This political season has given rise to the use of any number of words that have a “fresh” meaning to them. Among those words is the term outlier. It’s not a new word, having been around since the 1600’s having been used to describe stones that have been quarried buy not used. They lie around the quarry as discards, and not being a part of the project for which they were originally extruded.
Of recent, however, an outlier has taken on a much more human character, coming to mean someone who is outside the “norm” for a particular human group.
When I was in high school in the 1950’s, my friend, Bob, discovered Elvis Presley long before anyone else in our small hometown. He had his hair cut like Elvis, wore clothing that resembled that of Elvis, and even moved like Elvis. Bob sang songs that were not quite as familiar to the rest of us, having come from the repertoire of this strange guy from Memphis.
Oh, it didn’t take long for Elvis to become more familiar to us all, and there were others who began, like Bob, to dress and act like the now-famous Mr. Presley. But for those months before the craze hit, Bob was really an outlier in our school. As a matter of fact, for his entire adult life, Bob has been an outlier in many ways, including his profession in which he became a trend-setter. It is part of his personality, and it has served him well.
In the current political season the term outlier has taken on a very special meaning. It’s not all as positive, I fear, as that of my friend, Bob. There is, of course, Mr. Trump, who has chosen to follow a political plan which is as different as one can get from the traditional candidate, especially a candidate for the presidency. His language, his demeanor, his opinions, and his style of life are flamboyant, going well beyond the norm…especially for his place in the staid Republican party. It has served him well, even though many Republicans, Democrats, and others find him to be repulsive. There are those, like myself, who said that he wouldn’t get any traction, and that people would be so offended that they would reject him outright. Not so. It turns out that his anger, his biases, and his rejection of the traditional norm have struck a responsive note with angry Americans who have come not to trust their government. He and his antics have appealed to angry America, and he is well on his way to become the Republican candidate for President, unless some unusual thing happens to disrupt his plunge forward.
A similar thing could be said for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, whose Socialist leanings have taken shot at the “status quo.” He is not afraid to criticize the current administration, nor any who have preceded him, for playing into the hands of the wealthy, powerful people on Wall Street. (That term, Wall Street, has become shorthand for the Oligarchy that has, seemingly, taken over the government of the United States.) His dramatic, uncensored rail against the establishment (without the crude language of Mr. Trump) has been shocking…and attractive to many, particularly the younger segment of the voting population. It is not clear, at this point, that his platform will carry him to the election. But he has added an outlier quality to his septuagenarian voice, making him someone to whom Hillary Clinton has had to pay attention. If nothing else happens, he has exposed issues that no Democratic candidate can ignore.
There are outliers on both ends of the political spectrum, from the most hard-nosed conservative to the most free-wheeling liberal. It is not a pejorative word. It simply describes a position rather than a personality or ideology.
I will soon be caught up in the Major League Baseball fiasco that carries us to October. You can expect to find the term outlier in the articles and conversations (including mine) that take place during the seemingly-never-ending baseball season we call “the high point of the year.”