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The New York Times

The words that go in and out of Biden Administration

WASHINGTON – Days after President Joe Biden took office, the Bureau of Land Management added a picturesque landscape of a winding river to the top of its website, which had a photo of a giant wall of coal on it during the previous administration. In the Department of Homeland Security, the term “illegal alien” is replaced by “non-citizen”. The Home Office is now ensuring that its stakeholder mentions include “tribal” (with an uppercase “T” as Native American preferred, it said). The least popular two words in the Trump dictionary – “climate change” – reappear on government websites and in documents. Environmental Protection Agency officials have even started using the hashtag #climatecrisis on Twitter. And LGBTQ references are popping up all over the government. Visitors to the White House website will now be asked if they would like to include their pronouns when filling out a contact form: she / he, he / she or she / she. Sign up for the New York Times’ The Morning Newsletter. This is all part of a concerted effort by the Biden administration to rename the administration after four years of former President Donald Trump, in part by changing the language and images that define his anti-immigration, anti-science and anti-gay rights policies and theirs Replace with words and images that are more inclusive and better suited to the current President’s sensitivities. “Biden is trying to regain the vision of America that existed during the Obama administration, a vision that was much more diverse, religiously tolerant and tolerant of different types of gender dispositions and gender presentations,” said Norma Mendoza-Denton, professor of anthropology of UCLA and author of “Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies”. Mendoza-Denton said Trump tried to “reshape reality through language” during a turbulent tenure. In her book, co-authored with Janet McIntosh of Brandeis University, McIntosh wrote that the former President “changed some of the deepest expectations of the President’s language, not just in terms of style, but the relationship between words and Reality. “Now officials in Biden’s administration are using Trump’s own tactics to readjust reality, this time by erasing his predecessor’s words and explicitly going back to those who were exiled. “It was clear to all of us that words matter, tone is important, and politeness is important,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary. “And in order to bring the country together and to take our place at the global table again, one must turn away from the actions, but also from the divisive and far too often xenophobic language of the last government.” Some change in the language used by government agencies is not uncommon when a new administration arrives in Washington. In addition to being symbolic, the revisions can help introduce new guidelines. Allowing the term “climate change” gives the government scientists the green light, while banning the use of “illegal aliens” can change real commitments between immigrants and border officials. But seldom has the contrast been as strong as between Biden and Trump. The rhetorical overhaul is underway in every corner of the government as executive ordinances are drawn up, press releases amended, numerous federal forms optimized and online portals revised. Stephen Miller, who saw similar changes early in the Trump administration as a top political advisor, said the acceptance of what he described as politically correct language by officials in Biden’s administration reflected the importance of defining important issues for the public. In addition to the changes on the websites, he found that Biden’s Executive Orders were filled with words and phrases that would never have come out of Trump’s mouth, including “Justice”, “Environmental Justice”, “Path to Citizenship” and “Pro-Choice” “And” undocumented immigrants. “” The battle over the dictionary is actually the central battle, “said Miller, who wrote many of Trump’s speeches and was the architect of his attack on the immigration system.” Justice is meant to be a reminder of the idea that America is a nation that believes in it that everyone has this basic dignity of treatment, but the other side would say, “What you call justice, I call discrimination.” Trump administration officials like Miller tried to effect similar language shifts when in office. Miller struggled 2017 during the President’s address to Congress this year for the use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing that it was serious Trump intent in fighting terrorism. Critics said the use of the term falsely implied that all Muslims are terrorists. And Ben Carson, Trump’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, suggested that the phrase “inclusive and sustainable communities without discrimination” be removed from the department’s mission statement. He later resigned. For the Biden administration, the vocabulary change was immediate. Hours after he took office, officials responsible for updating removed pages highlighting Trump’s 1776 commission comparing progressivism to fascism and attacked liberals who accused the creation of the United States was from Infested with slavery. At the same time, the President’s staff restored the Spanish-language version of the website, which had been removed by Trump’s digital team, and hired sign language interpreters to stream the daily press secretary briefing. References to President as “he” have been changed to “she” in certain places on the site. At the State Department, the new Secretary, Antony Blinken, quickly erased what Mike Pompeo, his predecessor, called the “Ethos” statement to US diplomats, which included the promise to be an “advocate of American diplomacy” and to work with him “unconditionally Professionalism.” Many longtime members of the department saw it as an offensive warning to the so-called deep state, which Pompeo and Trump believed was undermining their agenda. In his place, Blinken issued a statement saying “The ethos of public service permeates the workforce” and stated that State Department staff “need no reminder of the values ​​we share”. And Bureau of Land Management officials not only revamped their website, but also restored the language of the boiler plates at the bottom of all documents, including the claim that the agency’s mission is to “promote the health, diversity and productivity of America’s public areas.” receive”. Melissa Schwartz, the home office’s chief communications officer, said such changes were part of a new policy to encourage voices that were not heard during the Trump administration. “The words we choose are critical and set the tone, whether it’s press releases, social media, or any employee news,” she said. “At Interior, this means not only recognizing the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on communities of color and indigenous peoples, but also considering the science and solutions that will help us address them.” Biden administration officials say efforts to change the language used by government officials recognize the powerful messages that certain words and phrases send. The term “foreigner” is anchored in immigration laws and has been used extensively in the government to describe foreigners for decades, and even appears in memos from Obama-era officials. But it has been increasingly at the center of an ideological tug-of-war over whether it unfairly stigmatizes immigrants and whether those in the United States should be labeled “undocumented” rather than “illegal” without permission. Three years ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered officials in his department to use the term “illegal alien” in all communications when describing someone who did not come to the United States through legal means. In a memo, Justice Department officials wrote that “the word” undocumented “is not based on US Code and should not be used to describe any person’s illegal presence in the country.” Now the Biden government is explicitly reversing this position. On February 12, officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for dealing with citizenship, said that employees did not use the word “foreigner” in “public relations, internal documents and general communications with stakeholders, partners and the public.” should. The move, said the agency’s acting director, “aligns our language practices with the administration’s guidelines on the federal government’s use of immigration terminology.” A few days later the White House moved on. In his legislative proposal for a major overhaul of immigration, Biden would remove the word “foreigner” from the Immigration and Citizenship Act of 1965 and replace it with “non-citizens,” a proposal that infuriates anti-immigrant groups. “It’s kind of Orwellian – it really is,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates the limits of immigration. “The war on the word ‘alien’ is a continuation of that effort to destigmatize illegal immigration that began in the mid-1970s. This is, in a way, the culmination of this process. “Some changes are still pending. The Department of Homeland Security Citizenship Bureau’s website,, still maintains the mission statement that Trump administration officials changed in 2018 to remove “America’s pledges as a nation of immigrants” and allow for “fair immigration claims.” replace. “That could change course soon. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump’s employees had removed the part of the climate change website. The site had not been restored until mid-February. Given Biden’s embrace of the subject, officials said they expected this to happen soon. But the finance department is already pushing plans to put Harriet Tubman on the $ 20 bill, a decision that was delayed during the Trump administration. And at the Home Office, staff were told they could use phrases like “science-based evidence” again. In a call to the agency’s PR representatives on January 21, Schwartz had a message for her colleagues. “Climate change is real and the science is back, and you should feel free to include both in your press releases,” she said. “I’m firing you!” This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company