Politiscripts, by Richard Roth

Political discourse consists of scripted, symbolic speech acts. The ends justify the memes and the memes justify the ends. Words become actions and actions become words.

Politiscripts, by Richard Roth

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, Feb 14-17, 2018



totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind

rhetorical claim: Trump  is “totally opposed” to domestic violence of any kind, finds charges against Porter “shocking,” says that Porter was fired in the normal way once the charges were known, and also condemns the lack of due process when it comes to verifying women’s accusations.

rhetorical effect: Establishes the absurd logic that domestic violence is not to be tolerated, but neither are women’s claims of domestic violence. As Jennifer Rubin put it,

What was more revealing was that he did not say any of the following:

  • I won’t tolerate any abuser in my administration.
  • We must encourage women to come forward and believe them when they do.
  • I believe Rob Porter’s ex-wives.
  • We should not have people with a history of spousal abuse in high government positions.

Nope, he didn’t express any of these sentiments, which in any other administration would never be questioned. Trump, however, has a troubling past: He bragged on the “Access Hollywood” recording about abusing women; more than a dozen women have accused him of either harassment or assault; and he endorsed accused child molester Roy Moore in a Senate race. It’s a topic he wants no part of. And we should seriously consider that he does not think abusers should be banned from his administration, that he does think most women are liars, does not think Porter’s ex-wives are telling the truth, and does not think there is anything wrong with putting men with a history of spousal abuse in sensitive positions. After all, in the most unfiltered conduit for his views — his Twitter account — he’s never expressed the views. Instead he’s bemoaned the lack of due process for abusers.


aspirational economics

the personal creation of wealth

rhetorical claim: liberals  choose redistributionist economics over aspirational economics because they frown upon the personal creation of wealth. In the name of social justice and government, they conduct paternalistic class war that is irrelevant to people’s real needs. Aspiration is being subsumed by ideology.

rhetorical effect: arguing for “aspiration” as an absolute justifies development schemes, total deregulation (leading to more drilling and mining for example), privatization, and a social Darwinism (tough luck if you don’t succeed==no excuses allowed). These terms are all part of the income defense industry.


getting to keep more of your hard-earned dollars

rhetorical claim: tax cuts will allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.

rhetorical effect: vilifies inheritance; justifies huge tax cuts for the wealthy; masks income disparity and inequality by valorizing wages, no matter how meager or stagnant; equates government with confiscation, and pits all government against workers.



rhetorical claim: fairness matters when it comes to confiscatory taxes, government mandates and onerous government regulation. The Tea Party was all about making America fair again by leveling the playing field so all Americans have the opportunity to create personal wealth (see above).

rhetorical effect: for the 1% to keep winning, they need to brand themselves as the 99%, the friend of the working man. Fairness matters in terms of perception, not reality.


human well-being

rhetorical claim: the great American hope is that you can advance on your own merits, not be propped up by the welfare state or the government. Human well-being above all means the opportunity for an earned success,

rhetorical effect: the big lie of the anti-government, free market ideologues: that the average American has a chance in a totally rigged economic system. Just follow the money every time to unmask this rhetorical master trope.


bipartisan deal

rhetorical claim: President Trump will veto anything that does not advance all of his demands: a wall on the border and an end to the diversity visa lottery system and family- based migration, which would mean deep cuts to legal immigration. This position constitutes “the mainstream, middle ground on immigration.” GOP senators are making similar claims. John Cornyn (Tex.) says the president shouldn’t budge, because his proposal is “enormously generous,” while Democrats are being “heartless” toward the dreamers by failing to accept it. Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.) insists that Trump’s proposal is a “sweet bipartisan deal,” and that if Dems reject it, Republicans are “looking pretty good from a PR standpoint.”

rhetorical effect: moves the so-called middle ground far to the right, then calls it the middle. Greg Sargent best dissects this absurd notion of a compromise:

The idea that the tradeoff Republicans want represents the middle-ground, mainstream position in this debate is absurd on its face: a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that only 17 percent of Americans favor cuts to legal immigration, while 81 percent favor legalizing the dreamers. But beyond this, the basic facts of this situation illustrate the absurdity of the GOP position:

  1. Trump is the one who ended protections for the dreamers to begin with.
  2. Trump then said he wanted Congress to come up with a bipartisan solution protecting them in a more permanent way.
  3. Trump has repeatedly said protecting the dreamers is the right thing to do. Whether he means this or not is beside the point; perhaps entirely because he doesn’t want to be blamed for driving them underground, he wants to be associated with an outcome in which they are protected.
  4. Dem and GOP senators produced a version of the deal Trump asked for, one in which the dreamers would be legalized in exchange for cutting diversity visas and nixing any possibility of legalization for the dreamers’ parents. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer even expressed openness to giving Trump money for his wall.
  5. Trump rejected those offers. Dems repeatedly asked administration officials what further concessions they might accept and got no answer. Now officials are threatening a veto if Trump doesn’t get everything he wants, and Republicans are describing this as the middle-ground position…Trump and most Republicans will very likely oppose the bills that give both sides some of what they want and continue to insist on basically giving Trump all of what he wants. This is not a balanced situation, particularly since Trump wants to be associated with protecting the dreamers anyway. It is true that many congressional Republicans don’t actually want to protect the dreamers and view doing this as a concession. But they are nonetheless going along with Trump in demanding far more in concessions than Democrats are. The Republicans’ position is that they won’t protect the dreamers unless Democrats give Trump all the border-security money and deep cuts to legal immigration he wants — while calling that a compromise.


good guys with guns

thoughts and prayers

rhetorical claim: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. We offer thoughts and prayers to those who have lost a loved one in a mass shooting incident.

rhetorical effect: precludes or derails gun control debates with arguments over school safety training, mental health, terrorist threats, etc.–talk about anything else except banning assault rifles, background checks, unregulated gun show sales, etc. Calling for prayer makes mass shootings sound like acts of god.


gun confiscation

rhetorical claim: the liberal solution to gun violence is to seize all weapons in America.

rhetorical effect: confuses common-sense gun control, such as banning the sales of automatic weapons, enhanced background checks, etc.–with the most draconian solution of total gun seizure. Using the extreme example rules out any middle ground.


the crushing burden of debt

rhetorical claim: Under Obama, America suffered from a crushing and unacceptable burden of debt.

rhetorical effect: this ploy becomes a backdoor way of justifying cruel, draconian budget cuts. The GOP does to themselves what they accuse the Dems of doing in the first place, then blame the Dems and go ahead and do what they wanted to do all along.  The rhetorical kabuki dance works like this: 1) establish that the national debt is too high, 2) nevertheless pass a huge tax cut that is permanent for the plutocrats, temporary for everyone else, 3) after this tax cut creates a huge deficit, return to being a deficit hawk as a pretense to gut all social safety net programs, leaving only the wealthy, corporations and the military shielded. This is the essence of acting in bad faith — pretending to care about things it doesn’t, pretending to serve goals that were the opposite of its actual intentions. Republicans  never cared about deficits; they always wanted to dismantle Medicare, not defend it. They just happen not to be who they pretended to be.

Using this “crushing burden of debt” as an excuse, the GOP proposes the cruelest budget ever, as explained by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Less than two months after signing massive tax cuts that largely benefit those at the top of the economic ladder, President Trump has put forward a 2019 budget that cuts basic assistance that millions of families struggling to get by need to help pay the rent, put food on the table, and get health care.  The cuts would affect a broad range of low- and moderate-income people, including parents, children, seniors, and people with disabilities.  Taken together, the cuts are far deeper than any ever enacted and would deepen poverty and hardship and swell the ranks of the uninsured.

These cuts fly in the face of the Administration’s rhetoric about expanding opportunity for those facing difficulties in today’s economy and helping more people work.The budget also scales back efforts to promote opportunity and upward mobility, such as by cutting both job training and programs that make college more affordable.  These cuts fly in the face of the Administration’s rhetoric about expanding opportunity for those facing difficulties in today’s economy and helping more people work.

The GOP budget cuts  health care, food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), housing and home energy assistance, income assistance for people with disabilities, funding to states for other supports for low-income families, grants and loans to make college more affordable, and non-defense discretionary programs as a whole.


balanced news coverage

rhetorical claim: Washington gridlock is the fault of both parties, so news coverage must be balanced by blaming both parties.

rhetorical effect: “balance” is the fig leaf covering over the fact that the GOP is lying about their means and aims (see “the crushing burden of debt,” above). “Balance” in this case actually means catastrophic imbalance and draconian cuts. “Fair and balanced” is of course the foundational lie at the heart of Fox News. “Balance” is not the same thing as telling the truth.


a cry for help

a searching review for compliance

rhetorical claim: Idaho should be permitted to technically break the law by allowing the offering of health insurance policies that do not ACA standards. This circumvention of draconian Obamacare standards is “a cry for help” by a state seeking more affordable coverage options for its residents. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says that the Idaho program would be subject to “searching review for compliance” with federal law. “We have a duty to enforce the law as Congress has written it,” Mr. Azar said. But he added that the federal government must proceed with “a great deal of deliberation and caution and care” in assessing the Idaho plan.

Dean L. Cameron, the director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, said in an interview on Thursday that insurers could start selling the new state-based health plans as early as April.

“We are trying to salvage the market,” Mr. Cameron said. “The young and healthy people of all ages have left the market. We are trying to bring them back. Our goal is to help Idaho families.”

Blue Cross of Idaho said this week that it would offer five such plans. “The Affordable Care Act marketplace has become unaffordable for Idaho’s middle-class uninsured,” the company said, and it told consumers that the new plans could cost “up to 50 percent less” than plans that comply with the federal law.

rhetorical effect: The only thing they’re “searching” for is a way out of ACA mandates. HHS’s “review” is a sham process that in the end will justify junk health care insurance. In a classic GOP inversion, law-breaking is reframed as a “cry for help” and an act of consumer protection.

no collusion

rhetorical claim: Vice President Mike Pence said that “it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those [Russian] efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Mr. Trump’s defenders, cite the word “unwitting” in the Mueller indictments— that the indictment used to describe certain “members, volunteers and supporters of the Trump campaign involved in local community outreach” who had interacted with the Russians.

In other words, as the White House put it in a statement on Friday, “NO COLLUSION.” The president repeated the claim himself in a tweet, grudgingly acknowledging Russia’s “anti-US campaign,” but emphasizing that it had started “long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”

rhetorical effect: changes the subject because that’s not what intelligence officials concluded. “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” said the report released shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

It’s true that, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an announcement, these particular indictments do not allege that any American knew about the influence campaign, nor that the campaign had changed the outcome of the election. But that’s quite different from saying that there was no collusion or impact on the election. As Mr. Rosenstein also said, the special counsel’s investigation is continuing, and there are many strands the public still knows little or nothing about.


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