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 21-28, 2017

poor medical decisions

rhetorical claim: if someone’s poor driving decisions cause their car insurance rates to skyrocket, no pone expects the government to bail them out. Likewise, if someone’s poor health decisions–obesity, smoking, drugs, etc.–lead to high insurance premiums, why should the government bail them out? Health care coverage is a privilege, not a right.

rhetorical effect: shifts the conversation from a care model to a blame-the-victim model, and the idea of responsibility-for-others into individual responsibility and independence.  Releases government from any notion of caring or helping.



rhetorical claim: government is a disease masquerading as its own cure. It only creates a sense of entitlement, laziness, and dependency, and undermines personal freedom.

rhetorical effect: the disease model of government leads to the anarchy and Darwinian state of an unfettered free market. And when you conceive the free market as not just an economic model but as the key to all human freedom, characterizing governing as disease-spreading also makes it psychological permissible–even required– to fire and even jail the vermin spreading the disease.

An alternative model of government is explained by linguist George Lakoff:

When it comes to politics, progressives and conservatives essentially have different brains. The unconscious beliefs conditioned in their brains are nearly exact opposites.

Here are two statements you will almost certainly agree with if you’re a progressive:

1) In Lincoln’s words, the American government should be a government of, by, and for the people.
2) Citizens care about other citizens, and work through their government to provide public resources for all — resources required for the wellbeing and freedom of all.

These imply just about all of progressive policies.

With a government of the people, those in the government are not separated from those outside. There is two way communication and transparency, and response to the people’s concerns.

With a government by the people, those in the government have the same basic experiences as those outside. The government therefore responds with empathy to the basic needs of its citizens.

A government for the people cares for its citizens and gives necessary help as a matter of course. There is no democracy without care.

The second principle – the need for public resources – has been essential to American democracy from the start. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources.

Public resources, including roads and bridges along with public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and the criminal justice system are necessary to have private enterprise. These public resources include protection — not just a military and police, but protection from harm by unscrupulous corporations either by poisoning products, the air, water, etc. or by unscrupulous banks, mortgage holders, and investors. These protections are carried out by “regulations”: protective laws and agencies.

Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support, and technologies like computers and satellite phones.

Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. These public resources provide freedom: freedom to start and run a business, and freedom in private life.

You’re not free if you are not educated, because your possibilities in life are limited.

You’re not free if you have cancer and no health insurance.

You’re not free if you have no income — or not enough for basic needs.

And if you work for a large company, you may not be free without a union. Unions free you from corporate servitude. They free you to have a living wage, safety on the job, regular working hours, a pension, health benefits, dignity.

If you’re a progressive, you most likely agree with these ideas. If you’re a conservative, you may be apoplectic by now.


the Judeo-Christian West

rhetorical claim: Trump is not only defending the Judeo-Christian West against barbarism, , but civilization itself.

rhetorical effect: stigmatizing non-Christians and non-westerners as uncivilized lays the groundwork for justifying their extermination.


voter integrity

rhetorical claim: there were at least 5 million illegal votes for Hillary in the last election, and The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity will find out why. The future of the country is at stake when fraudulent voters are permitted to hijack the electoral system.

rhetorical effect: cloaks a predetermined conclusion in the rhetoric of voter integrity. ‘”Getting to the bottom” of this “fraud” actually means more voter intimidation and suppression. As explained by  NY Times editorial:

It was born out of a marriage of convenience between conservative anti-voter-fraud crusaders, who refuse to accept actual data, and a president who refuses to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square. Its purpose is not to restore integrity to elections but to undermine the public’s confidence enough to push through policies and practices that make registration and voting harder, if not impossible, for certain groups of people who tend to vote Democratic.


growing the welfare state

rhetorical claim: the Democratic Party’s plan for health care: constrain markets to create monopolies that can be controlled by a federal regulatory regime (this is why liberals oppose markets expanding across state lines); and rather than worrying about access, choice, or cost, continue to incentivize the growth of the welfare state. When this situation becomes untenable, pass single-payer. What Democrats understand, but Republicans often don’t, is that you can reach your goals incrementally. The ACA is the Trojan Horse for single payer and choking social engineering and coercion.

rhetorical effect: equates all social safety net and human health and welfare programs and policies with the dependency model, and reduces Progressivism to a cynical attempt to get and hold power and deprive the “real Americans” of their liberty.


people losing Medicaid

rhetorical claim: A law that was sold as a tool to reign in rising costs quickly became a moral edifice that alleviated an imaginary humanitarian crisis (the ACA defense is now almost exclusively focused on people losing Medicaid).

rhetorical effect: ridicules millions losing their insurance as an “imaginary” crisis, part of Dem hysteria over health care reform. Makes it easier to justify removing Medicaid altogether, leaving everything up to the free market.


conflicts of interest

rhetorical claim: Robbie Mueller and his investigative team aswell as Ron Rosenstein have disqualifying conflicts of interest when it comes to investigating Donald Trump.

rhetorical effect: undercuts their credibility and conflates their personal politics with their integrity and professionalism. Makes the argument that no Dem can or should ever be in a position to legally investigate or convict Trump because politics and loyalty.are everything. To Trump, anyone opposed to his interests has a conflict of interest. The rule of law is reduced to the rule of any law that protects Trump.


let Obamacare fail

rhetorical claim: Obamacare will collapse of its own accord because it is an unworkable redistribution scheme that forces government onto people who don’t want it interfering in their lives.

rhetorical effect: shifts the blame for ACA market failures from GOP attempts to sabotage it to the bill itself. “Letting” it fail actually is a euphemism for ‘”making” it fail. “Letting” something to fail is either a cruel or negligent act, and often a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s Trump who is  failing, not Obamacare.


American greatness

rhetorical claim: America is great again because it is re-asserting itself in the world and assuming its natural role as the most powerful nation on earth.

rhetorical effect:  As Michael Gerson argues, This claim is ironic because America is actually practicing a policy of preemptive concession to Russian claims over Syria, US election tampering, and sanctions. As Michael Gerson argues,

Does this retreat come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history?

As Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times:

Far from a student of history, Trump is an ahistorical president at a time of historical geostrategic shifts. This is a problem. He cannot gauge our times because his only gauge is his own self-exaltation.

As William Burns, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former deputy secretary of state, said in a speech in May: “a nasty brew of mercantilism, unilateralism and unreconstructed nationalism” has bubbled to the surface under Trump. “At a moment when international order is under severe strain, power is fragmenting and great-power rivalry has returned, the values and purpose at the core of the American idea matter more than ever.”


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