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, April 6-10, 2017


cleaning up the voter rolls

rhetorical claim: the GOP cleaned up the voter rolls in many states by requiring voter i.d. and other measures designed to stop widespread voter fraud.

rhetorical effect; rather than “cleaning up” the voter rolls, these voter suppression acts have either purged qualified voters or prevented qualified voters from registering. There was nothing to “clean up” because there was no voter fraud to begin with. The only thing that got “cleaned up” was Democrats’ voter turnout.



rhetorical claim: As Hirshi Ali explains, so-called Islamic terrorism is in reality Dawa, the  ceaseless, world-wide ideological campaign waged by Islamists as a complement to jihad. It is the greatest threat facing the West and could well bring about the end of the European Union as we know it. Islam the religion, in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s view, is a Trojan horse that conceals Islamism the political movement.

It is “conducted right under our noses in Europe, and in America. It aims to convert non-Muslims to political Islam and also to push existing Muslims in a more extreme direction. The ultimate goal is to destroy the political institutions of a free society and replace them with Shariah. It ends when an Islamic utopia is achieved. Shariah everywhere!

We need to get away from this game of jihadi Whac-A-Mole and confront “the enemy that is in plain sight—the activists, the Islamists, who have access to all the Western institutions of socialization. They’re there, in families, in schools, in universities, prisons, in the military as chaplains. And we can’t allow them to pursue their aims unchecked.

America needs to be on full alert against political Islam because its program is fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution—with religious pluralism, the equality of men and women, and other fundamental rights, including the toleration of different sexual orientations. When we say the Islamists are homophobic, we don’t mean that they don’t like gay marriage. We mean that they want gays put to death.”

rhetorical effect: an outright ban on all Muslim immigrants, or an ideology test for all would-be visitors from Muslim countries; increased surveillance and detention of  all Muslims in the US, regardless of citizenship.


health insurance market forces

rhetorical claim: the less involvement government has with health insurance, the more efficient the market will be in providing the kind of insurance people actually want.

rhetorical effect: puts all Americans at the mercies of the insurers. Holds out the illusory promise of better care for less money, while all the while diluting actual coverage. Will return health care in the US to being a protection racket for insurance and drug companies and hospitals, rather than a “free” market. The only “choice” consumers will have is how sick they can afford to be.


conflict is attention

attention is influence

rhetorical claim: these two favorite phrases of alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich perfectly capture the heart of Trump’s rhetoric of outrage. Perpetual conflict keeps the spotlight on Trump, stoking the fires of rage in his core supporters.

rhetorical effect: this war against the world can never end and will always demand fresh victims to stoke the fire.


the First Amendment

rhetorical claim: an impediment to effective counter-jihad techniques. Protection of free speech in this case is not American exceptionalism, but, rather, exceptionally handicapping in the war against jihad.

rhetorical effect: the “temporary” suspension of all First Amendment rights as part of a counter-terrorism campaign.

microscopic news coverage

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media’s obsession with the phony Russian election hack story has led them to round-the-clock, microscopic coverage of a non-story.

rhetorical effect: any reporting at all is demeaned as witch-hunting, and any details are pejoratively called “microscopic,” as if they are not visible to the human eye. To merely report new developments in an ongoing story is thus defined a delusional obsession.



rhetorical claim:  Dems castigate Trump cabinet nominees for making profitable investments in the industries they will be regulating. The logic of stigmatizing this experience as a conflict of interest even if the nominees agree to divest escapes all logic.

rhetorical effect: confuses experience with the public regulation of companies with the experience of profiting from their stock. As Betsy DeVos proved, having profited from an industry is no substitute for not knowing anything about policies and regulations governing that industry.


countering Chinese adventurism

rhetorical claim: apologies, acquiescence, disinterest and passivity are terms that no longer describe or apply to Washington’s leaders.  This shift to an “America First” strategy should be demonstrated to the Chinese.

rhetorical effect: any compromise or acknowledgement of China’s core strengths and policies is demonized as an “apology” and a fatal weakness. Peace through strength is an illusion–it just means weakness through bluster.


“I don’t show my hand”

rhetorical claim: President Trump does not tip his hand when it comes to foreign policy–he is a doer, not a talker or apologist, drawing phony “red lines.”

rhetorical effect: this myth of shrewd poker player who never tips his hand provides cover for Trump to erratically lurch from one reactionary policy to its diametric opposite on the turn of a dime. He doesn’t show his hand because he doesn’t have a plan except for the frightening thought of a reactionary military response to any foreign policy threat or slight. The effect of this policy of no policy is explained by The Atlantic’s Eliot Cohen,

Sooner or later, someone needs to explain what Trump’s foreign policy is beyond the macho swagger expressed by Mulvaney, whose hard-power experience has consisted chiefly of earning the enmity of John McCain for trying to slash military budgets as a congressman. At the moment there is no Trump foreign policy doctrine, no coherent explanation of the world as seen by the Trump team, and the broad outlines of their policy for dealing with it. There are threats leveled at North Korea, which will either have to be backed up by force or retreated from in humiliation. There is a far warmer reception for an Egyptian dictator than for a fairly elected German chancellor. There is foreign policy conducted as though the United States government were a Middle Eastern court, where the ruler’s family counts for more than the sovereign’s foreign minister. And there is the invocation of America First, a slogan with a rancid history, as the president knows very well.

Perhaps this will end. Perhaps Secretary Tillerson will find a voice. Perhaps he will somehow lay out a vision of foreign policy that reconciles America’s interests and its values, that reassures allies and promises a steady hand in the years to come. Perhaps he will charm the press as some of his predecessors have. Perhaps he will come to be seen as primus inter pares in shaping U.S. foreign policy. For the moment, however, his silence is as dismaying and depressing as the chirping of Trump’s tweets and the sound of Mr. Mulvaney pounding his unbemedalled chest.

As The New York Times’ Charles Blow puts it,

“I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

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