Wars on Nouns Don’t Work

(Quick note before you keep going, you may know that I post every Tuesday and Friday. I’m in the midst of finals at school this week, and then I’m going out of town, so I’m not going to have a Friday post this week. I’ll resume a regular schedule again next week.)

In 1964, in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. He announced plans for how the country would relieve poverty for the 19% of Americans living in poverty and how the government would take steps to prevent poverty from becoming a major issue in America again.

Seven years later, President Richard Nixon announced the War on Drugs, the way in which the U.S. federal government was going to take on the spread of addictive and dangerous drugs in America. This meant harsh penalties for drug dealers and suppliers, and even people who were in possession of drugs. It also meant the U.S. would take on the international drug trade via military action.

In 2001, only about a week after the September 11th attacks on the U.S. by Al Qaeda terrorists, President George W. Bush declared war on terror. This was the U.S. military operation to take down Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and later ISIL and Boko Haram, among other terrorist organizations.

Most recently, religious figures and others on the conservative side of the political spectrum have argued that a war on Christmas is being raged on Christians in the U.S., and that the government under President Obama was working to belittle Christians and their beliefs. The left, in turn, decried against a war on facts perpetrated throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and beyond.

For over 50 years, the America and its people have been declaring wars on nouns. Words. And it’s all been a waste of money with no reasonable changes.

In 2015, the American poverty rate was at 13.5%, down only 5.5% since the war on poverty began. Many of LBJ’s Great Society programs have been eliminated by his successors from all sides. The war on drugs has led to America having the highest per capita prison rate in the world, and a racist system where young black and brown men end up cycling in and out of prison. The war on terror has led to myself and many born between about 1998 and now not remembering a time when the U.S. wasn’t at war, even though many of us have no idea who we’re at war with. And the other 2, well, they’re not worth getting into.

And yet, more than 50 years after we began to declare war on nouns, it appears we’ve wasted trillions of dollars, ruined many lives, and done not much else.

It’s time to put a stop to the actions of wars on nouns. They sound great when announced; it’s certainly a great communications tactic. But Americans expect to win wars. And if we aren’t winning the wars we’re declaring and spending taxpayer dollars on, then it’s reasonable to say that we should start creating new ways to approach attacking issues.

America has won 1 war since World War II. That includes the wars on nouns. We don’t even fully end these wars. It doesn’t work to continue to fight these wars when nothing is changing. We should, instead, be looking to ways to create appropriate policy changes that will help to lower the poverty rate, make sure America isn’t hated around the world, and keep people away from drugs and out of jail and into rehab if necessary.

In political communications, it’s important to make people optimistic about the change you can make. But these wars on nouns aren’t working, and it’s time to approach this differently.

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