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, Jan 19-23, 2018

a concern for Christian values

rhetorical claim: Trump’s pastor Franklin Graham, responding to the revelation that Trump had a porn star paid off just before the election, said “We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world, and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”

rhetorical effect: “a concern for Christian values” means that the evangelical community has completely capitulated to Trump for political expediency’s sake. Note that they are not saying that Trump represents Christians values, just that he used them to get what he wants. Nor are they saying that Trump in any way believes in Christian values, just that he “has a concern for them.” Trump’s only “concern” for Christian values is his “concern” for the evangelicals’ vote. As Michael Gerson argues in The Washington Post:

The level of cynicism here is startling. Some Christian leaders are surrendering the idea that character matters in public life in direct exchange for political benefits to Christians themselves. It is a political maneuver indistinguishable from those performed by business or union lobbyists every day. Only seedier. You scratch my back, I’ll wink at dehumanization and Stormy Daniels. The gag reflex is entirely gone.

From a purely political perspective, the Trump evangelicals are out of their depth.

The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump’s court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute. Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they are associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.


it’s too political

it won’t do anything

it will  intensify partisanship

rhetorical claim: a government shutdown is the fault of the Dems, whose intransigence on immigration reform is too political, too partisan, and won’t solve any problems.

rhetorical effect: these all-purpose excuses are trotted out whenever the GOP feels threatened by Dem claims and initiatives: on gun control, health care, immigration reform, the government shutdown or discussions of social justice, racism, and police reform. Jennifer Rubin has deftly anatomized this GOP rhetorical script:

This would be political.” Yeah, right. The appeal to our founding principles is political, but the defense of a president for violating those principles is not? This is blind partisanship, putting loyalty to the president above fidelity to our Constitution.

It wouldn’t do anything.” Well, if they’d prefer impeachment, Democrats would gladly oblige. However, this is not an excuse to do nothing. Republicans do have a point though. More compelling actions would be passage of a fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which Trump inhumanely ended, and an extension of temporary protected status for Haitians and Salvadorans. Such legislative actions would refute the notion that we do not value immigrants from non white, non-European countries. But of course Republicans don’t want to do this either.

It would intensify partisanship.” Really? It’s hard to see how things could get much worse. To the contrary, when there is a price to be paid — even a symbolic one — for throwing red meat to the base and waving the bloody shirt, perhaps there will be less of it.


optimal allocation of resources

rhetorical claim: the free market promotes the optimal allocation of resources ()labor, capital and goods).

rhetorical effect: Rapacity masquerading as Mr. Market at work. The “optimal allocation of resources” seems to include homelessness, the lack of health care insurance, widening inequality, outright racism and the worst divisiveness in the US since the Civil War. And this meme also allows the GOP to claim that the victims of this new Gilded Age are actually its chief beneficiaries.


Medicaid-induced opioid addiction

rhetorical claim: Medicaid recipients are taking advantage of their free health care by selling their pain pills on the black market, expanding the market for opioids.. In March, Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argued that “expanded coverage helped cause the opioid crisis. Free pills means more addicts.”  A Senate report titled, “Drugs for Dollars: How Medicaid Helps Fuel the Opioid Epidemic”  asks, “What if one of the contributing causes is connected to federal spending itself?” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) concludes, “Medicaid has contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic by establishing a series of incentives that make it enormously profitable to abuse and sell dangerous drugs.”

rhetorical effect: As argued in Salon,

Apparently not content with limiting poor peoples’ access to health insurance, it would seem that Republicans are now attempting to pathologize those on Medicaid as drug addled criminals.

“This is a government program-wide phenomenon where American taxpayers are providing well-intentioned funds into some of theses programs and those funds are being utilized to divert drugs, sell them on the open market,” Johnson said during Wednesday’s hearing.

By this logic, the Department of Defense was responsible for the heroin epidemic among returning veterans following the Vietnam War. Cutting the defense budget, it would follow, would have ended that heroin crisis. The Veterans Health Administration still has a huge issue with opioid overprescription, addiction and drug diversion – but Republicans would never dare hold a hearing suggesting that increased funding of the VA is the root cause….Wednesday’s events were among the most troubling indications that ludicrous conservative conspiracy theories have fully taken hold in the halls of Congress.


being a gentleman

rhetorical claim: Peggy Noonan argues that what America most needs now are gentlemen–men who proceed from good will and are chivalrous, courteous, and honorable. These qualities are all but lost in this narcissistic era where decorum, dignity and self-control have been jettisoned, an era in which, according to another WSJ columnist, Joseph Epstein, “repression is illness, confession the cure, with impulse satisfaction, self-esteem and personal happiness the paramount goals.”

rhetorical effect: lawdy, lawdy, the barabarians are at the gates. The reprise of this perennial American rhetoric about eroding norms and morals is at least as old as te Mayflower days. It rhymes nicely with the grumpy response to sixties’ hippie culture, as if any Americans ever have been especially good at self-control, and as if self-esteem is some sort of sin. Gives conservatives cover for their disapproval of behavior and attitudes they don’t understand.


dismantling the Obama regulatory machine

rhetorical claim: the Trump administration has been systematically dismantling the draconian regulatory machine of the Obama era. The government once again wants to help consumers, not hurt businesses. This is a necessary and right adjustment, a kind of emancipation for individual choice and freedom. Regulation is not bad in itself, but always abuses its power.

rhetorical effect: just call it the Predators’ Ball. The GOP does everything it can to hamstring regulation just when it starts to get any real power. All regulatory power is thus to be considered abusive.


the Schumer shutdown stunt

rhetorical claim: the shutdown is a Dem stunt designed to reinforce the total fabrication that Trump is incapable of governing and that political chaos must end by giving the Dems control of one or both house of Congress in November.

rhetorical effect: makes the Dems out to be the true danger, not Trump. A “stunt” is a kind of trick or extraordinary action. Sort of like not confirming a Supreme Cort justice for over a year? Sort of like promising the Dems DACA reform before reneging on that promise?


judges ignoring the law

rhetorical claim: Federal judges blocking Trump’s travel ban and insisting that DACA must be enforced despite its illegality are legislating from the bench. They are outside the law looking in because they hate Mr. Trump and are part of the “resistance.”

rhetorical effect: any legal decision the GOP doesn’t like is simply dismissed as illegal. Not only is this circular reasoning, but paves the way for a dictatorial state in which the rule of law is simply the rule of the autocratic regime.


muscular foreign policy (aka, the end of the apology tour)

rhetorical claim: “Peace through strength” and “America First” remain the cornerstones of Trump’s foreign policy. America is no longer “leading from behind,” but, on the contrary,  gaining newfound respect for American might from world nations.

rhetorical effect: Militarization, bullying, isolation, the possibility of a limited nuclear war,  chaos and the loss of respect worldwide. In the National Security Strategy published in December, the subheading under “Diplomacy and Statecraft” is “Competitive Diplomacy” — not cooperation. Money is apparently no object to ensure “weapons systems that clearly overmatch” in “lethality.” Diplomacy, by contrast, requires “efficient use of limited resources.” The evisceration of the State Department and big increases in military budgets reflect Trump’s mind-set. As Roger Cohen writes in the NYT:

But something terrible, and perhaps irreparable, has happened. The idea of America has been sullied. It has fallen victim to Trump’s untruth, indecency, racism and contempt for the values without which American greatness is inconceivable. The president is at home with despots because he sees himself in them.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to Washington, told me: “I cannot explain to my 13-year-old daughter, who was born in the United States, that for her, President Trump should be the symbol of the values we stand for: human dignity, personal freedom and so on. A fundamental anchor has been lost.”

The disarray Trump has engendered reflects the degree to which he has turned the meaning of the word “America” on its head. He has empowered bigots, thugs, bullies, racists, nationalists and nativists the world over.



rhetorical claim: immigration should be entirely based on merit, and we should eliminate chain migration.

rhetorical effect: “merit” is now code language for whites and a few Asians, not brown or black people, who, by definition, lack merit. Confuses a sense of desert with a sense of accomplishment: just because you speak a foreign language or have a Ph.D doesn’t mean you deserve to become an American more than someone with minimal skills. Almost none of us would be here today under a “merit-only” policy because our immigrant ancestors would have been excluded.


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