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. 19-27, 2017


fake news

rhetorical claim: the lyin’ media–the forces of destruction–with its anti-Trump liberal bias, feeds America a daily stream of fake news and should be prosecuted for libel.

rhetorical effect: As argued by Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny:

Calling the news fake makes understanding the world in a different way than Trump a criminal offense…Since the GOP is a minority party, it either must fear democracy or destroy it… To abandon facts is to abandon freedom…If nothing is true, then no one can critique power because there’s no basis for doing so…Post-truth is pre-fascism.


little did we know

no one knew

rhetorical claim: Trump often says that “few people know” a certain fact (such as “few people knew” how hard reforming health care would be, or “it’s a little known fact that…”

rhetorical effect: justifies his yawning ignorance of every nuance of every policy. What he is really saying is “little did I know.”


egalitarian bitterness

rhetorical claim: Only liberals believe the myth that the poor begrudge the wealth of the rich.  As Irving Kristol wrote in the 1970’s, “Anyone who is familiar with the American working class knows . . . that they are far less consumed with egalitarian bitterness or envy than are college professors or affluent journalists.”

rhetorical effect: undercuts any notions of redressing financial inequality by accusing progressives of being nothing more than an academic-journalistic elite. Somehow makes calls for economic equality into an elite position, out of step with the working class. Justifies accelerating inequality by arguing that most Americans don’t care about the issue anyway. The classic defense of fascist oligarchies.


tax cuts for the rich

rhetorical claim: The upper income brackets pay an overwhelming percentage of total income taxes (a higher percentage than in any other developed country, by the way). So any substantial tax cut has to go disproportionately to the rich or there can be no tax cut. Maybe this why Dems always oppose any tax cuts.

rhetorical effect: turns logic on its head by arguing that tax cuts must favor the rich or aren’t really tax cuts at all. Makes it illogical to ever even consider cutting taxes for the non-rich. Conflates opposing any tax cuts with opposing tax cuts for the rich.


a crush of lawsuits

rhetorical claim: liberal regulatory policies such as consumer and environmental protection, net neutrality, and Obamacare were only devised by trial lawyers so they could file a crush of lawsuits.

rhetorical effect: turns the law into pure partisanship, thus removing any notions of impartiality or objectivity from the legal system. Delegitimizes class action suits and transforms even one of them into a “crush.”

pure price signals

rhetorical claim: As Andy Kessler puts it in The Wall Street Journal:

There is only one type of capitalism that works, and it goes like this: Someone postpones consumption, invests his savings to produce a good or service, delights customers, generates profits, and then consumes and invests what’s left in further production. These profits are pure, generated from price signals between buyers and sellers, without favoritism from experts or elites. It isn’t hard to grasp.

Profit is the ultimate measure of value to consumers—and therefore to society. Consumers benefit from buying stuff, or else they would make it all themselves, and producers benefit from selling, or else business wouldn’t be worth the effort. Of similar value, profits go both ways. “Experts” who poke their noses in only mess with this fine balance. And who needs central planning when there’s the stock market, where theories melt and reality bites? Stock exchanges are the true consiglieres of capitalism, providing capital to ideas deemed worthy of it and starving the rest.

rhetorical effect: eliminates regulations and other constraints on commerce and on the genius of pure price mechanisms. Lets the “invisible hand” do its magic because nothing should be allowed to “distort” the hallowed marketplace. Faith-based economics.



rhetorical claim: Every male conversational interruption, every boring male explanation, every sidelong and condescending male look, and even every sudden male sneeze has suddenly morphed into the root of a serious and unforgivable crime. There is no reasonable line to be drawn. The rules must be rewritten, and they must be weighted against all men. The startling growth in mangression-related outrage digs up a troubling question: Can men and women even argue any longer? How can women claim equal footing with men when every blowhard or “manterrupter” leads to a blown feminist gasket? Perhaps—and this might sound incredibly dated, but here we go—women just need to keep speaking up?

rhetorical effect: belittles the very idea of male arrogance while somehow simultaneously blames it on women’s passivity.


the people

rhetorical claim: Donald Trump’s victory hinged on the forgotten Americans  in flyover country. These hard-working Americans made Trump the first populist President since Andrew Jackson–the people’s choice. The law is meant to serve these good people, so what’s good for them is good for the law. In fact, what’s good for them is the law.

rhetorical effect: as explained by Conor Lynch on Salon, com:

This targeting of highly educated people and professionals tells us a lot about right-wing populism, which is not so much an anti-elitist movement as it is an anti-intellectual one. For the right-wing populist, economic elites aren’t thought of as true elites, unless they use fancy words and have an Ivy League education to go along with their wealth. The overeducated Ph.D. student who subsists on ramen noodles and coffee, at least according to this understanding of the world, is more of an “elitist” than the wealthy businessman without a college degree, who attends church every Sunday and uses unpretentious language.

In his 2016 book, “The Populist Explosion,” veteran journalist John Judis points out that terms like “the people” and “the elite” have very different connotations depending on who is using them. “Just as there is no common ideology that defines populism,” writes Judis, “there is no constituency that comprises ‘the people.’ It can be blue-collar workers, shopkeepers, or students burdened by debt; it can be the poor or the middle class.”

We are all, after all, part of “the people,” but when Trump refers to “the people” he really means some people, but not others. He is thus always “othering” his critics.


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