The Biden administration has been reversing and revising Trump-era policies since day one of taking control of the White House, and language is no exception. The administration has changed the rhetoric federal officials use to speak about political issues.
Among the changes, Biden has replaced the term “illegal alien” with “non-citizen,” and EPA officials now use the hashtag #climatecrisis on Twitter. The White House has also started asking those looking to contact the administration whether they want to use specific pronouns when filling out contact forms.
The changes were not well-received by some students on Miami’s campus for different reasons.
Taylor Armstrong is a junior political science major and the chairman of the College Republicans (CRs) at Miami. He saw the shift in rhetoric as less of a concentrated effort to make change and more of a political maneuver by the new administration.
“From an objective standpoint, this isn’t anything new,” Armstrong said. “Politics in itself has to do with a lot of persuasion and trying to frame things a certain way that may be politically beneficial. Changing how they say things concerning climate change and immigration lets the administration frame things their way, letting them have a better foundation to get things done.”
Armstrong said the changes were unnecessary compared to direct action.
“Politics is not about how to talk about things, it’s getting things done,” Armstrong said. “We’re not interested in debating how we should talk about things; we’re more interested in doing the things in the first place.”
Members of CRs are not the only ones who found problems with the administration worrying about words rather than taking action.
Evan Gates is a first-year business economics major and a member of the College Democrats. He expressed frustration at the rhetoric changes for different reasons than Armstrong.
“I think the changes [in rhetoric] are absolutely a bad thing,” Gates said. “I think the changes are designed to make us feel complacent with what’s going on. While words concerning immigration have changed, the policies really haven’t.”
During his campaign, Biden promised not to deport anyone during his first 100 days in office. Although he tried to implement this policy, the measure was blocked by a federal Texas judge, and thousands of undocumented immigrants have continued to be deported during his term, although arrests are down.
Gates said he was disappointed that the Biden administration did not make further attempts to push through the blocked policy, with the word changes being the only meaningful policy that he believes has been implemented so far.
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“I think the rhetoric change is the excuse the Biden administration has made while ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has continued to deport hundreds, if not thousands, of people,” Gates said. “They haven’t changed what they’re doing. They’re just changing the way they’re talking about it so Biden voters are satisfied.”
Grace Brunton is a first-year social work and international studies double major who is also a member of the College Democrats. She welcomes the rhetoric changes but agrees they are not enough.
“I think the rhetoric shift is a good change, but the changes are only effective if there’s action to back up the attitude,” Brunton said. “You can change the term ‘illegal alien’ to ‘non-citizen,’ but how much does that matter when you’re still deporting thousands of immigrants and letting ICE commit these human rights abuses against them?”
Brunton thinks it’s important to still be critical of the Biden administration despite liking it better than the Trump presidency.
“For me, I believe we can be critical of Biden’s inaction because there’s not insane undying loyalty to a party — a lot of us voted for Biden because we thought he was a better candidate than Trump,” she said. “We’re still very much critical of everything he’s doing. It’s not a sports team; you don’t just root for your color and then peace out. You have to be involved in making change.”
While there is general disappointment in these changes, students have differing opinions on what the change in rhetoric means for the American people as a whole.
Armstrong expressed concerns that the change in wording was limiting freedom of speech for Americans.
“Our government has to balance individual interests with collective concerns, and this whole rhetoric change is not finding that balance,” Armstrong said. “I don’t have a problem with our government wanting to properly address things, but let’s not get hung up on it or regulate it. Let the group tell me if they take offense. That’s the whole point of free society.”
Gates disagreed that the policies could limit free speech.
“I think each administration has its own code that it uses to persuade people,” Gates said. “It’s not a limit on free speech to look at that rhetoric and use it in a humanizing way. That’s not subversion, that’s the nature of free speech.”
Regardless of why, the students all agreed on one thing: Biden’s words are just that until they’re acted upon.