Of intellectual laziness and our verbose talking-heads

It’s high time to add yet another word to the lexicon employed by lazy journalists and casual pundits. Whether you’re viewing CNN, MSNBC, or Fox, you’ve heard this word ad nauseam. Cue the contrived dramatic pause as on-air anchors, reporters, and political experts furrow their collective brows, narrow their eyes, and clench their lips before announcing something so important that the moment has to be termed “fraught.”

The word, usually meant to imply that something bad could be in the offing, has an intellectual, imposing ring to it, and your favorite on-air commentators have moved on to it from the fading favorite, “optics.” Once again, the media have taken a perfectly good word and turned it into a hackneyed term through overuse that should be deemed journalistic malpractice. It is the newest example of intellectual laziness, and it wouldn’t hurt the talking-heads society to turn to a thesaurus from time to time.

Now, let’s turn to the cries of fake news, which are indeed “fraught.” President Trump has bloviated yet again about “THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE” (his caps) in his ongoing jihad against the First Amendment. In one of his latest characteristic tweet tirades against The New York Times and all opposing media, he ranted, “The Press has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact. The writers don’t even call asking for verification. They are totally out of control. Sadly, I kept many of them in business. In six years, they all go BUST!”“Control” is the key word in the president’s little screed. He believes that he has “executive power” to control the media and stifle any dissenting opinion or, more importantly, any facts he doesn’t like. He has plenty of help from his cadre of Irish-American acolytes such as mouthpiece Kellyann Conway and the Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In assailing the credibility of former Trump-fixer-turned “rat”– the president’s Mob-esque word of choice – Michael Cohen, Conway rightfully pointed out that Cohen is a proven liar. Fair play, but when pressed as to whether the president is any more credible than his erstwhile bagman, Conway portrayed Donald Trump as a man of “huge” (my word) credibility.

Of all the head-spinning fairy tales that have escaped Conway’s lips in defense of her boss, this recent one might be the biggest whopper of all. The president has so effectively uttered an endless stream of lies, prevarications, and delusions that he has numbed much of the American public; at the least, he is the duplicitous equal of Michael Cohen when it comes to blatant falsehoods. Of course, one man’s or woman’s facts are fake news to others. Trump has shown an unrivaled ability to enlarge the gaping divide between truth and fiction.

In June 2016, then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy opined in private to fellow GOP legislators that “there are two people I think Putin pays: [US Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump.” As his colleagues laughed, McCarthy said, “Swear to God.”

According to the Washington Post and numerous other outlets, including the Trump-friendly New York Post, McCarthy’s fellow Irish American Paul Ryan, who was speaker of the House at the time, demanded that everyone in the room never publicly mention McCarthy’s observation. “No leaks,” Ryan ordered. “This is how we know we’re a real family here,” he said.

Ryan, McCarthy, and Kellyann Fitzgerald Conway—all espousing an Irish-American brand of “family” and “omerta,” agreed to a code of silence placing party and president above country.

A Fenian Fiasco Brilliantly Told
With “When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom,” the Andover-based author and journalist Christopher Klein has crafted a riveting narrative of the ill-fated Fenian invasions of Canada in the years immediately following America’s Civil War.

Klein, whose previous book, “Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, America’s First Sports Hero,” told the story of the famed boxer, has crafted a similarly vivid, keenly documented look at the Irishmen who fought in the Yankee and Confederate ranks and turned their hard-won martial lessons against Ireland’s age-old master, Britain, with a valiant but ill-fated effort to pry Canada from John Bull’s grip.

The five Fenian strikes against Canada commenced in 1866, fueled by lofty ideals of Irish freedom. Irish soldiers who had survived the Great Famine and the horrors of the Civil War viewed themselves as Irishmen first, Americans second. The US government was at first willing to “look the other way” as the American Fenian Brotherhood “established a state in exile, planned prison breaks, weathered infighting, stockpiled weapons, and assassinated enemies. Defiantly, this motley group, including a one-armed war hero, an English spy infiltrating rebel forces, and a radical who staged his own funeral, managed to seize a piece of Canada, if only for three days.”

As Klein notes, the failed Fenian attacks proved a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. Many Irish in America came to believe that any insurrection against Britain must unfold in Ireland itself, with assistance from the Irish Diaspora. Of particular interest locally, Klein presents a vivid portrait of John Boyle O’Reilly, the Fenian rebel who was seized from his Royal Army cavalry barracks in Dublin and eventually sentenced to harsh labor in Western Australia before escaping aboard a New Bedford whaling ship and ending up in Boston, where he carved out a true saga of immigrant success.

O’Reilly covered one of the Fenian raids for the Boston Pilot, and, Klein shows, was so disillusioned by the ragtag affair that he preached the importance for the Irish to assimilate as Americans and leave future rebellions to Ireland itself.

In short, Christopher Klein’s new book is a must-read for all with even a passing interest in Irish America, Ireland, and the Civil War. His fast-flowing, often lyrical, often gritty narrative commands the reader’s attention from the opening paragraphs. His portrait of this turbulent and crucial era in America’s and Ireland’s annals is captivating.

(When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom, Doubleday, hardcover, ISBN-10: 0385542607; ISBN-13: 978-0385542607, 384 pages, christopherklein.com)