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. 7-12, 2017.

Islamic reform

rhetorical claim: We imperil America so long as we blithely ignore the fact that a significant minority–perhaps even a majority–of Muslims worldwide support sharia law. As Andrew McCarthy puts it in the National Review,

We are talking about a framework for the political organization of the state, and about the implementation of a legal corpus that is blatantly discriminatory, hostile to liberty, and — in its prescriptions of crime and punishment — cruel. Islam must reform so that this totalitarian political ideology, sharia supremacism (or, if you prefer, “radical Islam”), is expressly severable from Islam’s truly religious tenets. To fashion an immigration policy that serves our vital national-security interests without violating our commitment to religious liberty, we must be able to exclude sharia supremacists while admitting Muslims who reject sharia supremacism and would be loyal to the Constitution.

rhetorical effect: builds in a way to discriminate against Muslims while all the while sounding like a common-sense ban of just terrorists. How sharia radicals would be identified, or how this term could help but be applied to any Muslim, is unclear. How this doesn’t constitute a religious test is also unclear. But this lack of clarity won’t matter because the public will be be skeptical of any Muslim accused of being a Shariaist. Should ICE be deciding what is “truly religious”?


individual health empowerment

rhetorical claim: Obamacare repeal will lead to greater consumer choice (see below), cost savings, greater access to health care, health savings accounts, and greater consumer responsibility for their own health care.

rhetorical effect: the only things empowered will be the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The will be more choice, but the choice will be between shoddy, junk policies with high deductibles and lots of restrictions. These policies might cost less, but in the long run will cost much more because they won’t begin to cover even such things as a broken leg or kidney stone. The health savings accounts are a chimera–like the junk policies, they won’t begin to cover any even semi-expensive medical condition. Worst of all, shifting responsibility to the patient is just con-artist talk for blaming the victim.


scare campaign

rhetorical claim: Opposition to the repeal of Obamacare is just hyper-hysterical posturizing, aimed at needlessly scaring the voters.

rhetorical effect: opposition to any Trump policies or executive orders will soon be characterized this way. All dissent is thus framed as being in bad faith, and cynically aimed at recapturing power.


college speech codes

rhetorical claim: free speech has become so suppressed on college campuses that their lecture halls and classrooms have turned into re-education camps. Students are being brainwashed, infantalized, and turned into prudish censors by over-protective college administrators.

rhetorical effect: creates a hostile atmosphere condoning the expression of ideas of racial hatred, bullying, discrimination, homophobia, misogyny and American imperialism. By not considering both the causes and effects of speech, manages to de-contextualize hate speech and make it seem morally equivalent to tolerant and inclusive–while still critical and probing–discourse. By confusing “free” speech with “hate” speech, this position incites violence and prejudice.


politically-connected special interests

rhetorical claim: the corrupt Obama administration doled out political favors to politically-connected special interests, including teachers’ unions, Solyndra and other “green” companies, minority and LGBT groups, etc.

rhetorical effect: leads to the ridiculous claim that Trump is ‘cleaning the swamp,” despite his billionaire cabinet, Goldman Sachs alumni club, and flood of tax and regulatory and breaks that have happened the the first three weeks, including green-lighting the Keystone Pipeline, calls to eliminate class action suits; calls to eliminate essential benefits or price controls in the ACA; doing away with with fiduciary requirements for investment advisers working with retirees, ending limits on the dumping of mining waste in local waterways, eliminating the Dodd-Frank transparency rules for corporate executive compensation, etc.



rhetorical claim: sanctuary cities are akin to secessionist South Carolina in 1832 insofar as they unconstitutionally deny federal power in their borders. By nullifying the constitution,  they make immigration reform that much harder.

rhetorical effect: falsely equates community safety with a crackdown on immigrants; inhibits undocumented immigrants from co-operating with law enforcement; spreads fear throughout the immigrant community; equates the protection of immigranr rights with subversion of the US Constitution.


vouchers and charters

rhetorical claim: Betsy DeVos scares liberals because she cares more about the education of black children than she does about teachers’ unions. Anyone opposing her is a racist (because they in essence support failing inner city schools) and a bigot (because they support vouchers for religious schools.) All her opponents care about is keeping the paychecks flowing to the teachers’ unions.

rhetorical effect: further erosion of under-funded public schools; emergence of a two-tiered education system, one public, one private; the privatization of thought in American education; the destruction of teachers’ unions.


consumer protection

rhetorical claim:  consumers want less “protection” and more choice (competition); in terms of the ACA, consumers want fewer mandated essential benefits and more price competition.  Especially courtesy of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, consumer “protection” is a government shakedown of businesses and a threat to consumers caused by less competition. Policies that would actually benefit consumers would include limits on class action suits, relaxed laws on consumer credit and fraud, and less regulation of payday lenders, etc. The best consumer protection is to let the free market work its magic.

rhetorical effect: the end of class action suits; increased consumer fraud; misleading advertising, and fraudulent and exorbitant loan practices. What consumers are said to “really want”–lower prices, more choice–runs counter to what they “need”–transparent business practices, fraud protection, essential benefits, price controls to stop monopoly pricing, etc. To the GOP, consumer protection actually means business protection.


what people actually want

rhetorical claim: whether referring to health care options, school choice,  financial planners, or consumer protection, consumers want less regulation, lower costs, and  and more options. Only the free, competitive market can provide this trifecta. Aka, putting students, patients, retirees, and businesses first.

 rhetorical effect: do people actually want the right to be bilked? Beware of any populist voice supporting positions that cater to the elite and further inequality.


rhetorical claim: winner-take-all politics; no more multilateral trade deals; America First; the relaxation of moral norms when fighting terrorism; justification of torture, invasion of other countries, plunder of other countries’ resources, etc.

rhetorical effect: perhaps best expressed by the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens:

Mr. Trump’s purpose… isn’t to prevent a recurrence of bad behavior. It’s to permit it. In this reading, Mr. Putin’s behavior isn’t so different from ours. It’s largely the same, except more honest and effective. The U.S. could surely defeat ISIS—if only it weren’t hampered by the kind of scruples that keep us from carpet bombing Mosul in the way the Russians obliterated Aleppo. The U.S. could have come out ahead in Iraq—if only we’d behaved like unapologetic conquerors, not do-gooder liberators, and taken their oil.

This also explains why Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, calling the idea “insulting [to] the world” and seeing it as an undue burden on our rights and opportunities as a nation. Magnanimity, fair dealing, example setting, win-win solutions, a city set upon a hill: All this, in the president’s mind, is a sucker’s game, obscuring the dog-eat-dog realities of life. Among other distinctions, Mr. Trump may be our first Hobbesian president.



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