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. 17-23, 2018

rule of law conservatives

rhetorical claim: The EPA is refining its rule making process in ways that rule-of-law conservatives hope will conform the agency’s new rules to the designs and ends Congress intended for them, reversing the warped power grabs of the administrative state they had become.

rhetorical effect: just as conservatives call any law they like “originalist,” they call any government rule they like “the rule of law,” even if the only law they refer to is their own law of political expediency. “Rule of law” is one of those phrases intended to sound objective– set in stone like tablets Moses found on the mountain top–whereas in actuality it is always an act of interpretive political power.


disavowing domestic violence

rhetorical claim: President Trump disavows domestic violence by claiming that he is and “totally opposed” to it.

rhetorical effect: a disavowal is really a denial of that which is undeniable and must be repressed: Trump disavows racism while defending racists; Trump disavows election meddling yet defends the Russians; men disavow domestic violence then call themselves the true victims of feminazi witch hunts.


mental health

rhetorical claim: when it comes to gun safety, we need to tackle the difficult issue of mental health.

rhetorical effect: precludes discussing gun availability at all. Why is mental health funding only brought up in direct response to a mass shooting, but then either ignored the rest of the time or decimated in Obamacare budget cuts (see here for a good summary of mental health care cuts in the GOP budget plan ? Also, every country deals with mental health issues, but only America has so many mass shootings. Toughening mental health monitoring is extremely fraught, as pointed out by Amy Davidson Sorkin:

The proffering of mental illness as the answer to our shooting problem seems opportunistic, to say the least. It might necessitate a criminalization of adolescent pain, since the level of legal procedure necessary to make someone ineligible to buy a gun would, presumably, be higher than what would be needed to guide a teen-ager to a therapist. (In Florida, the legal standard for blocking gun purchases is that someone has actually been committed to a mental institution or been “adjudicated mentally defective.”) The greater madness is in our gun laws, not in our children….

…What is the society that gun-rights activists are asking for? One in which legions of angry young men who have not done anything criminal yet are shut away in mental wards, if not prisons, conveniently labelled as insane, so that the good people—whoever they are supposed to be, and however angry they are—can still walk into a store and buy military-style weapons? Would we really rather lock up people than lock up guns? And is all that supposed to be facilitated with an ethic of mass mutual suspicion? Perhaps the next move of America’s gun promoters will be to place the blame on some other group of people with backgrounds and beliefs that the majority finds jarring. Will they keep drawing the circle of the good with an ever smaller circumference, until it resembles nothing so much as an armed camp, packed with guns? President Trump might call that a great and safe community. And whom will he blame then?


partisan bickering

rhetorical claim: Congress is gridlocked by partisan bickering on everything from the Russian inquiry to DACA reform. It’s time that it overcome this stalemate and get don to work.

rhetorical effect: this call for compromise is actually almost always an excuse for inaction. “Partisan bickering” is what happens when one side wants reform and change and is trying to pass new laws and the other side is resisting. So it isn’t ‘partisan bickering” that’s hobbling Congress’s Russian investigations, it’s the fact that only one side–the Dems–want to get to the bottom of it.


media’s hindsight fallacy

rhetorical claim: in retrospect, the all-knowing fake news media clearly sees that the Russians tipped the election to Trump, whereas in reality, if anything, it was Hillary and the Dems who made the best use of Russia. In reality, the Russian propaganda activities had less impact on the election than even 30 seconds’ worth of a live Trump campaign rally.

rhetorical effect: calling hindsight a “fallacy” makes it impossible to consider overwhelming evidence to the contrary–it’s a peremptory move to  dismisses all evidence–and thus all indictments– out of hand. It’s intended to make any Mueller case seem manufactured and based on poisoned intelligence intercepts. The Dems claim that emerging evidence points to conspiracy, collusion and money-laundering; the GOP claims Mueller is simply concocting fables about the past, connecting dots that have no connection in truth, trying to turn mole hills into mountains.


judicial gerrymandering

rhetorical claim: the liberal Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn Congressional districts to favor Dems in the upcoming election. In doing so, they are usurping the right of the state legislature to draw congressional districts. The Supreme Court should rule that courts do not have the power to determine electoral outcomes

rhetorical effect: the irony is too delicious: they are arguing that a court ruling affecting electoral outcomes should be used as proof that court rulings should not affect electoral outcomes.


collectivist tyranny

rhetorical claim: the collectivist tyranny and administrative coup of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid era is over. Under Trump, we have entered a new era of individual freedom, economic growth and the security that comes from peace-through-strength and America First.

rhetorical effect: Best described by Paul Klugman:

For whatever reason, there’s a faction in our country that sees public action for the public good, no matter how justified, as part of a conspiracy to destroy our freedom…this political faction is doing all it can to push us toward becoming a society in which individuals can’t count on the community to provide them with even the most basic guarantees of security — security from crazed gunmen, security from drunken drivers, security from exorbitant medical bills (which every other advanced country treats as a right, and does in fact manage to provide).

In short, you might want to think of our madness over guns as just one aspect of the drive to turn us into what Thomas Hobbes described long ago: a society “wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them.” And Hobbes famously told us what life in such a society is like: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Yep, that sounds like Trump’s America.


consumer-friendly innovation in markets

rhetorical claim: American families know better than bureaucrats what financial products best meet their needs.. Families need to be empowered. Borrowers need to be treated like adults. They are not as dumb, irrational or vulnerable as liberals make them ut to be. They can make their own decisions about contracts, arbitration clauses, payday loans or bargaining for an auto loan.

rhetorical effect: rhetorical inversion: the most consumer-friendly regulatory policy is to have no regulatory policy at all. The paradox is to claim that consumers should be protected, but not by any regulations. On the other hand, families should be “empowered”, but only to put themselves at the mercy of payday loan sharks, shifty auto dealers, restrictive arbitration clauses, and predatory interest rates and policies. The very things consumers need protection from are no longer protected. Treating consumers “like adults” actually means putting them in the position of children: gullible, vulnerable, and unprotected from predatory adults.


pricing for actuarial risk

rhetorical claim: insurance companies should be given the freedom to price for actuarial risk rather than having a collectivist pricing model imposed on them, a la Obamacare

rhetorical effect: justifies higher rates or denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, annual and lifetime coverage caps, denial of benefits for whole categories of conditions, gender discrimination–the list goes on. “Pricing” is the innocuous-sounding euphemism for exorbitant medical bills.


respecting our second amendment rights

rhetorical claim: As the mass killings continue, we must be patient and listen to the views of those who see any action to limit access to guns as the first step toward confiscation. Our task is not so much to protect gun victims but, rather, to protect gun owners by respecting their deep cultural attachment to guns..  The so-called Parkland victims are being manipulated by the lyin’ liberal press. As Bill O’Reilly put it, the media is “promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases.”Former representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) doubted the capacity of these students to think or act for themselves. “Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda,” he said on CNN.

rhetorical effect: Young people who disagree with Kingston can’t possibly have minds of their own, and, of course Kingston and Fox News don’t “have an agenda.” As for respect, as E.J. Dionne argues:

How come only one side of the supposed culture war on guns is required to exude respect for the other? Because the culture-war argument is largely a gimmick pushed by the gun lobby as a way of demonizing its opponents. None of us who endorse stronger gun laws wants to disrupt anybody else’s way of life. And none of the measures we are proposing would do that.

The perversely inverted moral argument is that the way to stop gun violence is by arming more people–students, teachers–all of us, really. So, as usual, the rhetorical effect of the “respect” argument is that the only reasonable and common-sense thing to do is to agree with the GOP.




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