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, Aug 6-9, 2017.

diversity furies (see also “self-reinforcing police state,” below)

rhetorical claim: According to the WSJ’s Holman W. Jenkins Jr, Google’s James Damore

is an embarrassment to the company’s strategy of appeasing the diversity furies with tokenism, perfectly acceptable to Google’s critics as long as it affirms their insistence that any and all disparities arise from discrimination and victimization.

Its critics don’t really care about outcomes. They care about Google endorsing their ideological and political fixations.

rhetorical effect: attempts at correcting inequality are reduced to mockery: social engineering, ignoring science, ignoring real human differences, turning variety into a grievance, being deliberately irrational, political correctness run amuck, etc. Part of a larger rhetorical project of challenging any inconvenient facts, not only making it impossible to make evidence-based arguments, but actually turning the arguments inside-out so those citing real disparities are accused of making up the truth. Subversion through inversion. The world turned upside-down.


climate change

rhetorical claim: According to the Guardian, the USDA has issued a new set of language guidelines. “Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.

Mentions of the dangers of climate change have been removed from the websites of the White House and the Department of the Interior, while the EPA scrapped its entire online climate section in April pending a review that will be “updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership”.

rhetorical effect: censorship of science in the name of a political agenda.


race traitors

rhetorical claim: white liberals are race traitors, dupes helping pave the way for  a “cosmopolitan” (that is, non-white) takeover of American media, academia, government, and the courts

rhetorical effect: this batshit-crazy meme, used with increased frequency these days, sort of draws a line in the sand on issues of pure bigotry, racism, and nativism, all part of the all-compassing wedge issue of “immigration reform.”


potentially troubling behavior

rhetorical claim:  the Dems engaged in some potentially troubling behavior in the 2016 election, and Robbie Mueller should be investigating their leaks, unmaskings, fake news, and collusion with the Russians.

rhetorical effect: this false equivalency diversion, based on hearsay, greatly resembles the Benghazi and Hillary e-mail “scandals.” Notice the weasel words “potentially” and “troubling”–a far cry from criminal or heinous or treasonous. Weak tea, but any port in a storm for the desperate, right?


climate change debate

rhetorical claim: scientists disagree about the causes, effects and even existence of climate change, so the debate must go on.

rhetorical effect: justifies Trump’s, carbon-forward America First energy policy.  Calling for more debate over issues that were decided 150 years ago (that high carbon dioxide levels are toxic for the environment) is a smokescreen for , mining and other destructive policies. Calling it a “debate” connotes deliberation and conversation, but in reality as long as there is said to be a “debate,” environmental destruction is only accelerated.


let Trump be Trump

rhetorical claim: the deep state, the media, and the “Swamp” are clearly conspiring to prevent Donald Trump from achieving his agenda. Processes and procedures such as the Senate filibuster, judicial review, fake news stories, and leaks have all tied Trump down like Gulliver in Lilliputia. The opportunity to succeed, massive deregulation, the rejection of fake science, and the end of the social contract (and safety net) are at stake.

rhetorical effect: shorthand for increasing inequality in America; shorthand for “let America become an authoritarian, repressive oligarchy.” Justifies such radical redistributionist policies as cutting health care for millions of Americans, cutting taxes for the wealthy, spending less on schools, eliminating the social safety net, and deregulating all industries, especially the financial sector. Assumes that the problem with America is not too much inequality, but too little. Also shorthand for the Right’s fatal romanticism and utopian aspirations.



rhetorical claim: Obama’s name for compromise, deceit, and capitulation.

rhetorical effect: emboldens the purist Trump base by turning “compromise” and “dialogue”– the words at the heart and art of politics–into pejoratives. Reduces politics to power and bullying  and political language to lies and propaganda, and reinforces the scorched earth policy of political intransigence.


separation of church and state

rhetorical claim: From The American Thinker:

Americans cannot and must not allow the communists and atheists of this nation and the ACLU to secularize America to the point where our tolerance is turned into silencing and punishing religious speech.  Life is valuable, marriage is a God-ordained institution between one man and one woman, and families comprise a father and a mother with any number of children.  Any attack against Christianity and Judaism in America using the fallacy of “separation of Church and State” is simply an attempt to further undermine not only our U.S. Constitution and religious liberty, but also our entire traditional American way of life.  Do not accept the fallacy.

rhetorical effect: leads to the argument that only religious speech is protected, that politics and religion are inextricably linked, that there is only one correct version of morality, and that anyone who challenges the religious right is a bigot.


fake news

rhetorical claim: tittle-tattle about the phony baloney Russian collusion story and moronic punditry is nothing but fake news, and the vast majority of Americans ignore it.

rhetorical effect: belittles the Trump-Russia investigation by making it sound like naughty teenagers making up false gossip.  The “real” Americans are thus the adults in the room, and the rest of us sillies should be grounded.


merit-based (see also “cosmopolitanism”, below)

rhetorical claim: whether in the context of affirmative action or immigration, it’s time that we again impose some standards of excellence and not just admit anyone who asks, especially if they are the “right” color or race.

rhetorical effect: Rhetorically, this is another attempt to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage. As explained by Carol Anderson in the New York Times

That white resentment simply found a new target for its ire is no coincidence; white identity is often defined by its sense of being ever under attack, with the system stacked against it. That’s why Mr. Trump’s policies are not aimed at ameliorating white resentment, but deepening it. His agenda is not, fundamentally, about creating jobs or protecting programs that benefit everyone, including whites; it’s about creating purported enemies and then attacking them.

In the end, white resentment is so myopic and selfish that it cannot see that when the larger nation is thriving, whites are, too. Instead, it favors policies and politicians that may make America white again, but also hobbled and weakened, a nation that has squandered its greatest assets — its people and its democracy.


self-enforcing police state

rhetorical claim: political correctness is creating a self-enforcing police state in which free speech is sharply limited and many words and ideas are not even to be uttered. Such suppression of free speech is part of the oncoming advent of totalitarianism in America, lead by the lyin’ media. One of the hallmarks of totalitarianism is that the officially approved truth was capricious and unpredictable, and that was on purpose. They wanted the approved ideology to change so quickly that there was no way to comply with it by sincere personal conviction. The only way to comply with it was out of a habit of obedience.

rhetorical effect: likens political opposition to Trump to totalitarianism, one step in the criminalization of free speech.


cosmopolitan bias

rhetorical claim: according to Presidential adviser Stephen Miller, anyone who defends immigration has a “cosmopolitan bias” against native white Americans, and is an elitist hypocrite who wants to turn America over to violent and uneducated immigrants.

rhetorical effect: as explained in Politico:

So what is a “cosmopolitan”? It’s a cousin to “elitist,” but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. (In this sense, the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine might have been an early American cosmopolitan, when he declared: “The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”). In the eyes of their foes, “cosmopolitans” tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with “untraditional” ideas and lives.

For a nationalist, these are fighting words. Your country is your country; your fellow citizens are your brethren; and your country’s traditions—religious and otherwise— should be yours. A nation whose people—especially influential people—develop other ties undermine national strength, and must be repudiated.

One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation. As Foreign Policy put it in 2014:

“The new theme of Russian politics [is] the conflation of loyalty to the Kremlin with patriotism. It says much that dissidents at home, from journalists failing to toe the official line to protesters on the streets, are castigated either as outright ‘foreign agents’ (every movement, charity, or organization accepting foreign money must register itself as such) or else as unknowing victims and vectors of external contamination — contamination, that is, from the West, whose cosmopolitanism and immorality Putin has come to see as an increasing threat to Russia’s identity.”

That same notion has characterized the politics of the former Soviet bloc. In Hungary, the president of its Parliament has repeatedly denounced his political opponents as “people without a country,” loyal only to values like freedom, contemptuous of tradition and religion. Its prime minister, Viktor Orban, has openly advocated for “illiberal democracy” and launched a campaign against the Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros. In Poland, the reigning Law and Justice Party sees the nation besieged by dangerous influences. An article last year in World Press succinctly summarized the situation:

“In the party’s propaganda the country is in ruins, its economy robbed blind by international capital, while the foreign ownership of some newspapers and other types of mass media outlets made Poland into a colony, infecting Poles’ minds with rootless cosmopolitanism. … What is at stake is Polish Christian national values that must be protected at all cost, namely the linguistic and religious homogeneity of the country. Only Poles should reside in Poland, and a proper Pole must be a Polish-speaking Catholic.”

Rhetorically, this is another attempt to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage.

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