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. 24-March 1, 2018

clear and present danger

rhetorical claim: the FBI’s failure to intercept the Parkland shooter is just the latest in a long series of federal catastrophes: 9/11, Iraqi WMDs, Katrina, the many recent mass shootings–the list goes on. Clearly, the federal government is a clear and present danger to national security.

rhetorical effect: smears all government workers, from the postman to the park ranger, without discriminating; doesn’t mention what would happen to society without a federal government; by confusing many needs: better gun control, better foreign surveillance, better emergency preparedness, better mental health warning systems, etc., actually makes the case for more government, not less. Without government, there would be no national security.


the media love mass shootings

rhetorical claim: the legacy media love mass shootings because crying white mothers are ratings gold and give the anti-second amendment folks a megaphone. The wall-to-wall press coverage of mass shootings that leads to more mass shootings.

rhetorical effect: blames the messenger for the message; deflects the blame from guns to the media, demonizing the media by accusing  them of  supporting  mass murder for profit. One of several counter-instinctual claims the NRA loves to make, such as calling mass shootings a mental health issue, or calling for more guns to fight gun violence, or branding  gun ownership with freedom.


appearing presidential

rhetorical claim: the President does not need to “pivot” in order to appear more “presidential” because the lamestream media’s model of the Presidency is one of a lackey beholden to Congress and to political orthodoxy. The more Trump breaks the rules, the more “presidential” he is actually being because true leadership means breaking the rules in order to cut through the “fake news” in order to actually get things done.

rhetorical effect: Trump doesn’t govern, he campaigns. This inversion effectively transforms the Presidency from an embodiment of moral guidance and protector of national security to a perpetual campaign. Trump has in fact likened his Presidency to a campaign:

“Life is a campaign,” the president told reporters aboard Air Force One. “Making our country great again is a campaign. For me, it’s a campaign.”

Trump uses several classical rhetorical techniques to keep this “campaign” going, including proliferating his outrage, repeating his claims incessantly, projecting his own vices onto his opponents, and appearing to be persecuted. He sees himself enlisted in a Total War, where compromise is impossible and debate is either pointless or dangerous.


anti-market extremists

rhetorical claim: anti-market extremists like Bernie Saunders aim to socialize American business and redistribute the national income. The market should be as deregulated as possible so the invisible hand of free market economics can work its magic.

rhetorical effect: uses a false either-or dichotomy to stifle any attempts to regulate financial and other markets, confusing regulation with strangulation. The term “extremist” is also a perennial favorite of the right, who use it to vilify any opponents as  enemies of the people.


collusion hysteria

rhetorical claim: the only collusion so far is between the Clinton campaign, Christopher Steele, and the FBI. The Democrat-mainstream media axis and and its unrelenting “collusion” hysteria only show how easy it was for the Russians to manipulate a rabidly partisan, unreliable media and a biased or inept government.

rhetorical effect: calling the entire Trump-Russia matter a “fake news” “witch hunt” has had the effect of blunting whatever charges Mueller eventually brings against Trump and his inner circle. Labeling any criminal charges “hysteria” completely undercuts the rule of law, and discredits any story appearing in the mainstream media.


nuisance lawsuits

rhetorical claim: the Trump administration has greatly succeeded in eliminating draconian liability laws that only produced nuisance lawsuits in the name of “consumer protection”, “environmental protection,” etc.

rhetorical effect: The rule of law is nothing but a “nuisance.” Possible motto for the Trump administration?


identity politics

rhetorical claim: Identity politics—the artificial segmentation of Americans into antagonistic groups organized along often imagined ethnic, racial and sexual categories—is tearing America apart. President Trump can do something about it by rescinding all pan-ethnic categories in the 2020 census, replacing them with questions of national origin. This would encourage assimilation and end identitarian fever–the division of America by race and ethnicity.

rhetorical effect: This high-tech ethnic cleansing, along with a proposed citizenship question on the census, would lead to a population undercount, disproportionately harming states and cities with large immigrant communities. Combining this census undercount with the scrubbing of all racial, ethnic and sexual categories in any government records, would greatly deepen inequality and render minority populations helpless and without redress in the face of discrimination. Discrimination in the name of assimilation.


just kidding

rhetorical claim: the President is often just kidding when he tweets stuff or makes off-the-cuff remarks. His aim is often to provoke the conversation and get Congress to do something–anything.

rhetorical effect: makes it impossible to believe anything Trump says, so we never know where he stands on anything. He is either “just joking,”  “doesn’t really mean that,” ‘”never really said that,” or “maybe really said it, but is totally misunderstood” Such prevarication masks his raging intolerance and smug self-satisfaction.

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