Yesterday, while delivering highly charged testimony during his homicide trial, Kyle Rittenhouse broke down sobbing while retelling the events that led to his shooting and killing two people during the Jacob Blake riots last year.
This was the response from Merriam-Webster, a 190-year-old U.S. corporation:
Screen shot in case they delete:
The implication is obvious: Merriam-Webster believes that Kyle Rittenhouse was putting on some sort of performative display of emotion in order to sway the jury during the trial—that his tears were an effort at insincere emotional manipulation and that he deserves everyone's contempt for it.
Two responses come to mind. The first is that, even if he were so inclined, Kyle Rittenhouse would not actually need to manipulate the jury during his trial. He is plainly innocent of the charges; the trial itself is obviously just a sham affair, and even the prosecution seems to have realized that its case against the young man is in absolute tatters. Rittenhouse is essentially guaranteed to walk; no fake tears would even be necessary.
Perhaps more importantly, Merriam-Webster's disgraceful, viciously cruel tweet is a sign of a cultural rot so deep and so comprehensive that it is hard to imagine we can ever come back from it.
Kyle Rittenhouse has suffered, and is continuing to suffer, far beyond the ability of most people to comprehend. His own public anguish is completely understandable and should be cause for mass sympathy and compassion. Instead, we have a major corporation gleefully ridiculing him, deriding him at his most vulnerable and miserable, and all to gleeful and ecstatic cheers from countless followers:
This is not normal and it is not healthy. It is not a sign that our culture is degrading; it is a sign that our culture has already degraded, perhaps irrevocably, and that it will only continue to get worse.
I don't know how to fix this. But a good place to start would be refusing to take part in the kind of savage, unhinged political discourse that marks so much of online life these days. Be better than that. Be better than Merriam-Webster.
If you also feel the urge to throw out all of your Merriam-Webster reference books and never buy another scrap of paper from that sleazy little company, well, nobody's going to stop you.
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