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, Nov. 10-18, 2017

regulatory expansion

real-world evidence

public-utility controls of the internet

active forest management

a constitutional federal government

regulatory pathologies

maximizing rules vs. maximizing environmental quality

rhetorical claim: Trump is systematically dismantling the liberals’ deep regulatory state, itself an unconstitutional, illegal, and pathological power grab. He is making the federal government constitutional again.

rhetorical effect: individually, each of these phrases and labels serves as a wrecking ball to particular government regulations; collectively, they add up to a state of nature (see “natural law,” below), a coming era of social Darwinism, a cynical use of the Constitution to nullify or privatize all government functions

Translating them one-by-one:

regulatory expansion = any regulation

real-world evidence = ignoring scientific evidence

public-utility controls of the internet = the end of net neutrality, and a new era of online tolls, blockages, and dominance. Privatizes the internet.

active forest management = clear cutting

constitutional federal government = an Ayn Rand state

maximizing environmental quality rather than environmental rules = no environmental rules, combined with the rejection of  scientific evidence so that environmental quality cannot be quantified or ever agreed upon.


natural law

rhetorical claim: the GOP favors natural law–individual freedom, the free market, laissez-faire–over social engineering.  There’s a way things simply ought to be.  There are rules about how societies should work hardwired into the fabric of reality and that to act against them would be as foolish as trying to break the law of gravity. Liberal arguments, on the other hand, tend to focus on a belief in some concept of natural rights. They believe that simply being born and having humanity entitles every individual to certain universal rights such life, happiness, equality etc.

The left now believes that, if left alone, people will naturally attempt to one-up and exploit each other, bringing society farther and farther away from the universal levels of happiness, equality, etc. that people are entitled to. Thus heavy government intervention is required to ensure rights to all. The right, however, largely holds the belief that rights are determined by natural law, and that those who are most good or nice or deserving will tend to end out on top simply because that’s the way the rules work.

rhetorical effect: labeling all progressivism  as “social engineering” reduces government to a form of authoritarian utopian fantasy.  Apparently any attempt to comfort the afflicted or help the poor is doomed because it is unnatural, and you can’t change human nature. Thus attempts to ameliorate inequality are themselves misguided and futile.


if true

rhetorical claim: Roy Moore should resign only if the alleged sexual assault allegations are true.

rhetorical effect: gives Moore cover to win the election because the charges can never be confirmed. This is the GOP rhetorical strategy to weasel out of the conflict.


$4000 tax savings per person

rhetorical claim: The average American family would get a $4,000 raise under the President’s tax cut plan.” claims Sarah Huckaby Sanders, “So how could any member of Congress be against it?”

rhetorical effect: establishes  a lie at the heart of GOP tax claims, based on the “magic beans” claim that corporate tax cuts would stimulate the economy so much that all boats will float on a rising tide. As Sonali Kolhatkar explains on Truthdig,

Who indeed? The GOP, apparently, as PolitiFact notes in its analysis of the tax plan. According to the fact-checking site, in some specific scenarios some families may save $1,182, but given that the GOP tax plan eliminates a number of popular deductions, families that choose to itemize their tax bills are “likely to end up worse off if the bill is passed as is, even with the higher standard deduction.” Both Ryan and Ferguson also wrongly claimed that the estimated savings would be “$1,182 a year” and “every year,” when in fact the savings, if they appeared at all, would occur only in the first year.

Ryan, Ferguson, Trump and their fellow Republicans are hoping against hope that Americans will buy their scam. Charlie Fink, a member of the progressive organization Patriotic Millionaires, told me in an interview that “Paul Ryan and the right have adopted a populist language to mislead people about what they’re going to get.” In fact, the Republican website about the tax bill touts “more jobs,” “fairer taxes” and “bigger paychecks” as selling points, when in fact readers of the actual bill would rationally conclude that it would likely do nothing to increase jobs, would make taxes less fair by benefiting the rich and either temporarily increase paychecks by a minuscule amount, leave them the same or make them smaller.



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