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, June 1-4, 2017

privatizing infrastructure

rhetorical claim: Transferring government assets to private parties will lead to new efficiencies in roads, bridges, airports, waterways, etc. Eliminating onerous government regulatory oversight and burdensome environmental reviews will lead to millions of new jobs. .

rhetorical effect: Russian oligarchs amassed their fortunes when government assets were transferred to private parties at bargain-basement prices by a regime based on cronyism. The tax savings from eliminating these programs from the federal budget will be more than offset by tolls on using roads, airports, maybe even water systems.


total authority

rhetorical claim: just as Trump says he gives the military “total authority” over decisions to use US force abroad, he deserves the right to get his way in domestic matters as well because he won the election in a landslide.

rhetorical effect: as argued by Masha Gessen:

Mr. Trump has admitted that being president is harder than he thought. He does not, however, appear to be humbled by this discovery. More likely, he is, in keeping with his understanding of politics, resentful because his opponents — his predecessor, the elites, the establishment — have made things so complicated. If they had not, things would be as he thinks they should be: One man would give orders, and they would be carried out. He would not have to deal with recalcitrant legislators or, worse, meddlesome investigators. One nation, with the biggest bombs in the world, would dominate every other country and would not have to concern itself with the endlessly intricate relationships among and between all those other countries. The United States would run like a business, an old-fashioned top-down company of the sort Mr. Trump used to run, the kind of company managed through the sheer exertion of power.


Pittsburgh, Not Paris

rhetorical claim: In dropping out of the Paris Accord, Trump has put America first, again. We will no longer be taken advantage of by other nations, who were laughing at us because they had no intention of cutting their own emissions.  As Trump put it in his Rose Garden speech, “At what point does America get demeaned?”

rhetorical effect: strengthens the pernicious myth that the New World Order–particularly the Europeans–are a vast socialist conspiracy aimed at undermining US interests. Also plays to his crucial midwestern political base, who feel sucker-punched by everyone–the Democrats, the Deep State, the EU, etc. “Fortress America” is reborn and re-energized.


the foreign arena

rhetorical claim: According to Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster, “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that 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: replaces a somewhat benign view of the world as a mutual cooperation society to a starkly Darwinian Thunder Dome of unvarying competition. Ridicules the whole idea of community, and equates military strength with moral strength. Argues that selfishness is the main driver of human affairs. As David Brooks argues,

In the essay, McMaster and Cohn make explicit the great act of moral decoupling woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest.

We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases.

The error is that it misunderstands what drives human action. Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals……

Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.

By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.


the Resistance

rhetorical claim: federal appeals courts defying Trump administration policies are a holdover from the Obama tyranny, in effect serving as “the Resistance,” and punishing the American people for having voted for the wrong presidential candidate.

rhetorical effect: paves the way for courts to become complete political lackeys, as in a banana republic; undermines judicial independence and separation of powers; equates winning the electoral college with a mandate to silence judicial dissent.



rhetorical claim: Donald Trump represents the authority of the people. As the first truly populist President, he must battle the “deep state” constantly.

rhetorical effect: disguises Trump’s plutopopulism.


disability-welfare state

rhetorical claim: like the Deep State, the disability-welfare state will do everything it can to resist Trump. This permanent state of dependence serves as a de facto guaranteed annual income to millions of takers.

rhetorical effect: shames people with disabilities, accusing them of fraud; makes any social service programs seem hypocritical and wasteful; provides an enemy to take pot shots at.


undue burden

rhetorical claim: as is the case with Dodd-Frank, or the fiduciary bill, government over-regulation stifles economic freedom, innovation, and growth. This undue burden on capitalism shackles American prosperity.

rhetorical effect: likens any federal regulation of the private sector to a burden rather than a safeguard. Decides what is “undue,” but never explains that calculus. After all, is there any “due” burden in the mind of the GOP?


climate alarmism

rhetorical claim: As argued in The American Thinker:

The climate agenda is much bigger than it seems; it moves hundreds of billions of dollars annually and demands trillions. In the ’90s, the science wasn’t settled regarding the numerical values of the effect of human-emitted infrared active gases and particulates.  But there has never been evidence justifying alarm.  Today, the science is settled against climate alarmism.  Throughout history, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been much higher than it is today or is expected to be in the foreseeable future, yet life has thrived.  Carbon dioxide is the product of human breath and essential for plant survival.  The global temperature trends over the last hundred years show no correlation with carbon dioxide concentration.  The alarmist denial of this basic scientific knowledge makes the climate agenda an effective weapon of mass social destruction.

At long last, we finally have a president who is willing and able to abolish climate alarmism in America. The climate agenda must be renounced for its scientific invalidity.  All the economic and political reasons to reject it remain in force, but invoking them tempts European politicians to engage in virtue-signaling and ritual scapegoating of the U.S.

Climate alarmism will not simply fade away.  Something receiving hundreds of billions of dollars annually cannot fade away.  Besides, very powerful political forces have tied their destiny to climate alarmism.  In the U.S., these forces include Big Green, the mis-educational complex, and possibly even the Democratic Party.  Abroad, most of the European political establishment is on the hook.  Together, they wield a lot of power and know how to use it.  On the other hand, a mere renouncement by the U.S. government would deliver a knockout to climate alarmism.  Abandoning the unratified Paris agreement would be a small step in the right direction.

rhetorical effect: In the name of corporate profits and deregulation, their distortions cover over the big lie that the market and technology will solve any environmental crisis. They perpetuate this lie by ridiculing climate change scientific researchers as “purported” scientists; likening environmental concerns to a giant conspiracy theory; calling any climate change press coverage “media hysteria”; claiming that there is no such thing as “settled science”, and making environmentalists out to be either fools,  con artists or part of a conspiracy of “global activists.”


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