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 13-18, 2017

pal review

rhetorical claim: progressivism’s junk science rests on fake facts, which are reinforced by the buddy system in which pal review replaces truly objective peer review.

rhetorical effect: delegitimizes the scientific process and scholarly peer review standards, and politicizes all scientific findings as part of a conspiracy. Rendering scientific truths–especially inconvenient ones such as those concerning global warming–relative allows them to present their alt-facts as equally legitimate–a case of false equivalencies.


liberal moralizing

rhetorical claim: liberal moralizing tends to read as college-educated people in cities arguing that everyone should behave more like them. These condescending busybodies are too busy telling everyone else how to live to examine their own arrogance and cultural prejudices. Thus they have created a permanent cultural disconnect between themselves and Trump supporters. The government should let people be free to do what they want in their lives.

rhetorical effect: calling liberals busybodies and scolders has always been a classic ad hominem attack, intended to redirect the focus from the facts themselves (i.e., that eating too much red meat is bad for your health and for the environment) to the messengers of those facts.) In this way, the right wing dissociates itself from any liberals claims of fact, reducing them all to moral superiority. This rhetorical belittling and defusing precludes ever having to take any liberal claims of fact seriously.


the coming period of time

(aka, “we’ll get something done, eventually”)

rhetorical claim: Trump says he will reveal his modified thoughts on the Paris Accord in “the coming period of time.”

rhetorical effect: “The coming period of time” never comes with Trump, so this phrase obfuscates the fact that Trump has no intention of revisiting the US position on climate change, no plan for defeating ISIS, no plan for “getting Mexico to pay for the wall”, no “big, beautiful” health care bill, etc. In fact, whenever Trump uses this phrase, you can assume he is really confessing his unpreparedness and so is lying.



rhetorical claim: the real collusion has been between the Dems and foreign agents, who keep planting fake news stories or entrapping people like Donald Jr.

rhetorical effect: calling the whole thing a witch hunt or giant conspiracy against Trump or Stalinesque show trial  reinforces the paranoid vision of the Dems trying to overturn the election. By turning the tables and accusing the Dems of obstruction and collusion, Trump changes the subject and goes from defense to offense, clouding up what even counts as reality.


high quality person

rhetorical claim: Donald Jr. is totally innocent and transparent.  His meeting with the Russian lawyer was a real nothing burger. Like his father, he is the victim of the greatest witch hunt in history. He is a high-quality person.

rhetorical effect: as Gail Collins puts it, makes it sound as if  ” Junior was a washer-dryer on sale at the mall”. However, isn’t it  a “big deal” when senior representatives of an American presidential campaign meet with a purported representative of a hostile foreign power for the purpose of cooperating in that foreign power’s effort to influence an American presidential campaign? It’s an even bigger deal when news of that meeting emerges after an avalanche of denials and evasions. Desperate attempts to “save the narrative” of the whole Trump-Russia fiasco being nothing more than a fake fact are thus undermined. Since Junior has repeatedly lied about the meeting, his “high quality” doesn’t seem immediately apparent.


not a crime

rhetorical claim: meeting with a Russian is not a crime, and Junior’s initial statement about the meeting was a miscommunication. Trump’s enemies are desperate for something impeachable. But remember, there is no such thing as the crime of collusion. It’s not even a misdemeanor. And unless the Russian lawyer provided an illegal contribution, stolen property, etc., to the Trump campaign, there is no crime that will take this story where the media want it to go. But that doesn’t mean they will quit trying. There has been no crime.

rhetorical effect: This may be true in a narrow legal sense, but doesn’t wash ethically. As David French argues in The National Review,

The standard for impeachment, the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is not concerned with criminal offenses found in the penal statute books and suitable for courtroom prosecution. It relates instead to the president’s high fiduciary duty to the American people and allegiance to our system of government.

Alexander Hamilton put it best in Federalist No. 65. Impeachable offenses are those Which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The bickering over collusion “crimes” misses the point. If an unfit person holds the presidency, the danger to our society is that he will abuse the power that he wields. The imperative is to remove him from office. Whether, in addition to that, his misconduct also happens to violate penal statutes and be ripe for criminal prosecution is a side issue.



rhetorical claim: As OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, explains,

If the Trump administration has one overarching goal, it’s to Make America Great Again. But what does this mean? It means we are promoting MAGAnomics—and that means sustained 3% economic growth….

For merely suggesting that we can get back to that level, the administration has been criticized as unrealistic. That’s fine with us. We heard the same pessimism 40 years ago, when the country was mired in “stagflation” and “malaise.” But Ronald Reagan dared to challenge that thinking and steered us to a boom that many people thought unachievable. In the 7½ years following the end of the recession in 1982, real GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.4%. That is what a recovery looks like, and what the American economy is still capable of achieving.

The focus of MAGAnomics is simple: Grow the economy and with it the wealth of, and opportunity for, all Americans. It does that by focusing on fundamental principles that made the U.S. economy the greatest engine of prosperity in the history of the planet.

rhetorical effect: makes short-term,”economic growth” an excuse for lowering taxes for the wealthy, gutting all federal regulation, decimating the social safety net, and decimating the environment. American Greatness is thus defined down from liberty and justice for all to tax relief–a Darwinian rather than a Jeffersonian vision for America.


the fake news industrial complex

rhetorical claim: the fake Tump-Russia story is undermining democracy and part of the fake news industrial network, a better name than the “mainstream media”.

rhetorical effect: As Frank Bruni explains:

It’s possible that Trump’s fans will never blame him, because of one of his most self-serving and corrosive feats: the stirring of partisanship and distrust of institutions into the conviction that there’s no such thing as objective truth. There are only rival claims. There are always “alternative facts.” Charges of mere bias are the antiquated weapons of yesteryear; “fake news” is the new nullifier, and it’s a phrase so dear to him that his unprincipled acolytes are building on it. Last week a Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, lashed out at the “fake news industrial complex.” Trump reportedly swooned.

What happens to a democracy whose citizens not only lose common ground but also take a match to the idea of a common reality? Thanks in part to Trump, we may find out. He doesn’t care about civility or basic decency, and even if he did, he lacks the discipline to yoke his actions to any ideals. The Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik expressed it perfectly, telling me, “His presidency is what happens when you have road rage in the Oval Office.”

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