about, in terms of what these politicians have come to in the past few days:
• "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."
• "It is not truth that matters, but victory."
• "I do not see why man should not be as cruel as nature."
• "He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future."
Each of those quotes is attributed to Adolf Hitler and may be worth thinking about as some Americans capitalize on our legitimate worries about terrorism and push us toward fear rather than faith in our democratic principles. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave us the watchword for our future in his first inaugural address when he said, "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
It's still true. American success in conquering fear is exemplified by New York City after 9/11 and Boston after the tragic bombing of its Marathon. Long term, we need to deal with the root problems of people in our country whose lives are so fractured that they want to join ISIS. But right now, we also need to be sure that our own politicians – either in Congress or on the campaign trail – aren't radicalizing us with actions and statements that encourage racist and/or hate-filled reactions to, for instance, all Muslims and all Syrian refugees.
"My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing."