The English language is full of words journalists can’t do without. Troubled is one. Wherever reporters go things are troubled, and they make sure they say so. After all, if things weren’t, why were they even there?
Here’s another I just identified. Push. For example, on visiting the home page of the New York Times Tuesday and searching for push and pushed and that day’s date, I came up with a list of 51 Times stories!
The coming EU and NATO summits intended to push for reforms. The president of Kenya was leading a push at the African Union. Brexit has pushed down bank shares. Former Olympian Bruce Kidd has long pushed for gender equality in sports. So forth. So on. Meanwhile, Tuesday’s Tribune editorial page was reminding readers that the Tribune had “long pushed” for consolidation of county offices, that Toni Preckwinkle “pushed the sales tax increase,” and that President Obama had failed to “push lawmakers” hard enough to reform immigration.
Read the papers out loud to a five-year-old and he or she will soon picture the world as a car stuck in snow and neighbors collecting to lend a shoulder.
Which is a lovely thought—lovelier than the world deserves. At any rate, I put my finger on something interesting. Having laid claim to push to signify anybody doing anything on behalf of whatever, the press is mining it for nuances.
David Brooks wrote Tuesday in the Times that once upon a time “conservative and liberal elites shared variations of the same vision of the future.” It was going to be “global, integrated and multiethnic.”
Alas. “The elites pushed too hard,” wrote Brooks, “and now history is moving in the opposite direction.” The image puzzled me. How could it be said the elites were pushing too hard. Especially, since they were literally not pushing at all—Brooks was simply employing a figure of speech attractive to journalists because it’s four letters long and hard to misspell. What the elites were doing was desiring a particular future and acting accordingly.
Then I picked up the Tribune editorial page. Now that the Supreme Court has kiboshed President Obama’s strategy for dealing with it unilaterally, said the Tribune, his failure “should induce the next president to do what Obama should have done: Push lawmakers harder to fix our broken immigration system.”
Again I was puzzled. Does the Tribune think Obama’s problems with our Republican Congress would have gone away if he’d attacked them with a little more oomph? A year and a half ago the Tribune carried an editorial advising Obama not to act unilaterally while conceding the House had done absolutely nothing to make unilateral action unnecessary. House Republicans, said the Tribune then, “could be doing the job they were elected to do, instead of throwing a temper tantrum.”
So perhaps what the Tribune needs to do now is explain what the presidential equivalent would be of making screaming toddlers take a time out. And given the difference in parties, these would be screaming toddlers who run around without diapers in the backyard next door.
What I realized is that the press has turned push into a Three Bears sort of action verb. Normal people just push; but on editorial pages it’s not that simple. Some people push too hard and others push not hard enough. They must be called to account.
My search for push also led me to a conversation between the Times and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. The Times wondered if Jaime would ever turn against his power-mad sister, Cersei. “Their relationship is abusive, and why do people stay in that?” Coster-Waldau considered. “Or even get addicted to dysfunctional relationships. But I don’t know how far he has to be pushed.”
I bet Game of Thrones gets that pushing just right.