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, July 1-10, 2017

political stunt

rhetorical claim: state electoral commissions’ refusal to provide the Election Integrity Commission with publicly available voter data is a political stunt

rhetorical effect: calling it a “stunt” rather than a principled position mocks and degrades it, turning voter information into a political time bomb. Appears to be a perfectly innocent, common sense request, whereas it actually is a wolf in sheep’s cloths, requesting privacy data (such as social security numbers and party affiliation) of all voters.


people will die

rhetorical claim: Dems tell us that Medicare cuts will lead to people dying. Rhetoric suggesting that “elected leaders are murderers if they dare pare back the welfare state” is both hypocritical and dangerous, By the Democrats’ logic, Barack Obama killed people. After all, some people lost health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Heck, life expectancy went down for the first time in decades after Obamacare went into effect.

Taken literally, such rhetoric means that entitlement reform is impossible, because any attempt to get our fiscal house in order would require some people, somewhere, to lose some benefits.

rhetorical effect: this justificatory GOP irony works hard to delegitimize any claims that Medicaid cuts will harm people-even that they are cuts at all. This dismissal of claims of harm opens the door for their main black-is-white lies: that Medicaid cuts will “stabilize” insurance markets, will also protect the poor better than ever before. This is analogous to the argument that more consumer “choice” of health plans will give Americans better coverage, instead of merely  eliminating any quality minimums.


heath care standardization and quality minimums

rhetorical claim: more consumer “choice” of health plans will give Americans access to better coverage.

rhetorical effect: “min-med” policies that cover virtually nothing will be allowed to proliferate as insurers rush to tweak plans that cater only the young and healthy; people won’t discover that they aren’t covered until it’s too late; eliminates quality minimums and standardization of health plans; increases likelihood of soaring deductibles, hidden exclusions, and skimpy coverage of actual conditions; makes it impossible to comparison shop health plans; greatly increases opportunities for obfuscation of terms and exclusions (i.e., covering one time of medicine for maybe only a month, or excluding some cancers from coverage altogether). The only “freedom to choose” will be either skimpy policies or Obama-care quality policies that will be too expensive and collapse. Freedom to have access does not mean freedom to afford.


he’s a counter-puncher

rhetorical claim: The president’s tweets is  a fighter and a counterpuncher who needs to return fire on the fake media. When they hot him, he hits back twice as hard.

rhetorical effect: “He’s a fighter” and “He’s a counterpuncher” are not serious arguments. They’re simply euphemistic descriptions of his tendency to let his id run free like an escaped monkey from a cocaine study. He intentionally equates “winning” with dominating the narrative, defining success tautologically as succeeding.


Leftist violence

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media play down incidents such as the Steve Scalise shooting when they are carried out by avowed liberals. They also minimize or ignore the anti-Trump hatred generated by Kathy Griffin, Shakespeare in the Park, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, etc.

rhetorical effect: this fallacy of false equivalency conflates violence with criticism, and criminalizes free speech. In line with the meme that the press is the enemy of the people, this hyperbolic claim of progressive violence also excuses racist hatred and violence on the right.


tax collectors for the entitlement state

rhetorical claim: big government advocates (aka, the dishonest left and the timid right), who see themselves as tax collectors for the entitlement state, are calling for keeping Obamacare’s surtax on investment income. Economic merits do not seem to count in this political fantasia. The reason to repeal the surtax isn’t to reward the rich, but to increase the stock of capital and improve the incentives for capital formation, which in turns increases labor productivity, wages and job creation.

rhetorical effect: this unified field theory of the great Trickle Down is an attempt to cloak the wolf of enormous tax cuts for the wealthy in the sheep’s clothes of greater prosperity for all. The tax cuts come immediately and irretrievably–the wider prosperity not so quickly, even to the vanishing point. Conservative magical thinking orthodoxy is clearly at work here, a kind of domino theory of inevitable causation: tax cuts beget capital, labor productivity and jobs. Tax cuts are thus presented as the magical elixir, fixing all of our economic inequalities, inadequacies, and sluggishness.


the rent-seeking, parasite economy

rhetorical claim: the Beltway’s deep state is a rent-seeking, parasitic economy based on government bloat, regulatory stranglehold over the rest of America, unbridled greed, cultural and social elitism, and unrivaled hypocrisy.

rhetorical effect: any advocate of regulation, equality, justice, or the social safety net is dismissed as a “parasite,”–a blood-sucking vermin drinking up the blood of the real Americans. This is another rhetorical step toward dehumanizing the left, thus justifying violence and persecution against them.


the bonds of culture, faith and tradition

rhetorical claim: radical Islamic terrorists are trying to undermine the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that unite the US and the West against barbarism. Any defense of justification of them thus erodes civilization itself.

rhetorical effect: revives the “blood, God and country” totalitarian militarism of Nazi Germany. Conflates identity, nationalism and religion in a way that criminalizes any minority religious beliefs and castigates them as uncivilized. Promotes a zero-sum clash of civilizations: whenever one wins, the other loses. Dehumanizes Islam and essentializes white, Eurocentric values. It’s not clear who “our civilization” will “triumph” over, but it is clear that Trump sees a coming cultural Armageddon and wants to be Crusader In Chief.


The modern day  Presidential

rhetorical claim: Trump’s tweets and campaign rallies are the “modern day Presidential,” and thus a departure from boring speeches and policy papers.

rhetorical effect: debases public discourse; gives rise to character assassination of opponents; offer simple solutions to complex problems; allows for contradiction and ambiguity. Leads to a total public breakdown of political communication.


responsibility as accountability

rhetorical claim: individual responsibility means making people accountable for their lives and circumstances.

rhetorical effect: ends the notion of responsibility as a social duty; makes welfare and social safety net programs seem like handouts from the “winners” to the losers,” shifts the focus of government from the collective to the individual.


the question of Russian interference

moving forward

rhetorical claim: the whole issue of Russian interference ion our election cycle, is, according to Rex Tillerson, a “question.” Donald Trump agrees, pointing pout that “we’ll probably never know” the truth and we should move forward in our relations with Russia.

rhetorical effect: confuses absolute certainty with high probability; by calling it a question rather than a fact, casts the entire process as a controversy or even a conspiratorial fantasy; “moving forward” means not looking back–in other words, a cover-up and total exoneration of Putin.



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