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. 24-30, 2017

therapeutic foreign policy

rhetorical claim: Obama’s feel-good, apologetic, fuzzy-headed foreign policy assuaged liberal neuroses about asserting American power, but amounted to a “speak softly and carry a small stick” policy. Those near-treasonous, cosmopolitan, globalist days are over because Trump is not reflective or apologetic about putting “America first” in foreign policy.

rhetorical effect: such swaggering belligerence condones, even demands, bullying, jingoism, military adventurism, foreign entanglements, encouragement of militant Islamic jihadists, and knee-jerk, hair-trigger aggression. The opposite of therapeutic isn’t unreflective, but, instead, untreated; raw id  should not be driving foreign policy because recklessness exacts a heavy psychological price later on.



rhetorical claim: dissent has meant many things to liberals over the years: the highest form of patriotism during the Bush era , obstructionism during the Obama years, and now resistance in the Trump era.

rhetorical effect: dissent becomes potentially criminalized during the Trump era.


traditional partnership with the states

rhetorical claim: the Obama EPA set itself up as the sole regulator of every waterway in America, but the Trump EPA  will defer to the states, which should reassure developers that jobs and profits are just around the corner.

rhetorical effect: as with health care, the Trump administration will destroy unwanted programs and policies using the smokescreen of turning them over to the states. Thus underfunded programs or policies will just turn people away or disappear, and federal environmental regulations will go unenforced.


America First

rhetorical claim: American unilateralism incarnate: any foreign policy decisions or actions will be based solely on American interests, American gain. Foreign Policy is a zero-sum game of only winners and losers.

rhetorical effect: the end of the post-1945 era of American enlightened, liberal self-interest. In Trump’s instrumentalized vision, it’s the US vs. the world, with no thought to helping allies prosper. As best argued by Charles Krauthammer,:

Some claim that putting America first is a reassertion of American exceptionalism. On the contrary, it is the antithesis. It makes America no different from all the other countries that define themselves by a particularist blood-and-soil nationalism. What made America exceptional, unique in the world, was defining its own national interest beyond its narrow economic and security needs to encompass the safety and prosperity of a vast array of allies. A free world marked by open trade and mutual defense was President Truman’s vision, shared by every president since.

Until now…..

We are embarking upon insularity and smallness. Nor is this just theory. Trump’s long-promised but nonetheless abrupt withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the momentous first fruit of his foreign policy doctrine. Last year the prime minister of Singapore told John McCain that if we pulled out of the TPP “you’ll be finished in Asia.” He knows the region.

For 70 years, we sustained an international system of open commerce and democratic alliances that has enabled America and the West to grow and thrive. Global leadership is what made America great. We abandon it at our peril.


sympathy fatigue

rhetorical claim: minorities and immigrants have unfairly taken advantage of America to get unwarranted advantages over white Americans, especially older white men. They sneer at American norms and values, and consider themselves better than everyone else. Their greed and laziness has worn out any natural sympathy white Americans once had for them

rhetorical effect: life becomes a Darwinian, zeo-sum, tribal struggle. The social safety net gets destroyed, racism , misogyny, and homophobia become normalized, and bitter national divisions widen.


pro-active policing

rhetorical claim: “stop-and frisk” and “broken windows” policing tactics are the best defense against crime, but Black Lives Matter activists and the Obama Justice Department have made the police unwilling to do their jobs in controlling crime. Pro-active policing is what the citizens of the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods want. The federal government will no longer punish police for stopping people who are acting suspiciously.

rhetorical effect: the end to all Justice Dept. police conduct consent decrees, and thus the effective end of any external monitoring of police conduct. The racist practices of pro-active policing will thus go on unchecked, creating more racial animus.


union giveaways (aka, carveouts)

rhetorical claim: the Obama National Labor Relations Board wnt beyond the law to strengthen unions–especially public sector unions. Their weapons of choice were illegal administrative orders, many of which were overturned in the courts. The days of catering to labor unions are gone forever.

rhetorical effect: any concession to a labor union is now considered nothing but an illegal usurpation of power or an unwarranted handout. Worker rights and workplace safety will no longer be protected in an environment where the prevailing ideology is “you’re lucky to have a job.”


in dispute

rhetorical claim: “alternative facts” are necessary because the media always lies and distorts. As the opposition party, the media has declared war on Trump and truth. Everything they say can and should be disputed.

rhetorical effect: Truth is the first casualty of war.  Facts become lies from the “dishonest media” and lies become facts. E.J. Dionne, in the Washington Post puts it this way:

When confronted with untruths, all journalists have one and only one choice: to call them what they are. They cannot, without misleading the public, pretend that there are two sides to a purely factual question. Further, they need to avoid vague language about facts being “in dispute” when there is absolutely no question about what the facts are. Partisans might well emphasize some facts over others. But facts themselves aren’t partisan.

This, in turn, means that reporters may indeed seem “oppositional” when they confront an administration that, day after day, shows so little regard for fact or truth. But this is not the media’s problem. It’s Trump’s.

After a while, no one can differentiate facts from lies, and we enter a form of collective mental illness, as explained by Chris Hedges:

Reality is under assault. Verbal confusion reigns. Truth and illusion have merged. Mental chaos makes it hard to fathom what is happening. We feel trapped in a hall of mirrors. Exposed lies are answered with other lies. The rational is countered with the irrational. Cognitive dissonance prevails. We endure a disquieting shame and even guilt. Tens of millions of Americans, especially women, undocumented workers, Muslims and African-Americans, suffer the acute anxiety of being pursued by a predator. All this is by design. Demagogues always infect the governed with their own psychosis.

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