Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Mar 9-16, 2018


rhetorical claim: NRA members are law-abiding,peaceable, patriotic, freedom-loving average citizens, whereas gun opponents are un-American, tyrannical, Communist, and elitist. As Wayne LaPierre put it at CPAC, the Democratic Party is:

infested with saboteurs who don’t believe in capitalism, don’t believe in the Constitution, don’t believe in our freedom, and don’t believe in America as we know it.

rhetorical effect: weaponizing standard political sentiments to create a social identity for gun advocates and to stigmatize all gun opponents. Equating gun ownership with patriotism calls the political allegiance of non gun owners into question. Casting gun control advocates as elitist undercuts polls that consistently show the vast majority of Americans favoring much more stringent gun control laws and policies. And, of course,’ creates an “us-vs. them: dichotomy by claiming a vision of “America as we know it.”



rhetorical claim: as Trump (facetiously?) put it at the Gridiron Dinner, praising Chinese President Xi Jinping recently consolidated power:

He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.

rhetorical effect: Is this what he means by “make America great again”? Trump’s support for other dictators and autocrats, including, in addition to Putin, strongmen in Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Turkey,  and Egypt. Justifies political repression, the violation of human rights, and the abrogation of free speech and a free press and internet.



rhetorical claim: For some Americans, nothing President Trump says or does would prompt them to withdraw their support. Trump has been aware of this for a while; his infamous “I could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue” comment was an acknowledgment of that reality. In part, this is a function of the passion many people feel for Trump. In part, it’s a function of Trump’s having pushed past so many different boundaries already. Once you’re miles into the wilderness, what’s another 10 feet?

rhetorical effect: The proliferation and intermingling of Trump scandals reduces the impact that any one of them would have by itself. Trump is saved by scandal overkill. Indifference contains its own monstrousness that overturns every rule and standard as reason and guilt become obliterated and everything gets disconnected. Most importantly, though, this is an abdication of what the presidency is supposed to be. After his election, Trump regularly called for Americans to unite around him, failing to recognize that the job of unity falls to the president, not the people. Trump’s campaign always had a significant demagogic component, centered on stoking prejudices and falsehoods, but he could theoretically have presided in a way that was more all-encompassing. He’s decided not to and instead has continued to foster political and cultural divides.


equality and mediocrity

rhetorical claim: When equality becomes an organizing principle of an institution–be it the military, higher education, police departments, or business–it renders excellence and ability secondary and levels down to mediocrity.  Unequal outcomes are not allowed to be facts any more, but must conform to ideology in a Stalinesque way. Elitism gives way to political correctness, in the name of  artificial equality and catalyzing social change. Democracy cannot be discriminating because it discourages elites, even if that elitism is merit-based or innate.

rhetorical effect:  essentializing inequality is a time-honored way of perpetuating it. Consider all the invidious ways difference has been used to justify privilege: blacks are lazy or have limited intelligence, , women are weak or too emotional to be leaders, etc.


if you take funds away, schools get better

rhetorical claim: Betsy DeVos, on 60 Minutes:

“In places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better, as well.”

rhetorical effect: justifies privatizing education and creating an apartheid educational system. It seems totally counter-intuitive to argue that taking away funding makes things better, especially if you’ve never tried to remedy the situation with increased funding.


hatred for God

hatred for our country

rhetorical claim: Standing next to Mr. Trump’s eldest son at a firehouse, Mr. Saccone said Democrats were energized by a hatred for the president, “a hatred for our country” and “a hatred for God.”

rhetorical effect: equating Trump with God and country leads to a theocracy; transforms any Trump critic into a traitorous atheist; turns all Dems into “haters.”


the facts

rhetorical claim: The facts just don’t matter for the leftist media, who continue to pitch such nonsense as Hillary’s claim that married white women defer to their husbands when voting, to the American people.  This is about the left’s continued inclination to eschew any desire for truth in order to tilt at the windmills of “white supremacy” and battle the phantoms of “the patriarchy” and other unsubstantiated myths, such as the “gender wage gap”  which is supposed to result from systemic discrimination.

rhetorical effect: discounts in advance any claims of inequality; claims that the GOP is “reality-based” when it actually distorts or denies all forms of political reality; claims to be on the side of “the facts”, whatever “facts” they produce;


the media is dead

rhetorical claim: Sean Hannity said it back in 2007: journalism is dead.  It always had bias, but it’s now become nothing more than a broadsheet for the far left, an instrument to pretend leftist propaganda is actual “news” that instructs us.  If you think of journalists as Democrats with bylines, you are correct, and that’s mainly what the American public needs to see.  It’s an institution torn apart. The brainwashing of the leftist voter may be the most injurious thing the left has done.  In the long run, if we cannot convince enough of them of the truth about their recent leadership, the left may finally win its long, hard fight to destroy the American culture it has come to hate so much.

rhetorical effect: paranoid, apocalyptic conspiracy theories always serve to totalize, rally the troops, demonize the opposition, and make compromise impossible. Every act of opposition to Trump becomes part of the conspiracy, so it is impossible to logically  refute this kind of charge.


the judiciary is destroyed

rhetorical claim: This past year, it’s safe to say, has shown just how far the left has gone in destroying the judiciary.  Leftist judges with no pretense of adhering to the law now make insane proclamations from the bench on more than a weekly basis.  Reading what the laws actually say, any modicum of common sense tells you they are inserting their very own political and juvenile ideas for the rule of law.  They want it torn apart.  And they are getting close to their endgame of gumming up the works via judicial nullification.

rhetorical effect: see above


Democrats win by running as Trump, not Clinton

rhetorical claim: Conor Lamb won in Pennsylvania by running as Trump, not Clinton.

rhetorical effect: designed to distract analysts from noting that Lamb supports Obamacare, opposes tax cuts as a “giveaway to the rich”; supports Roe v. Wade and protecting Social Security and Medicare from any cuts.


the War on Men and Boys

rhetorical claim: Men seem to be becoming less male,” Tucker Carlson claims.  “Something ominous is happening[.] … Men are taught there is something wrong with them.  We took a close look at the numbers, and we found them so shocking that we’re devoting the month of March to a special series on men in America.”

Carlson concludes “You’ll be stunned by the scope of the crisis.  We were.  It’s a largely ignored disaster.  It affects every person in America.”

He notes, for example: “Men account for 77 percent of the nation’s suicides, they are more than twice as likely to become alcoholics, they are more likely to die of an overdose than women, and 90 percent of inmates are men.”

So what are the causes?  Eighteen years ago, Christina Hoff Sommers published The War on Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.  Sommers concluded, “It’s a bad time to be a boy in America.  Boys are less likely than girls to go to college or do their homework.  They’re more likely to cheat on tests, wind up in detention, or drop out[.]”  In short, Sommers found the causes in feminist theory and, more surprisingly, inside the nation’s classrooms.

The dirty big secret here is that our public schools don’t announce social engineering; they simply do it, especially with regard to altering how children view themselves.  Public schools suppress boys and uplift girls in many furtive ways.  This manipulation has been hugely successful: 57% of college students are female; 43% are male.  More women stay in college and earn advanced degree.  Women wear business suits, and men drive pickup trucks.  Culturally similar men and women who used to marry each other are now separated by class differences!

The question still haunts us: how exactly are America’s social engineers able to win this war for females?

rhetorical effect: turns the patriarchs into victims; demonizes feminism; justifies inequality in the name of social justice.




Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, March 2-8, 2018

picking winners and losers

rhetorical claim: the GOP believes in letting free markets work themselves out by their internal logic, whereas the Dems always want to pick winners and losers,  putting their thumb on the scale of economic liberty.

rhetorical effect: obscures the truth, as revealed by Catherine Rampell:

Republicans love picking winners and losers, too. They just choose different winners and different losers than Democrats do. In the case of today’s Republican officials, the winners are mostly donors, incumbents, culture-war favorites and cheats…OP officials nationwide keep proving that when they say they’re “pro-business,” what they really mean is that they’re pro-certain businesses and anti-others.

Rampell mentions subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs, regulatory relief and the suppression of lawsuits against companies as some of the ways the Trump administration plays favorites. Trump defines winning as selling more to the other guy than he sells to you–a zero-sum Darwinian struggle for survival. In reality, though, the goal of trade is increased imports, and a trade deficit is meaningless. The Balkanization of the global trading system can only damage the US.


the global arena

rhetorical claim: from McMaster’s & Cohn’s WSJ op-ed on Trump’s America First policy:

the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

rhetorical effect: justifies: Ayn Rand-style American exceptionalism; the disruption of the post-war rules-based international order; tariffs; America’s bullying its way to get anything it wants and  the end of international cooperation. Seeing foreign affairs as an “arena” evokes gladiatorial, winner-take-all  contests


the oppression of the oppressors

rhetorical claim: best articulated by Victor Davis Hanson:

We are reaching circular firing squad moments—and a topsy-turvy world.

The concept of “disparate impact” is asterisked by the disproportional “meritocracy” of the NFL or NBA. Yet meritocratic Asian admittances at UC Berkeley are seen as some sort of unnatural “overrepresentation,” and thus in the past were carefully and stealthily trimmed. (Isn’t a professional sports billet considered far more lucrative than an undergraduate slot at Berkeley?)

Cultural appropriation aimed at whites is not reciprocal. The doctrine does not absurdly mean that Latinas should not dye their hair blond, or that talented African-Americans should not become great violinists or opera singers, or that Asian actors should not play Hamlet or Lady Macbeth. But strangely, it does mean that those who are not minorities should not play minority roles, or even adopt for their own the fashions and styles of nonwhite peoples.

We are told that the concealing and carrying of firearms should be outlawed. Armed guards at schools only ensure greater violence. Mace and pepper spray suffice instead of bullets.

Yet politicians, celebrities and marquee athletes require well-armed bodyguards, on the premise that in their unique cases, guns really do both deter and in extremis protect the important. Do armed guards protect or provoke?

Post-Freddie Grey Baltimore has become a far more dangerous place for African-Americans and for small business owners—even as once oppressive and supposedly Neanderthal police became more socially aware and adopted enlightened reforms.

There are a few common denominators to all these paradoxes that overwhelm the daily news.

One, people are people, unique individuals, not monolithic cut-outs of classes, races, or religions.

Two, in comparative global terms, it is hard for anyone to be oppressed in a free-wheeling, rich, and leisured 21st-century America. The efforts to appear so can hinge on the embarrassing.

Three, when movements, such as the identity politics core of progressivism, rely on shared oppressions, and when the categories of the oppressed in many demographic groups outnumber the available oppressors, we should expect a confused competition of grievances.

Four, victimhood cannot serve as the basis of a viable political movement. Contemporary oppression requires a Byzantine regulatory handbook of qualifications, exceptions, and nuances to rank competing reparatory claims on society and culture. How else to account for things like multibillionaire Oprah Winfrey being “discriminated” against in a Swiss boutique on the basis of supposedly not easily being accorded a customer’s look at a $38,000 crocodile-skin handbag? And is such a luxury even permissible in the era of PETA?

Who can calibrate the current plight of California feminist icon, #MeToo leader, and Latina assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who in the recent past has called for fellow legislators merely accused of sexual harassment to resign from office and to be ostracized by their associates?

Yet Garcia herself now stands accused of sexual assault. She is on temporary sabbatical. She insists she is innocent, won’t quit the legislature, and denies the independent allegation of four subordinates, who claim that they were groped, and propositioned by a supposedly randy Garcia. She now finds herself in a Thucydidean moment in which she yearns for the civil liberty protections that she was so eager to deny to others.

So who will police the police? Who is left to victimize the victims? Is it possible that the oppressed can oppress other oppressed?

rhetorical effect: Uses a circular argument (oppressors must themselves oppress in order to make their case) to undercut any charges of oppression. Labeling charges of repression hypocritical justifies all oppression, and doubly victimizes the victims of oppression.


equality of result, not of opportunity

rhetorical claim: In the eternal search for perfect justice and equality, what starts out as liberal can quickly end up as progressively absurd. The logic of equality of result, rather than equality of opportunity, demands that there is always one more group, one more grievance, one more complaint against the shrinking and overwhelmed majority.

rhetorical effect: justifies a Darwinian, winner-take-all world, a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Undercuts any progressive attempts to reduce inequality, provide any social safety net, or issue any regulations. Glibly assumes that everyone has equal opportunities,  so those who fall behind are just classic Trumpian losers.


blaming racism

rhetorical claim: As Jason Riley argues in the WSJ

We can’t hope to address effectively the social pathology on display in so many black ghettos by playing down the role of culture and personal responsibility so as to keep the focus on white racism. What blacks were doing on their own to develop human capital and to narrow racial gaps in the first half of the 20th century has a far better record of success than any government program.

rhetorical effect: arguing that we live in a “post-racist” society brackets any discussion of racism, blaming its victims’ own cultural “pathologies” and lack of “personal responsibility.” These terms in themselves are euphemisms for calling blacks degenerate and lazy; using these racist dog whistles to justify ending all social safety net programs is an unconscionable rhetorical slight-of-hand–assuming the very thing you need to prove, a form of illogical inference.


the mirage of social justice

rhetorical claim: the concept of social justice is a mirage or panacea, and does not offer a useful perspective on morality or political policy. More useful concepts include individual responsibility, justice toward individuals, protection of personal rights, and impartial application of the US Constitution as originally intended.

rhetorical effect: undercuts any discussion of collective or social justice, narrowly applying the term only to individual rights. Communitarianism, collectivity, redistributionism–all such concepts become suspect “pipe dreams.”


democracy promotion

rhetorical claim: democracy promotion has proven to be an almost universal failure (See Iraq, Libya, Egypt) for America despite being a sacred cow for both liberal and conservative globalists. A realistic foreign policy has us acting on our interests, not our values. Democratic states are not more peaceful or stable than autocracies. Morality and law cannot tame power.

rhetorical effect: questions the idea of building democracy at home and undermines the rule of law; promotes an emperor approach to the Presidency, who is placed above the law; reinforces the “realist” notion that “might makes right.”


not chaos, just tremendous energy

rhetorical claim: there is no chaos in the West Wing, only tremendous energy.

rhetorical effect: best explained by Charles Blow:

Lies. Of course the White House is in chaos. It’s just that Trump has lived his whole life in a state of chaos, so it feels perfectly normal to him. The only energy around Trump is a vortex of complicity and incompetence.

Furthermore, it should be clear to us all at this point that Trump’s public relations approach to dealing with unfavorable news is simply to rush to the nearest microphone — or log into Twitter — and say that the exact opposite is true, even when his statement is an easily provable lie.

Being right is never the point; retaliation is the point.

Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Feb. 24-March 1, 2018

clear and present danger

rhetorical claim: the FBI’s failure to intercept the Parkland shooter is just the latest in a long series of federal catastrophes: 9/11, Iraqi WMDs, Katrina, the many recent mass shootings–the list goes on. Clearly, the federal government is a clear and present danger to national security.

rhetorical effect: smears all government workers, from the postman to the park ranger, without discriminating; doesn’t mention what would happen to society without a federal government; by confusing many needs: better gun control, better foreign surveillance, better emergency preparedness, better mental health warning systems, etc., actually makes the case for more government, not less. Without government, there would be no national security.


the media love mass shootings

rhetorical claim: the legacy media love mass shootings because crying white mothers are ratings gold and give the anti-second amendment folks a megaphone. The wall-to-wall press coverage of mass shootings that leads to more mass shootings.

rhetorical effect: blames the messenger for the message; deflects the blame from guns to the media, demonizing the media by accusing  them of  supporting  mass murder for profit. One of several counter-instinctual claims the NRA loves to make, such as calling mass shootings a mental health issue, or calling for more guns to fight gun violence, or branding  gun ownership with freedom.


appearing presidential

rhetorical claim: the President does not need to “pivot” in order to appear more “presidential” because the lamestream media’s model of the Presidency is one of a lackey beholden to Congress and to political orthodoxy. The more Trump breaks the rules, the more “presidential” he is actually being because true leadership means breaking the rules in order to cut through the “fake news” in order to actually get things done.

rhetorical effect: Trump doesn’t govern, he campaigns. This inversion effectively transforms the Presidency from an embodiment of moral guidance and protector of national security to a perpetual campaign. Trump has in fact likened his Presidency to a campaign:

“Life is a campaign,” the president told reporters aboard Air Force One. “Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.”

Trump uses several classical rhetorical techniques to keep this “campaign” going, including proliferating his outrage, repeating his claims incessantly, projecting his own vices onto his opponents, and appearing to be persecuted. He sees himself enlisted in a Total War, where compromise is impossible and debate is either pointless or dangerous.


anti-market extremists

rhetorical claim: anti-market extremists like Bernie Saunders aim to socialize American business and redistribute the national income. The market should be as deregulated as possible so the invisible hand of free market economics can work its magic.

rhetorical effect: uses a false either-or dichotomy to stifle any attempts to regulate financial and other markets, confusing regulation with strangulation. The term “extremist” is also a perennial favorite of the right, who use it to vilify any opponents as  enemies of the people.


collusion hysteria

rhetorical claim: the only collusion so far is between the Clinton campaign, Christopher Steele, and the FBI. The Democrat-mainstream media axis and and its unrelenting “collusion” hysteria only show how easy it was for the Russians to manipulate a rabidly partisan, unreliable media and a biased or inept government.

rhetorical effect: calling the entire Trump-Russia matter a “fake news” “witch hunt” has had the effect of blunting whatever charges Mueller eventually brings against Trump and his inner circle. Labeling any criminal charges “hysteria” completely undercuts the rule of law, and discredits any story appearing in the mainstream media.


nuisance lawsuits

rhetorical claim: the Trump administration has greatly succeeded in eliminating draconian liability laws that only produced nuisance lawsuits in the name of “consumer protection”, “environmental protection,” etc.

rhetorical effect: The rule of law is nothing but a “nuisance.” Possible motto for the Trump administration?


identity politics

rhetorical claim: Identity politics—the artificial segmentation of Americans into antagonistic groups organized along often imagined ethnic, racial and sexual categories—is tearing America apart. President Trump can do something about it by rescinding all pan-ethnic categories in the 2020 census, replacing them with questions of national origin. This would encourage assimilation and end identitarian fever–the division of America by race and ethnicity.

rhetorical effect: This high-tech ethnic cleansing, along with a proposed citizenship question on the census, would lead to a population undercount, disproportionately harming states and cities with large immigrant communities. Combining this census undercount with the scrubbing of all racial, ethnic and sexual categories in any government records, would greatly deepen inequality and render minority populations helpless and without redress in the face of discrimination. Discrimination in the name of assimilation.


just kidding

rhetorical claim: the President is often just kidding when he tweets stuff or makes off-the-cuff remarks. His aim is often to provoke the conversation and get Congress to do something–anything.

rhetorical effect: makes it impossible to believe anything Trump says, so we never know where he stands on anything. He is either “just joking,”  “doesn’t really mean that,” ‘”never really said that,” or “maybe really said it, but is totally misunderstood” Such prevarication masks his raging intolerance and smug self-satisfaction.

Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Feb. 17-23, 2018

rule of law conservatives

rhetorical claim: The EPA is refining its rule making process in ways that rule-of-law conservatives hope will conform the agency’s new rules to the designs and ends Congress intended for them, reversing the warped power grabs of the administrative state they had become.

rhetorical effect: just as conservatives call any law they like “originalist,” they call any government rule they like “the rule of law,” even if the only law they refer to is their own law of political expediency. “Rule of law” is one of those phrases intended to sound objective– set in stone like tablets Moses found on the mountain top–whereas in actuality it is always an act of interpretive political power.


disavowing domestic violence

rhetorical claim: President Trump disavows domestic violence by claiming that he is and “totally opposed” to it.

rhetorical effect: a disavowal is really a denial of that which is undeniable and must be repressed: Trump disavows racism while defending racists; Trump disavows election meddling yet defends the Russians; men disavow domestic violence then call themselves the true victims of feminazi witch hunts.


mental health

rhetorical claim: when it comes to gun safety, we need to tackle the difficult issue of mental health.

rhetorical effect: precludes discussing gun availability at all. Why is mental health funding only brought up in direct response to a mass shooting, but then either ignored the rest of the time or decimated in Obamacare budget cuts (see here for a good summary of mental health care cuts in the GOP budget plan ? Also, every country deals with mental health issues, but only America has so many mass shootings. Toughening mental health monitoring is extremely fraught, as pointed out by Amy Davidson Sorkin:

The proffering of mental illness as the answer to our shooting problem seems opportunistic, to say the least. It might necessitate a criminalization of adolescent pain, since the level of legal procedure necessary to make someone ineligible to buy a gun would, presumably, be higher than what would be needed to guide a teen-ager to a therapist. (In Florida, the legal standard for blocking gun purchases is that someone has actually been committed to a mental institution or been “adjudicated mentally defective.”) The greater madness is in our gun laws, not in our children….

…What is the society that gun-rights activists are asking for? One in which legions of angry young men who have not done anything criminal yet are shut away in mental wards, if not prisons, conveniently labelled as insane, so that the good people—whoever they are supposed to be, and however angry they are—can still walk into a store and buy military-style weapons? Would we really rather lock up people than lock up guns? And is all that supposed to be facilitated with an ethic of mass mutual suspicion? Perhaps the next move of America’s gun promoters will be to place the blame on some other group of people with backgrounds and beliefs that the majority finds jarring. Will they keep drawing the circle of the good with an ever smaller circumference, until it resembles nothing so much as an armed camp, packed with guns? President Trump might call that a great and safe community. And whom will he blame then?


partisan bickering

rhetorical claim: Congress is gridlocked by partisan bickering on everything from the Russian inquiry to DACA reform. It’s time that it overcome this stalemate and get don to work.

rhetorical effect: this call for compromise is actually almost always an excuse for inaction. “Partisan bickering” is what happens when one side wants reform and change and is trying to pass new laws and the other side is resisting. So it isn’t ‘partisan bickering” that’s hobbling Congress’s Russian investigations, it’s the fact that only one side–the Dems–want to get to the bottom of it.


media’s hindsight fallacy

rhetorical claim: in retrospect, the all-knowing fake news media clearly sees that the Russians tipped the election to Trump, whereas in reality, if anything, it was Hillary and the Dems who made the best use of Russia. In reality, the Russian propaganda activities had less impact on the election than even 30 seconds’ worth of a live Trump campaign rally.

rhetorical effect: calling hindsight a “fallacy” makes it impossible to consider overwhelming evidence to the contrary–it’s a peremptory move to  dismisses all evidence–and thus all indictments– out of hand. It’s intended to make any Mueller case seem manufactured and based on poisoned intelligence intercepts. The Dems claim that emerging evidence points to conspiracy, collusion and money-laundering; the GOP claims Mueller is simply concocting fables about the past, connecting dots that have no connection in truth, trying to turn mole hills into mountains.


judicial gerrymandering

rhetorical claim: the liberal Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn Congressional districts to favor Dems in the upcoming election. In doing so, they are usurping the right of the state legislature to draw congressional districts. The Supreme Court should rule that courts do not have the power to determine electoral outcomes

rhetorical effect: the irony is too delicious: they are arguing that a court ruling affecting electoral outcomes should be used as proof that court rulings should not affect electoral outcomes.


collectivist tyranny

rhetorical claim: the collectivist tyranny and administrative coup of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid era is over. Under Trump, we have entered a new era of individual freedom, economic growth and the security that comes from peace-through-strength and America First.

rhetorical effect: Best described by Paul Klugman:

For whatever reason, there’s a faction in our country that sees public action for the public good, no matter how justified, as part of a conspiracy to destroy our freedom…this political faction is doing all it can to push us toward becoming a society in which individuals can’t count on the community to provide them with even the most basic guarantees of security — security from crazed gunmen, security from drunken drivers, security from exorbitant medical bills (which every other advanced country treats as a right, and does in fact manage to provide).

In short, you might want to think of our madness over guns as just one aspect of the drive to turn us into what Thomas Hobbes described long ago: a society “wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.” And Hobbes famously told us what life in such a society is like: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Yep, that sounds like Trump’s America.


consumer-friendly innovation in markets

rhetorical claim: American families know better than bureaucrats what financial products best meet their needs.. Families need to be empowered. Borrowers need to be treated like adults. They are not as dumb, irrational or vulnerable as liberals make them ut to be. They can make their own decisions about contracts, arbitration clauses, payday loans or bargaining for an auto loan.

rhetorical effect: rhetorical inversion: the most consumer-friendly regulatory policy is to have no regulatory policy at all. The paradox is to claim that consumers should be protected, but not by any regulations. On the other hand, families should be “empowered”, but only to put themselves at the mercy of payday loan sharks, shifty auto dealers, restrictive arbitration clauses, and predatory interest rates and policies. The very things consumers need protection from are no longer protected. Treating consumers “like adults” actually means putting them in the position of children: gullible, vulnerable, and unprotected from predatory adults.


pricing for actuarial risk

rhetorical claim: insurance companies should be given the freedom to price for actuarial risk rather than having a collectivist pricing model imposed on them, a la Obamacare

rhetorical effect: justifies higher rates or denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, annual and lifetime coverage caps, denial of benefits for whole categories of conditions, gender discrimination–the list goes on. “Pricing” is the innocuous-sounding euphemism for exorbitant medical bills.


respecting our second amendment rights

rhetorical claim: As the mass killings continue, we must be patient and listen to the views of those who see any action to limit access to guns as the first step toward confiscation. Our task is not so much to protect gun victims but, rather, to protect gun owners by respecting their deep cultural attachment to guns..  The so-called Parkland victims are being manipulated by the lyin’ liberal press. As Bill O’Reilly put it, the media is “promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases.”Former representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) doubted the capacity of these students to think or act for themselves. “Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda,” he said on CNN.

rhetorical effect: Young people who disagree with Kingston can’t possibly have minds of their own, and, of course Kingston and Fox News don’t “have an agenda.” As for respect, as E.J. Dionne argues:

How come only one side of the supposed culture war on guns is required to exude respect for the other? Because the culture-war argument is largely a gimmick pushed by the gun lobby as a way of demonizing its opponents. None of us who endorse stronger gun laws wants to disrupt anybody else’s way of life. And none of the measures we are proposing would do that.

The perversely inverted moral argument is that the way to stop gun violence is by arming more people–students, teachers–all of us, really. So, as usual, the rhetorical effect of the “respect” argument is that the only reasonable and common-sense thing to do is to agree with the GOP.




Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Feb 14-17, 2018



totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind

rhetorical claim: Trump  is “totally opposed” to domestic violence of any kind, finds charges against Porter “shocking,” says that Porter was fired in the normal way once the charges were known, and also condemns the lack of due process when it comes to verifying women’s accusations.

rhetorical effect: Establishes the absurd logic that domestic violence is not to be tolerated, but neither are women’s claims of domestic violence. As Jennifer Rubin put it,

What was more revealing was that he did not say any of the following:

  • I won’t tolerate any abuser in my administration.
  • We must encourage women to come forward and believe them when they do.
  • I believe Rob Porter’s ex-wives.
  • We should not have people with a history of spousal abuse in high government positions.

Nope, he didn’t express any of these sentiments, which in any other administration would never be questioned. Trump, however, has a troubling past: He bragged on the “Access Hollywood” recording about abusing women; more than a dozen women have accused him of either harassment or assault; and he endorsed accused child molester Roy Moore in a Senate race. It’s a topic he wants no part of. And we should seriously consider that he does not think abusers should be banned from his administration, that he does think most women are liars, does not think Porter’s ex-wives are telling the truth, and does not think there is anything wrong with putting men with a history of spousal abuse in sensitive positions. After all, in the most unfiltered conduit for his views — his Twitter account — he’s never expressed the views. Instead he’s bemoaned the lack of due process for abusers.


aspirational economics

the personal creation of wealth

rhetorical claim: liberals  choose redistributionist economics over aspirational economics because they frown upon the personal creation of wealth. In the name of social justice and government, they conduct paternalistic class war that is irrelevant to people’s real needs. Aspiration is being subsumed by ideology.

rhetorical effect: arguing for “aspiration” as an absolute justifies development schemes, total deregulation (leading to more drilling and mining for example), privatization, and a social Darwinism (tough luck if you don’t succeed==no excuses allowed). These terms are all part of the income defense industry.


getting to keep more of your hard-earned dollars

rhetorical claim: tax cuts will allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.

rhetorical effect: vilifies inheritance; justifies huge tax cuts for the wealthy; masks income disparity and inequality by valorizing wages, no matter how meager or stagnant; equates government with confiscation, and pits all government against workers.



rhetorical claim: fairness matters when it comes to confiscatory taxes, government mandates and onerous government regulation. The Tea Party was all about making America fair again by leveling the playing field so all Americans have the opportunity to create personal wealth (see above).

rhetorical effect: for the 1% to keep winning, they need to brand themselves as the 99%, the friend of the working man. Fairness matters in terms of perception, not reality.


human well-being

rhetorical claim: the great American hope is that you can advance on your own merits, not be propped up by the welfare state or the government. Human well-being above all means the opportunity for an earned success,

rhetorical effect: the big lie of the anti-government, free market ideologues: that the average American has a chance in a totally rigged economic system. Just follow the money every time to unmask this rhetorical master trope.


bipartisan deal

rhetorical claim: President Trump will veto anything that does not advance all of his demands: a wall on the border and an end to the diversity visa lottery system and family- based migration, which would mean deep cuts to legal immigration. This position constitutes “the mainstream, middle ground on immigration.” GOP senators are making similar claims. John Cornyn (Tex.) says the president shouldn’t budge, because his proposal is “enormously generous,” while Democrats are being “heartless” toward the dreamers by failing to accept it. Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.) insists that Trump’s proposal is a “sweet bipartisan deal,” and that if Dems reject it, Republicans are “looking pretty good from a PR standpoint.”

rhetorical effect: moves the so-called middle ground far to the right, then calls it the middle. Greg Sargent best dissects this absurd notion of a compromise:

The idea that the tradeoff Republicans want represents the middle-ground, mainstream position in this debate is absurd on its face: a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17 percent of Americans favor cuts to legal immigration, while 81 percent favor legalizing the dreamers. But beyond this, the basic facts of this situation illustrate the absurdity of the GOP position:

  1. Trump is the one who ended protections for the dreamers to begin with.
  2. Trump then said he wanted Congress to come up with a bipartisan solution protecting them in a more permanent way.
  3. Trump has repeatedly said protecting the dreamers is the right thing to do. Whether he means this or not is beside the point; perhaps entirely because he doesn’t want to be blamed for driving them underground, he wants to be associated with an outcome in which they are protected.
  4. Dem and GOP senators produced a version of the deal Trump asked for, one in which the dreamers would be legalized in exchange for cutting diversity visas and nixing any possibility of legalization for the dreamers’ parents. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer even expressed openness to giving Trump money for his wall.
  5. Trump rejected those offers. Dems repeatedly asked administration officials what further concessions they might accept and got no answer. Now officials are threatening a veto if Trump doesn’t get everything he wants, and Republicans are describing this as the middle-ground position…Trump and most Republicans will very likely oppose the bills that give both sides some of what they want and continue to insist on basically giving Trump all of what he wants. This is not a balanced situation, particularly since Trump wants to be associated with protecting the dreamers anyway. It is true that many congressional Republicans don’t actually want to protect the dreamers and view doing this as a concession. But they are nonetheless going along with Trump in demanding far more in concessions than Democrats are. The Republicans’ position is that they won’t protect the dreamers unless Democrats give Trump all the border-security money and deep cuts to legal immigration he wants — while calling that a compromise.


good guys with guns

thoughts and prayers

rhetorical claim: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. We offer thoughts and prayers to those who have lost a loved one in a mass shooting incident.

rhetorical effect: precludes or derails gun control debates with arguments over school safety training, mental health, terrorist threats, etc.–talk about anything else except banning assault rifles, background checks, unregulated gun show sales, etc. Calling for prayer makes mass shootings sound like acts of god.


gun confiscation

rhetorical claim: the liberal solution to gun violence is to seize all weapons in America.

rhetorical effect: confuses common-sense gun control, such as banning the sales of automatic weapons, enhanced background checks, etc.–with the most draconian solution of total gun seizure. Using the extreme example rules out any middle ground.


the crushing burden of debt

rhetorical claim: Under Obama, America suffered from a crushing and unacceptable burden of debt.

rhetorical effect: this ploy becomes a backdoor way of justifying cruel, draconian budget cuts. The GOP does to themselves what they accuse the Dems of doing in the first place, then blame the Dems and go ahead and do what they wanted to do all along.  The rhetorical kabuki dance works like this: 1) establish that the national debt is too high, 2) nevertheless pass a huge tax cut that is permanent for the plutocrats, temporary for everyone else, 3) after this tax cut creates a huge deficit, return to being a deficit hawk as a pretense to gut all social safety net programs, leaving only the wealthy, corporations and the military shielded. This is the essence of acting in bad faith — pretending to care about things it doesn’t, pretending to serve goals that were the opposite of its actual intentions. Republicans  never cared about deficits; they always wanted to dismantle Medicare, not defend it. They just happen not to be who they pretended to be.

Using this “crushing burden of debt” as an excuse, the GOP proposes the cruelest budget ever, as explained by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Less than two months after signing massive tax cuts that largely benefit those at the top of the economic ladder, President Trump has put forward a 2019 budget that cuts basic assistance that millions of families struggling to get by need to help pay the rent, put food on the table, and get health care.  The cuts would affect a broad range of low- and moderate-income people, including parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities.  Taken together, the cuts are far deeper than any ever enacted and would deepen poverty and hardship and swell the ranks of the uninsured.

These cuts fly in the face of the Administration’s rhetoric about expanding opportunity for those facing difficulties in today’s economy and helping more people work.The budget also scales back efforts to promote opportunity and upward mobility, such as by cutting both job training and programs that make college more affordable.  These cuts fly in the face of the Administration’s rhetoric about expanding opportunity for those facing difficulties in today’s economy and helping more people work.

The GOP budget cuts  health care, food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), housing and home energy assistance, income assistance for people with disabilities, funding to states for other supports for low-income families, grants and loans to make college more affordable, and non-defense discretionary programs as a whole.


balanced news coverage

rhetorical claim: Washington gridlock is the fault of both parties, so news coverage must be balanced by blaming both parties.

rhetorical effect: “balance” is the fig leaf covering over the fact that the GOP is lying about their means and aims (see “the crushing burden of debt,” above). “Balance” in this case actually means catastrophic imbalance and draconian cuts. “Fair and balanced” is of course the foundational lie at the heart of Fox News. “Balance” is not the same thing as telling the truth.


a cry for help

a searching review for compliance

rhetorical claim: Idaho should be permitted to technically break the law by allowing the offering of health insurance policies that do not ACA standards. This circumvention of draconian Obamacare standards is “a cry for help” by a state seeking more affordable coverage options for its residents. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says that the Idaho program would be subject to “searching review for compliance” with federal law. “We have a duty to enforce the law as Congress has written it,” Mr. Azar said. But he added that the federal government must proceed with “a great deal of deliberation and caution and care” in assessing the Idaho plan.

Dean L. Cameron, the director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, said in an interview on Thursday that insurers could start selling the new state-based health plans as early as April.

“We are trying to salvage the market,” Mr. Cameron said. “The young and healthy people of all ages have left the market. We are trying to bring them back. Our goal is to help Idaho families.”

Blue Cross of Idaho said this week that it would offer five such plans. “The Affordable Care Act marketplace has become unaffordable for Idaho’s middle-class uninsured,” the company said, and it told consumers that the new plans could cost “up to 50 percent less” than plans that comply with the federal law.

rhetorical effect: The only thing they’re “searching” for is a way out of ACA mandates. HHS’s “review” is a sham process that in the end will justify junk health care insurance. In a classic GOP inversion, law-breaking is reframed as a “cry for help” and an act of consumer protection.

no collusion

rhetorical claim: Vice President Mike Pence said that “it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those [Russian] efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Mr. Trump’s defenders, cite the word “unwitting” in the Mueller indictments— that the indictment used to describe certain “members, volunteers and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local community outreach” who had interacted with the Russians.

In other words, as the White House put it in a statement on Friday, “NO COLLUSION.” The president repeated the claim himself in a tweet, grudgingly acknowledging Russia’s “anti-US campaign,” but emphasizing that it had started “long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”

rhetorical effect: changes the subject because that’s not what intelligence officials concluded. “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” said the report released shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

It’s true that, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an announcement, these particular indictments do not allege that any American knew about the influence campaign, nor that the campaign had changed the outcome of the election. But that’s quite different from saying that there was no collusion or impact on the election. As Mr. Rosenstein also said, the special counsel’s investigation is continuing, and there are many strands the public still knows little or nothing about.


Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Feb 7-13, 2018



rhetorical claim: infrastructure and military spending are being squeezed by runaway discretionary spending.

rhetorical effect: these closely-related terms load the deck in favor of more miitary spending and blame the poor for the declining US infrastructure. Trump never says that military spending is “squeezing” health care provision, nursing home and nutritional subsidies, Medicare and Medicaid and all social safety net programs. Even though the US military is by far the most expensive in the world, it will never be accused of “runaway” spending.


the dossier saga

rhetorical claim: the whole Steele dossier saga shows that Justice Dept. and FBI to be on rgue missions to undermoine Donald Trump. This ongoing saga is the lowest point in government integrity since Watergate.

rhetorical effect: makes the GOP’s unsubstantiated claims a fait accomplie; calling it a saga gives it the appearance of being a “deep state” conspiracy of epic proportions.


restoring the credibility of the FBI

rhetorical claim: we need either an independent investigation into the FBI’s and Justice Department’s hijacking of the 2016 Presidential election in order to restore their credibility.

rhetorical effect: Assumes the very thing it wishes to prove and accepts as a given the the Justice Dept. and FBI need to have their credibility “restored.” What most needs restoring is the reputation and integrity of the GOP.



un- American

rhetorical claim: Dems who failed to applaud the President at the State of the Union address were treasonous and un-American.

rhetorical effect: let’s get this straight: refusing to applaud the Trumpster is treasonous, but meeting with Russians to get campaign dirt on Hillary is “just politics.” Trump obviously doesn’t know what constitutes treason, but neither do his core supporters, all of whom would like to “lock her up” or just plain execute her. Also, is it even possible to be un-American if you are an American citizen? Technically, in that case, whatever you do is American. Also, who gets to decide the definition of being an American? As explained by Frank Bruni:

That meandering air masks a considered ploy: As a distraction and deflection, he routinely accuses his adversaries of the very wrongdoing that can more credibly be attributed to him. “Treason” is a word too grand to be thrown around casually, but it applies better to a president who minimizes and denigrates clear evidence that a foreign power meddled in an American election — and makes no real effort to prevent that from happening again — than it does to a bunch of lawmakers who decline to salute him. Their actions are largely theatrical. His are substantively dangerous.

Never has a president been so gifted at projection, the psychological tic by which a person divines in others what’s so deeply embedded in himself. Democrats, he said, were “selfish,” putting their own feelings above the country’s welfare. The man who signed tax legislation that benefits his business empire and spends roughly one of every three days at a Trump-branded property wouldn’t know anything about that.

He doesn’t engage the substance of any opposition to him or investigation of him. He just invalidates the agents of it. That diverts the discussion from facts to name-calling, which is a game that nobody ever wins.

If journalists are documenting his falsehoods, they themselves must be fabulists. If judges rule against him, they must be biased. If federal law enforcement officials have suspicions about him or people who worked for him, they must be corrupt hacks. If Democrats don’t congratulate him for making America great again, they must be traitors.

Soon there is no one to trust but Trump, or no one to trust at all. That’s the point. He’s inoculating himself, and no price — not the reputations of individuals who have behaved honorably, not the viability of institutions that are crucial to the health of our democracy — is too steep to pay.


a government of laws

rhetorical claim: Robbie Mueller is not following the rule of law because his investigation is based on false pretenses, deception of the FISA court, and the illegal pursuit of a criminal case instead of a national security case, which is the only kind of case he is authorized to pursue.

rhetorical effect: the only “government of laws” that the GOP believes in are the laws that are interpreted the way they like them to be–more broadly than warranted in Hillary’s case, more narrowly than warranted in Trump’s case.


using our troops as hostages

rhetorical claim: Defense hawks have pushed to bust the military spending caps put in place by sequestration, but more dovish Democrats say they will only go along if there is a corresponding increase in domestic spending. In other words, they want more butter in exchange for more guns. Many tea partiers in the House have been adamant that they won’t accept significant growth in discretionary spending to strengthen the safety net at home, even in exchange for more military money.

“I will remind you that the only reason we do not have a full budget agreement is because Democrats continue to hold funding for our government hostage on an unrelated issue,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters at a news conference yesterday. “They must stop using our troops as pawns in a game of politics!”

rhetorical effect: Hiding behind the troops, or calling them “hostages”  are not only outright lies, but appropriate the military as a GOP political prop. Makes any increases in domestic spending contingent on parallel increases in military spending, even though the two don’t necessarily have anything to with one another. As explained by Chuck Schumer: “Democrats have made our position in these negotiations very clear,” “We support an increase in funding for our military and our middle class. The two are not mutually exclusive. We don’t want to do just one and leave the other behind.” Ryan also makes it sound as if only the Dems engage in a “game of politics.”


inclusionary zoning

rhetorical claim: mandates for low-cost housing, often called inlcusionary zoning, actually make housing less afforable for everyone else.

rhetorical effect: another rhetorical inversion, call it reverse axiomatics: social safety net spending hurts the poor; less government regulation leads to more transparency  because the market clears itself and values information; tax cuts for the rich are good for the poor, gun control laws will only lead to more gun violence, etc.



rhetorical claim: the Steele dossier was compiled under the watchful eyes of Christopher Steele’s paymasters–the Clinton mafia. No Clintonistas, no dossier. No dossier, no FISA warrant. Clinton should be the one investigated for collusion with the Russians and for using the criminal justice for a political smear campaign.

rhetorical effect: “Paymasters” haven’t surfaced since the McCarthy era, when all Russian contacts were so identified. Paymasters are illicit and conspiratorial, as opposed to being just plain clients paying for opposition research. Making every piece of Dem opposition research nefarious castes their entire campaign as fraudulent at best, and a criminal conspiracy to tamper with elections at worst.



rhetorical claim: progressive ideologues hae hijacked the Democratic party in he name of moral purity, identity politics, hatred of all TRump voters, and a constant alarmism about Trump as dictator, or something.

rhetorical effect: calling them “ideologuesmakes Dems sound inflexible and  narrow-minded.  The only Republicans called “ideologues” are those who oppose any of Trump’s policies. Standing on principle is now seen as merely being “ideiological”–as if principles are just a form of political expediency.


Anglo-American heritage of the law

rhetorical claim: Jeff Sessions: “I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process,” Sessions told members of the National Sheriffs’ Association during their winter conference in Washington.

He added: “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

rhetorical effect:  more dog-whistle racist politics, conflating common law with white supremacy. Especially pertinent to the Trump administration’s obsession with deporting and limiting immigrants.


the Man of the People

rhetorical claim: as promised, Donald Trump has delivered foe the working American: lower taxes, an economic boom, low unemployment, cheaper and better health care, increased Medicare and Medicaid,and the end of crony capitalism favoring the wealthy.

rhetorical effect: covers over some inconvenient facts: record deficits, huge cuts to all social safety net programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, huge, permanent  tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, and cosmetic, temporary ones for middle and lower class taxpayers, etc. As best expressed by Eugene Robinson:

The idea of Donald Trump as some sort of Man of the People was laughable from the start — a boastful plutocrat who lives in a gold-plated aerie above Fifth Avenue, claiming lunch-bucket solidarity with factory workers and coal miners. He sold it, though, largely by cementing a racial and cultural kinship and shamelessly misrepresenting his intentions.

Trump tells little lies all the time. But this is the Big Lie that must be constantly exposed between now and the November election: Trump is worsening society’s bias in favor of the wealthy — and laughing at the chumps who put him in office.



Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in The Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories and fever swamps, Jan 30-Feb. 6, 2018

red tape



rhetorical claim: the President’s infrastructure plan will eliminate obstructionist bureaucratic red tape. It’s past time for the government to get out of the way so the private sector can get projects done faster and cheaper. We need to streamline the regulatory process so government can partner with the private sector to make progress.

rhetorical effect: assumes that government regulation only exists to cause problems for noble job creators. Will justify the basic dismantling of the regulatory state. The Center for American Progress explains what kind of “red tape” the administration wants to cast aside:

As detailed in the leaked proposal, the Trump administration’s plan would require fundamental changes to no fewer than 10 bedrock environmental laws that protect the nation’s clean air, clean water, wildlife, and national parks. The plan would hollow out the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that requires federal project sponsors to consult with stakeholders who would be affected by new projects and identify ways to reduce their impact on the environment, public health, and cultural resources. The Endangered Species Act is also in the crosshairs, as several provisions would prioritize new development over the protection of wildlife that is on the brink of extinction. The Trump administration proposes significant changes to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to make it easier for corporations to break ground and avoid inconvenient air and water quality protections. The proposal even includes some mystifying provisions, such as one to give Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unilateral authority to site natural gas pipelines in national parks.

“Streamlining” seems to mean “ignore the health and safety of the communities where these projects are placed.” And “partnering” means privatizing. As Paul Waldman sums it up in the Washington Post:

So we need a federal infrastructure bill. The problem with this one is that it’s being sold as something it isn’t, it makes it harder for states and localities to afford infrastructure projects, it prioritizes private profits over public needs, and in the end if it passes we’d wind up paying more and getting less. In other words, it’s just about what you’d expect from this president.


restoring confidence in law enforcement

rhetorical claim: The House memo is not about “attacking the FBI” or “our law enforcement professionals,” as Democrat Adam Schiff insists. This is about restoring confidence in a law enforcement agency that played an unprecedented role in a U.S. presidential election regarding both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

rhetorical effect: Assumes the very thing they proclaim: that “confidence” in the FBI needs to be “restored.” Significantly, they refer to “confidence” in the FBI–a state of mind subject to shifting political winds–not the actual workings of the FBI.  The only reason “confidence” is purported to need restoration is that the  GOP has launched a year-long effort to undercut the FBI’s reputation. So now they use the success of their undermining as a rationale for further undermining. They’ve learned some lessons from the Russians about how to concoct and carry out disinformation campaigns.


the global rules-based order

rhetorical claim: In the global rules-based order all countries in the world, bar a few rogue states, deal with each other according to an agreed set of legal, economic and military rules.  However, clever foreigners have manipulated the international system, so that America now trades at a massive disadvantage and is forced to accept hostile rulings by international tribunals. When it comes to security, Mr Trump complains that America spends billions giving cheap protection to ungrateful allies. He is demanding change.

rhetorical effect: as Gordon Rachman argues in the Financial Times,

“You break it, you own it,” runs the pottery shop slogan. But when it comes to the global rules-based order, the Trump administration’s view seems to be, “We no longer own it, so we are going to break it.” America is turning against the world it made — and the consequences are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

The coming year will be a big test of how far the Trump administration is willing to go with the US potentially launching a multi-pronged assault on the international trading system: demanding radical changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, hobbling the World Trade Organization and slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. Tension between the US and South Korea, or within the Nato alliance, could easily surface this year — raising questions about America’s commitment to the rules that govern world security.

Probable effects include increasing US isolation, a revolt of the US business community if NAFTA is overturned but not replaced, a lack of allies when the US tries to organize stepped-up boycotts against Iran or North Korea, and a more or less permanent state of chaos and uncertainty in the international order–in other words, exactly the way Trump plays it domestically.  The only “rule” that Trump plays by is to refuse to play by any “rule” that he hasn’t himself created.


unmatched power

rhetorical claim: America will no longer be taken advantage of, and will use its umatched power to again dominate the world.

rhetorical effect: purposely confuses moral authority with might, persuasion with bullying, and inspiration with intimidation. We used to have “unmatched” influence because we were seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Now we are educed to just having unmatched military power.


we the people

rhetorical claim: as Trump said in the SOTU “It is we the people who are making America great again.”

rhetorical effect: excludes half the nation from any presidential praise. Apparently immigrants, government workers, anyone advocating consumer or environmental protection etc. do not count as part of the “we.” Fortifies divisiveness and undermines any hopes of bipartisanship. Note also that it’s not at all clear what “we the people” are actually doing to make America great again, since all they seem to be getting is a tax cut. In other words, the rhetorical effect is to praise people for doing nothing but supporting Trump: another self-fulfilling prophecy. By rhetorically claiming itself to be a stunning success, the Trump administration obscures the fact that it has created no new social programs, gutted environmental protections, choked off voting and civil rights, cost millions their health coverage, given huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, and destabilized the entire world. All it has done to date is destroy, nullify and negate, making it the most reactionary administration ever. was the pursuit of “unmatched power” against an ungrateful or hostile world of “unfair trade deals” and would-be migrants destined for murderous gangs.


the liberal FBI

rhetorical claim: the FBI is corrupted with an ant-Trump virus, and must be purged of holdover Clintonistas and careerist liberals.

rhetorical effect: Obscures the fact that Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, saw fit to apply for this warrant’s renewal. This suggests that one of the most senior figures in Trump’s own Justice Department thought it was credible that Trump had someone compromised by Russia on his campaign. Only in a crazy alternate universe does that exculpate the president.

Unless, that is, you believe that it is illegitimate for intelligence agencies to be watching Trump associates. And to believe that, you have to start with the premise that Trump is innocent and the agencies are corrupt. The controversy around the Nunes memo works to insinuate these assumptions into the public debate. It may also give Trump the very thinnest of pretexts to fire Rosenstein, which would be a first step toward attempting to shut down the Russia investigation.


that’s politics

rhetorical claim: “that’s politics,” says the President about his son’s meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary.

rhetorical effect: opposition research is suddenly put on the same moral plane as collusion with a foreign power, just as when Trump equated obstruction of justice with “fighting back.” Classical inversion and undermining of words, so that they become synonyms for something they aren’t.