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 23-29, 2018

closing the deal

rhetorical claim: President Trump’s first year in office has been one of the most successful in the history of the Presidency. His ability close the deal has served notice to China, Iran and North Korea, and America is once again leading from a position of strength.

rhetorical effect: cleverly obscures the obvious fact that Trump is the worst salesman in American history. Domestically, he has, at various times scuttled the tax bill, health care reform and immigration reform, and successful bills bills pass in spite of him, not because of him. Internationally, this  lie about his leadership skills is well exposed by Foreign Policy:

Trump is singularly failing to “close the deal” for America abroad. Note that, while it’s within his power to unilaterally end supposedly “bad deals” like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or NAFTA, his promises to conclude “great deals” are utterly hollow. He hasn’t made any appreciable progress on any new trade negotiations, even the bilateral ones that he favors for mysterious reasons over multilateral (and hence more beneficial) accords. Nor, needless to say, has he had any success in renegotiating the Paris climate accord, which he (wrongly) claims is harmful to America. Trump has managed to convince the United Nations Security Council to toughen sanctions on North Korea, but only because Russia and China have no intention of enforcing the resolutions. He had no luck in selling his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or his desire to redo the Iran nuclear deal. Allies simply don’t want to help America, no matter how much Trump blusters and bluffs

Trump doesn’t seem to realize that a great part of America’s appeal abroad has been its role as a paragon and champion of liberal democratic values. He shows so little appreciation for those principles that Freedom House has just downgraded America in its annual “Freedom in the World” report. The report notes that in 2017, the United States’ “core institutions were attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct across many fields of activity. President Trump himself has mingled the concerns of his business empire with his role as president, appointed family members to his senior staff, filled other high positions with lobbyists and representatives of special interests, and refused to abide by disclosure and transparency practices observed by his predecessors.” Trump even attacks the bedrock principle of freedom of the press, labeling the media as the “enemy of the American people” — rhetoric that, as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said, is reminiscent of Stalin’s.

Meanwhile, Freedom House notes, the integrity of America’s political system was undermined by “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign and a lack of action by the Trump administration either to condemn or to prevent a reoccurrence of such meddling.” Far from trying to stop the Russian interference, Trump seems intent on stopping any probe of what the Russians were (and are) up to.


fighting back

rhetorical claim: Trump’s firing of Comey and attempted firing of Mueller are simply instances of a President fighting back against his vicious attackers and fake-news mongerers.

rhetorical effect: Translating from the super-paranoid GOP hive mind:  “fake” news is news that makes Trump look bad, and “fighting back” is a euphemism for obstruction of justice. As Bret Stephens warns:

Liberals observing the awful spectacle might be forgiven for taking quiet satisfaction in this G.O.P. bonfire of the sanities. They should take care it doesn’t infect them as well.

The principal lesson of paranoia is the ease with which politically aroused people can mistake errors for deceptions, coincidences for patterns, bumbling for dereliction, and secrecy for treachery. True conspiracies are rare but stupidity is nearly universal. The failure to know the difference, combined with the desire for a particular result, is what accounts for the paranoid style.



rhetorical claim: America needs to protect itself from being taken advantage of by China and others gaming the trading system.

rhetorical effect: as George Will argues, protectionism does not protect Americans at all from higher prices:

Fomenting spurious anxieties about national security is the first refuge of rent-seeking scoundrels who tart up their protectionism as patriotism when they inveigle government into lining their pockets with money extracted from their fellow citizens. Sugar producers are ludicrously protected in the name of “food security.” Most U.S. steel imports come from four important allies: Canada, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil. The coming steel tariffs/taxes will mean that defense dollars will buy fewer ships, tanks and armored vehicles, just as the trillion infrastructure dollars the administration talks about will buy fewer bridges and other steel-using projects. As Henry George said, with protectionism a nation does to itself in peacetime what an enemy tries to do to it in war.


getting your money’s worth out of government

rhetorical claim: the tax reform package goes a long way to making sure we get our money’s worth out of government as it gets more efficient and effective.

rhetorical effect: avoids using the politically-charged term  “tax cuts” because the rich are getting the lion’s share of the tax cuts. Turns greed into a matter of efficiency and even principle. In the same vein, tax cuts are said to be a principled defense of property rights, challenging the cult of the omnipotent state.



rhetorical claim: taxes for the rich should be lowered because the rich self-tax in the form of charitable giving.

rhetorical effect: the rich self-tax in the same the chemical industry can be trusted to self-regulate its pollution, lenders can be trusted to self-regulate home loans,  and the drug companies can be trusted to self-regulate drug safety.


the other side of the story

rhetorical claim: Congressional Dems, the FBI, and Ron Rosenstein and other “career” FBI Dem partisans, are doing everything they can to suppress  the telling of the other side of the Russian election-tampering story–the side that tells of FBI collusion obstruction and Trump hatred, and of the Dems ginning up the dirty dossier to launch the wholly concocted Mueller inquiry.

rhetorical effect: typical “on the one hand, on the other hand” attempt to relativize all news on the Russian probe as either fake or unknowable. Part of the larger attempt to undermine and dismiss any eventual findings of criminal collusion, obstruction or money-laundering. Note that this meme assumes that the fake GOP counter-theme of FBI malfeasance and deception is a true story, even though it consists largely of blowing things out of context and cherry-picking evidence. It is not in fact “part of the story” but, instead, a “concocted” separate and wholly distracting different story altogether.


“racism” fatigue

rhetorical claim: Tucker Carlson argues that “The term racism doesn’t work anymore…What was once a devastating attack on a person’s character is now just background noise. When everything is racist from ice cream trucks to Dr. Suess, nothing is. The term has been devalued by reckless overuse. And that’s a shame because it still applies.\There’s still plenty racism in America, maybe more now than in generations.”

rhetorical effect: even though he–generously?–concedes that racism is more prevalent than ever in America,  his claim that the term can’t be used any more creates a double-bind: anyone who uses the term is by definition a “race-baiter,” so never talking about it is the best way to counter it. Huh?


the honor and privilege  of citizenship

rhetorical claim: Citizenship determines who shall rule, to what ends, and what life among us shall be.Those who seek to enter America do so for a variety of reasons, and it is incumbent upon our politicians to create a system that prioritizes people who are worthy of the weight, worthy of the honor and privilege of citizenship. Republicans must not let their overriding desire to “fix” this problem gut their party of the last vestiges of principle and common sense.

rhetorical effect: the GOP again claiming sole possession of principle and common sense, even though common sense (in the form of polls, at least), overwhelmingly favors amnesty for DACA kids. Also note the sacred anchor terms of “honor” and “worth,”–again, virtues that the GOP claim the Dems lack altogether. The implication is that immigrants lack honor, worth, common sense and principle, as if they are a lower species that the “real Americans.” Calling anything a privilege instead of a right (as in the health care debate) lays the rhetorical foundation for exclusion.


Trumpocracy (or MAGA)

rhetorical claim: Trump’s first year has seen a stunning string of successes as America transformed itself into a Trumpocracy and became great again: great in the economy and jobs, great in military might, and great in getting the government out of the people’s way.

rhetorical effect: David Frum argues that

Trumpocracy is the fusion of Trump’s authoritarian instincts with the G.O.P.’s plutocratic instincts in the context of a country trending in very different directions.

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