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, Sept. 25-30, 2017

Disrespecting the flag edition. The entirely moral and political argument over the national anthem has been turned into outright civil war, reminiscent of Nixonian “America love it or leave it” rhetoric. The controversy raises the most pressing questions of who decides what constitutes history, what values should be respected, appropriate ways of displaying patriotism, how to protect free speech so that criticism of injustice  the abuse of power is not criminalized ostracized, etc.


disrespecting the flag

rhetorical claim: professional athletes should stop disrespecting the flag that millions have died defending. (see “the flag is drenched in our blood,” below.

rhetorical effect: the sheer gall of this “respect the flag” meme is best unmasked by Colbert King in the Washington Post:

How could I not think of flag and country when I consider the actions of a hostile foreign power attempting to corrupt our basic American democratic franchise? The thought of Russia interfering in our presidential election to help Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton is as stunning as it is outrageous. But that is what Russian President Vladimir Putin did, according to the U.S. intelligence community. A clear threat to flag and country.

Trump questioned the patriotism of the protesting athletes. How is it patriotic for him and his private-jet-obsessed — and now former — health and human services secretary to take away health insurance from millions of Americans, as would have happened with their support for proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? What a display of national devotion.

Protect flag and country? By insulting, goading and threatening foreign leaders and international institutions around the globe?

We all sing with gusto: “Land of the free and home of the brave.” But watch as the president’s eyes glaze over at talk of injustice. Watch them light up at any chance to exploit racial and social divisions for political gain.

With liberty and justice for all.” Now, achieving that American ideal is worth fighting — and standing up — for.


the flag is drenched with our blood

rhetorical claim: NFL players have a right to free speech but no right to disrespect a flag that is drenched in the blood of Americans who died defending it.

rhetorical effect: tries to have it both ways: defending the right to free speech by stipulating what kinds of free speech cannot be practiced. (It’s a safe bet to say that any sentence beginning “I believe in free speech, but…” is going to be a denial of the right to free speech.) The outrageousness of this is best expressed by Charles Blow in the NY Times, reflecting on the history of state violence against blacks in the US:

Throughout most of this pain and bloodshed, some version of the flag has waved.

So how dare anyone suggest that people simply rise and conform to custom when they feel the urgent need to protest. How dare America say so cavalierly, “Forgive us our sins and grant us our laurels,” when forgiveness has never been sufficiently requested — nor the sins sufficiently acknowledged — and the laurels are tainted and stained by the stubbornness of historical fact. How dare we even pretend that the offenses have been isolated and anomalous and not orchestrated and executed by the nation?

So those football players should take a knee if they so choose. If America demands your respect it must grant you respect and the first order of that respect is equality and eradicating the ominous threat of state violence.

People upset with those who kneel seem to be more angry about black “disrespect” than black death. (Here, I need to applaud the non-black players who demonstrated their solidarity in the cause of free speech and equality.)

We have to accept that different Americans see pride and principle differently, but that makes none of them less American.

Indeed, we Americans see the flag itself differently. As the civil rights legend Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “The flag is drenched with our blood.”


retaining our history and heritage

rhetorical claim: keeping Confederate memorials is merely the retention of our history and heritage. Leftists want nothing more than an Orwellian brainwashing of the past so they can control the future.

rhetorical effect: this bedrock conservative cultural grievance somehow makes US history (or at least a pure-bred, whitewashed version of it) the sole property of Trump supporters, and any attempted historical revision a treasonous act. After all, purity builds and maintains the empire.


dependency-based culture

rhetorical claim: we can never achieve effective health care reform so long as we live in a dependency-based culture in which incentives to not work and stay on the dole are stronger than those supporting work.

rhetorical effect: A thinly-disguised argument that health care is a privilege to be earned, not a right. Makes poverty seem voluntary, ignoring all historical and institutional factors which create and perpetuate it; makes the social safety net sound like a massive fraud; makes “personal responsibility” a synonym for class and racial   privilege. Imagine the “responsibility” argument framed differently if, say, relying on the police or fire departments was called a “dependency.”


moralistic hectoring

rhetorical claim: NFL players are suddenly lionized as self-appointed moral experts on race relations in America. Everyone wold be better off if they stuck to playing football instead of bullying America into a wholly misleading condemnation of how the police maintain law and order.

rhetorical effect: conflates law enforcement with social justice, as though any police action is immune to prosecution; makes criticism of police brutality a form of condescending “lecturing” or bullying; turns moral judgements into “scolding.”


class-warfare brigades

rhetorical claim:  Dems can be counted on to play the class warfare card in any debate about health care or tax reform. They will gnaw away at the GOP tax plan like termites, all under the banner of “soak the rich.”

rhetorical effect: Undermines any opposition to tax reforms greatly advantaging the rich by labeling it “phony” class warfare; justifies huge tax advantages for the rich and privileged by calling reform measures a “middle class miracle.” Just as using the term “playing the race card” almost always means the speaker or writer is in fact racist (see “this has nothing to do with race,” below), the use of the term “class warfare” almost always means the speaker or writer is a classist.


strategic military assets

rhetorical claim: The U.S. has, in recent weeks, been regularly sending bombers and fighters, aircraft carriers and submarines, and troops to the peninsula for training exercises. As a South Korean spokesperson put it, “Surprise dispatch of strategic weapons is effective in maximizing fear in the North as it sends a message that such weapons can be mobilized any time in case of a contingency,”

rhetorical effect: The  vague term “strategic assets” has historically referred to heavy military assets meant to attack population centers, in contrast to “tactical” weapons meant to be of specific use on the battlefield. As such, the innocuous-sounding term itself is a euphemism for military escalation and dire threat. The only “strategy” is to bring the world to the brink of war.


thrown about

rhetorical claim:  EPA Director Scott Pruitt said it best: “Science is not something that should be just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington D.C.”

rhetorical effect: justifies a science-optional or an ascientific approach to environmental regulation. Reduces truth to opinion, and calls the entire Enlightenment into question. Returns us to the Dark Ages of faith, fanaticism, and dogma. ‘”Thrown about” also suggests that science is either a smokescreen or crazy theory.


this has nothing to do with race

rhetorical claim: despite what the Dems say, the NFL national anthem controversy has nothing to do with race. They’re just playing the race card.

rhetorical effect: makes any mention of race into the mere “playing” of “the race card,” as if this was a game and not a battle to save black lives and black dignity. Rest assured, anytime anyone says that something “has nothing to do with race,” then it has everything to do with race, just as they are the ones “plating the race card” whenever they use that phrase. They seem to argue that there re no racists in America, though they admit that racism somehow still exists.


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