Last week five Democratic congressmen introduced a bill that would require the Trump administration to release the visitor logs at the White House or wherever else the president holds court – including Mar-a-Lago, the Trump-owned private Florida club that the president likes to call the “Southern White House” and which the club’s website calls “The Legendary Pinnacle of Palm Beach.”
The name of the bill: Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness, or MAR-A-LAGO.
Mar-a-Lago – Spanish for “ocean to lake” – was named by its original owner, cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who built the 110,000-square-foot mansion between 1924 and 1927. She envisioned the estate as a winter retreat for U.S. presidents and bequeathed it to the nation, but no president chose to use it. In 1985 the building and the 17 acres it occupies were bought by Donald Trump, who turned the property into a private club. After his January 2017 inauguration, he doubled the initiation fee to $200,000. The club has about 500 paying members; annual dues are about $14,000 (plus tax).
The attention-getting MAR-A-LAGO acronym is actually a backronym, an existing word or name turned into an acronym. (The OED’s earliest citation for backronym, also spelled bacronym, is from 1983, in the Washington Post.) And it isn’t the only one in the news this month. The HONEST act, which was introduced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 29, gets its disingenuous name from “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment.” In fact, writes Ed Yong in the Atlantic, the act would sever the Environmental Protection Agency “from much of the scientific evidence that it relies upon,” such as confidential health records.
HONEST isn’t merely a backronym: it’s a recursive backronym, which recapitulates one of the words it incorporates. (Thanks to Mike Pope for pointing this out.)
Perhaps the most famous political acronym of the post-9/11 era is the Patriot Act – or, to use its full given name, the USA PATRIOT Act. Each of those letters stands for a word: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The act – hastily passed after the attacks, in the name of national security – has allowed the federal government to conduct roving wiretaps, indefinitely detain immigrants, and search citizens’ homes or businesses without the occupants’ consent or knowledge. That’s a lot of sinister stuff covered by a name no one would dare argue with – just as no one would dare to question a bill called HONEST.
Or would they?