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, Oct 19-31, 2017

witch hunt

rhetorical claim: “The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics,” tweeted Trump, “but the R’s are now fighting back like never before.”

Note how a federal investigation of Russian influence on American democracy has become “the Dems.” Note also that it is not the president and his lawyers fighting this investigation but the “R’s.” Trump is conditioning Republicans and conservatives to view his upcoming legal defense entirely through the lens of partisanship. With the broad cooperation of conservative media, there is every reason to think he might succeed.

rhetorical effect: best described by Michael Gerson:

Note how a federal investigation of Russian influence on American democracy has become “the Dems.” Note also that it is not the president and his lawyers fighting this investigation but the “R’s.” Trump is conditioning Republicans and conservatives to view his upcoming legal defense entirely through the lens of partisanship. With the broad cooperation of conservative media, there is every reason to think he might succeed….

Do Republicans and conservatives really want to be remembered as a bodyguard of enablers for this man? For this cause? Few enter the fray of political ideas, or make the considerable sacrifices of entering public life, to defend corruption and the abuse of power. That is now the calling of the Republican partisan, and the downward path of dishonor.


criminalization of policy differences

rhetorical claim: the anti-Trump forces are crowing for his impeachment based on their policy differences with him. Just as they have criminalized free speech on campus, they are now trying to criminalize any policies that differ from their ow. In other words, their utopia is an authoritarian state based on political correctness.

rhetorical effect: makes it so that no policies are inherently wiser or juster or more efficient, but just ‘”different.” Makes it so that all criticism is oppositional, and all critiics are enemies. Removes any evidence-based argumentation from policy debates, reducing everything to a matter of opinion. As best explained by David Frum, referring to Trump’s discrediting of the media:

modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist. All reporting serves an agenda. There is no truth, only competing attempts to grab power.


health care freedom

rhetorical claim: according to Phil Gramm, the collectivist nightmare of Obamacare shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with a person’s health care freedom:

A money-for-freedom compromise would at last provide an opportunity to debate health-care freedom, something the public was denied by the great ObamaCare lie. If Democrats refuse to allow ObamaCare’s losers to escape in return for funding for the program’s beneficiaries, it will be Democrats who let the program collapse. Throughout the debate they will be forced to argue against the very health-care freedom they falsely promised when they adopted ObamaCare

rhetorical effect: gives people the “freedom” to sign up for skinny policies that will prove more or less useless in the face of any serious medical crisis. The market always gives people the right to get screwed. Also legitimizes the absurd idea that insurance is totally an individual choice, though the whole idea of a risk pool is a collective one.


nuclear racketeering

rhetorical claim: The real Russia scandal: Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s approval of a deal to transfer control of 20% of U.S. uranium deposits to a Russian company was a quid pro quo exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton should be charged for treason for allowing the Russians to corner the uranium market

rhetorical effect: just like the e-mail and Benghazi charges, these will persist forever despite being patently false (see here for all the reasons the claim is false.) Part of the comprehensive GOP strategy of misdirection and confusion, this meme shifts the Russian collusion/meddling narrative focus from Trump to Clinton–it’s Hillary who colluded, not Donald! As masterfully explained by Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman:

What’s happening now is an audacious effort on the part of Republicans to convince everyone that not only did Trump and his campaign not work with Russia, in fact it was Hillary Clinton who did so, and Vladimir Putin (whose hatred of Clinton burns with the fire of a thousand suns) actually wanted her to win and tried to help her.

If you’ve been conscious for the last year and a half, that surely strikes you as deranged, something no one could be dumb enough to believe. But Republicans have run this play many times before, and by the time they’re done, half the public will believe it.

It has three essential components. The first is the cranking up of the conservative calliope: all of the right’s information sources, from Fox News to conservative talk radio to web sites like Breitbart and Drudge, immediately begin shouting about the same story and repeating the same line. Then to keep it going and force mainstream media to cover it, they create an official “investigation” that will provide a steady stream of tantalizing leaks and events that can become the occasion of news coverage, even if it all ends up proving nothing. Then the whole narrative gets validated by top-level Republicans whose words are news in and of themselves.

All of these components are now in motion. Fox and the other outlets are doing hour after hour of discussion about what they are calling the “Russia dossier,” an opposition research document prepared for Democrats that gathered together facts and rumors about Trump’s dealings in Russia (I explained why their line on this document is so bogus here). Now that story is being joined to absurd charges about the sale of a uranium mining company, with all kinds of dark allegations of corruption.


the real Russia scandal

rhetorical claim: In the Russia dossier scandal, since Steele had Russian sources and was working for the Clinton campaign, that proves it was she and not Donald Trump who colluded with a foreign power. Furthermore, the fact that the FBI treated Steele’s information seriously means it too was in on the collusion; that implicates James Comey along with Robert Mueller, because they know each other. Therefore, Mueller must resign to “prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

rhetorical effect:  As a masterful piece of misleading disinformation,  this charge is an excuse for Congressional committees to stop investigating Trump’s Russia ties. As Digby Diehl points out in Salon,

There are a dozen flaws in this argument but the most important is the one set forth by Robert Litt, former general counsel to the office of the director of national intelligence under the Obama administration:

The dossier itself played absolutely no role in the coordinated intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in our election. That assessment, which was released in unclassified form in January but which contained much more detail in the classified version that has been briefed to Congress, was based entirely on other sources and analysis.

Other than that, they have an airtight case.



rhetorical claim: see “nuclear racketeering,” above.

rhetorical effect:  euphemizes misdirection and with-hunt into an innocent-sounding investigation. In a truly Rovian misdirection, this tactic actually means the end of the investigation of Trump-Russia collusion. Normalizes deception.


Hecklers’ Veto

rhetorical claim: the ACLA supports free speech unless it comes to speech they don’t like. In that case, they support hecklers who shout down unpalatable, politically incorrect speakers,

The increasing use of the heckler’s veto is distressing considering that the judiciary has been overruling the heckler’s veto since the Civil Rights Movement, when black protestors were frequently arrested for peacefully occupying segregated areas because their acts unnerved and unsettled onlookers. The Court addressed this practice in Brown v. Louisiana (1966), ruling that the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights may not be curtailed merely because “their critics might react with disorder or violence.”

The heckler’s veto is rooted in the misguided belief that an argument can be defeated by forcefully shutting up its proponents. On the college campuses of a free society, a viewpoint gains acceptance in the “marketplace of ideas” by the persuasive power of the arguments in support of it, not the physical might of its advocates. Rather than using force to silence a speaker, the answer to speech with which one disagrees is more speech, not violence or censorship.

rhetorical effect: permits racist and xenophobic speech to dominate the public discourse by removing all moral and ethical guidelines for speech decency and accuracy. Normalizes spite and bigotry. As Tim Wu argues,

Some might argue, based on the sophomoric premise that “more speech is always better,” that the current state of chaos is what the First Amendment intended. But no defensible free-speech tradition accepts harassment and threats as speech, treats foreign propaganda campaigns as legitimate debate or thinks that social-media bots ought to enjoy constitutional protection. A robust and unfiltered debate is one thing; corruption of debate itself is another. We have entered a far more dangerous place for the republic; its defense requires stronger protections for what we once called the public sphere.


saving our heritage

rhetorical claim: electing Ed Gillespie Virginia governor is critical to maintaining America’s “great statues and heritage” according to President Trump.

rhetorical effect: The usual master-meme of race-bating. Trump has repeatedly cast Democrat Ralph Northam as soft on immigration and crime, and Gillespie has heavily trafficked in these same attacks, with dishonest ads featuring scary, tattooed, brown-skinned gang members. In the state that was recently the site of white supremacist violence and murder, Gillespie has said Confederate statues should remain. All this is designed to energize Virginia Trump voters.


 tax cuts for American workers

rhetorical claim: corporate tax cuts would largely benefit workers, who would see giant increases in salaries and productivity. They would be a job engine as well. The only way to beat class-war politics is to make the case that reform and rate cuts will yield faster growth, higher wages, more jobs and broadly shared prosperity. The politics of envy, the heart of the liberal response to tax cuts, falsely claim that tax cuts only help the wealthy.

rhetorical effect: best explained by Paul Krugman:

Realistically, then, the benefits from cutting corporate taxes would overwhelmingly flow into after-tax profits rather than wages, especially in the first few years and probably for a decade or more. And this in turn means that the main beneficiaries would be stockholders, not workers.

So who are these stockholders, exactly? You can guess part of the answer: We’re talking mainly about the very affluent. Even if we count indirect holdings in retirement accounts and mutual funds, the richest 10 percent of U.S. residents account for about 80 percent of American-owned stocks, and the richest 1 percent own about 40 percent. So we’re talking, as always when it comes to Republican plans, about tax cuts heavily tilted toward the wealthy.


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