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 30-Feb. 6, 2018

red tape



rhetorical claim: the President’s infrastructure plan will eliminate obstructionist bureaucratic red tape. It’s past time for the government to get out of the way so the private sector can get projects done faster and cheaper. We need to streamline the regulatory process so government can partner with the private sector to make progress.

rhetorical effect: assumes that government regulation only exists to cause problems for noble job creators. Will justify the basic dismantling of the regulatory state. The Center for American Progress explains what kind of “red tape” the administration wants to cast aside:

As detailed in the leaked proposal, the Trump administration’s plan would require fundamental changes to no fewer than 10 bedrock environmental laws that protect the nation’s clean air, clean water, wildlife, and national parks. The plan would hollow out the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that requires federal project sponsors to consult with stakeholders who would be affected by new projects and identify ways to reduce their impact on the environment, public health, and cultural resources. The Endangered Species Act is also in the crosshairs, as several provisions would prioritize new development over the protection of wildlife that is on the brink of extinction. The Trump administration proposes significant changes to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to make it easier for corporations to break ground and avoid inconvenient air and water quality protections. The proposal even includes some mystifying provisions, such as one to give Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unilateral authority to site natural gas pipelines in national parks.

“Streamlining” seems to mean “ignore the health and safety of the communities where these projects are placed.” And “partnering” means privatizing. As Paul Waldman sums it up in the Washington Post:

So we need a federal infrastructure bill. The problem with this one is that it’s being sold as something it isn’t, it makes it harder for states and localities to afford infrastructure projects, it prioritizes private profits over public needs, and in the end if it passes we’d wind up paying more and getting less. In other words, it’s just about what you’d expect from this president.


restoring confidence in law enforcement

rhetorical claim: The House memo is not about “attacking the FBI” or “our law enforcement professionals,” as Democrat Adam Schiff insists. This is about restoring confidence in a law enforcement agency that played an unprecedented role in a U.S. presidential election regarding both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

rhetorical effect: Assumes the very thing they proclaim: that “confidence” in the FBI needs to be “restored.” Significantly, they refer to “confidence” in the FBI–a state of mind subject to shifting political winds–not the actual workings of the FBI.  The only reason “confidence” is purported to need restoration is that the  GOP has launched a year-long effort to undercut the FBI’s reputation. So now they use the success of their undermining as a rationale for further undermining. They’ve learned some lessons from the Russians about how to concoct and carry out disinformation campaigns.


the global rules-based order

rhetorical claim: In the global rules-based order all countries in the world, bar a few rogue states, deal with each other according to an agreed set of legal, economic and military rules.  However, clever foreigners have manipulated the international system, so that America now trades at a massive disadvantage and is forced to accept hostile rulings by international tribunals. When it comes to security, Mr Trump complains that America spends billions giving cheap protection to ungrateful allies. He is demanding change.

rhetorical effect: as Gordon Rachman argues in the Financial Times,

“You break it, you own it,” runs the pottery shop slogan. But when it comes to the global rules-based order, the Trump administration’s view seems to be, “We no longer own it, so we are going to break it.” America is turning against the world it made — and the consequences are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

The coming year will be a big test of how far the Trump administration is willing to go with the US potentially launching a multi-pronged assault on the international trading system: demanding radical changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, hobbling the World Trade Organization and slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. Tension between the US and South Korea, or within the Nato alliance, could easily surface this year — raising questions about America’s commitment to the rules that govern world security.

Probable effects include increasing US isolation, a revolt of the US business community if NAFTA is overturned but not replaced, a lack of allies when the US tries to organize stepped-up boycotts against Iran or North Korea, and a more or less permanent state of chaos and uncertainty in the international order–in other words, exactly the way Trump plays it domestically.  The only “rule” that Trump plays by is to refuse to play by any “rule” that he hasn’t himself created.


unmatched power

rhetorical claim: America will no longer be taken advantage of, and will use its umatched power to again dominate the world.

rhetorical effect: purposely confuses moral authority with might, persuasion with bullying, and inspiration with intimidation. We used to have “unmatched” influence because we were seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Now we are educed to just having unmatched military power.


we the people

rhetorical claim: as Trump said in the SOTU “It is we the people who are making America great again.”

rhetorical effect: excludes half the nation from any presidential praise. Apparently immigrants, government workers, anyone advocating consumer or environmental protection etc. do not count as part of the “we.” Fortifies divisiveness and undermines any hopes of bipartisanship. Note also that it’s not at all clear what “we the people” are actually doing to make America great again, since all they seem to be getting is a tax cut. In other words, the rhetorical effect is to praise people for doing nothing but supporting Trump: another self-fulfilling prophecy. By rhetorically claiming itself to be a stunning success, the Trump administration obscures the fact that it has created no new social programs, gutted environmental protections, choked off voting and civil rights, cost millions their health coverage, given huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, and destabilized the entire world. All it has done to date is destroy, nullify and negate, making it the most reactionary administration ever. was the pursuit of “unmatched power” against an ungrateful or hostile world of “unfair trade deals” and would-be migrants destined for murderous gangs.


the liberal FBI

rhetorical claim: the FBI is corrupted with an ant-Trump virus, and must be purged of holdover Clintonistas and careerist liberals.

rhetorical effect: Obscures the fact that Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, saw fit to apply for this warrant’s renewal. This suggests that one of the most senior figures in Trump’s own Justice Department thought it was credible that Trump had someone compromised by Russia on his campaign. Only in a crazy alternate universe does that exculpate the president.

Unless, that is, you believe that it is illegitimate for intelligence agencies to be watching Trump associates. And to believe that, you have to start with the premise that Trump is innocent and the agencies are corrupt. The controversy around the Nunes memo works to insinuate these assumptions into the public debate. It may also give Trump the very thinnest of pretexts to fire Rosenstein, which would be a first step toward attempting to shut down the Russia investigation.


that’s politics

rhetorical claim: “that’s politics,” says the President about his son’s meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary.

rhetorical effect: opposition research is suddenly put on the same moral plane as collusion with a foreign power, just as when Trump equated obstruction of justice with “fighting back.” Classical inversion and undermining of words, so that they become synonyms for something they aren’t.

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