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, March 2-8, 2018

picking winners and losers

rhetorical claim: the GOP believes in letting free markets work themselves out by their internal logic, whereas the Dems always want to pick winners and losers,  putting their thumb on the scale of economic liberty.

rhetorical effect: obscures the truth, as revealed by Catherine Rampell:

Republicans love picking winners and losers, too. They just choose different winners and different losers than Democrats do. In the case of today’s Republican officials, the winners are mostly donors, incumbents, culture-war favorites and cheats…OP officials nationwide keep proving that when they say they’re “pro-business,” what they really mean is that they’re pro-certain businesses and anti-others.

Rampell mentions subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs, regulatory relief and the suppression of lawsuits against companies as some of the ways the Trump administration plays favorites. Trump defines winning as selling more to the other guy than he sells to you–a zero-sum Darwinian struggle for survival. In reality, though, the goal of trade is increased imports, and a trade deficit is meaningless. The Balkanization of the global trading system can only damage the US.


the global arena

rhetorical claim: from McMaster’s & Cohn’s WSJ op-ed on Trump’s America First policy:

the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.

rhetorical effect: justifies: Ayn Rand-style American exceptionalism; the disruption of the post-war rules-based international order; tariffs; America’s bullying its way to get anything it wants and  the end of international cooperation. Seeing foreign affairs as an “arena” evokes gladiatorial, winner-take-all  contests


the oppression of the oppressors

rhetorical claim: best articulated by Victor Davis Hanson:

We are reaching circular firing squad moments—and a topsy-turvy world.

The concept of “disparate impact” is asterisked by the disproportional “meritocracy” of the NFL or NBA. Yet meritocratic Asian admittances at UC Berkeley are seen as some sort of unnatural “overrepresentation,” and thus in the past were carefully and stealthily trimmed. (Isn’t a professional sports billet considered far more lucrative than an undergraduate slot at Berkeley?)

Cultural appropriation aimed at whites is not reciprocal. The doctrine does not absurdly mean that Latinas should not dye their hair blond, or that talented African-Americans should not become great violinists or opera singers, or that Asian actors should not play Hamlet or Lady Macbeth. But strangely, it does mean that those who are not minorities should not play minority roles, or even adopt for their own the fashions and styles of nonwhite peoples.

We are told that the concealing and carrying of firearms should be outlawed. Armed guards at schools only ensure greater violence. Mace and pepper spray suffice instead of bullets.

Yet politicians, celebrities and marquee athletes require well-armed bodyguards, on the premise that in their unique cases, guns really do both deter and in extremis protect the important. Do armed guards protect or provoke?

Post-Freddie Grey Baltimore has become a far more dangerous place for African-Americans and for small business owners—even as once oppressive and supposedly Neanderthal police became more socially aware and adopted enlightened reforms.

There are a few common denominators to all these paradoxes that overwhelm the daily news.

One, people are people, unique individuals, not monolithic cut-outs of classes, races, or religions.

Two, in comparative global terms, it is hard for anyone to be oppressed in a free-wheeling, rich, and leisured 21st-century America. The efforts to appear so can hinge on the embarrassing.

Three, when movements, such as the identity politics core of progressivism, rely on shared oppressions, and when the categories of the oppressed in many demographic groups outnumber the available oppressors, we should expect a confused competition of grievances.

Four, victimhood cannot serve as the basis of a viable political movement. Contemporary oppression requires a Byzantine regulatory handbook of qualifications, exceptions, and nuances to rank competing reparatory claims on society and culture. How else to account for things like multibillionaire Oprah Winfrey being “discriminated” against in a Swiss boutique on the basis of supposedly not easily being accorded a customer’s look at a $38,000 crocodile-skin handbag? And is such a luxury even permissible in the era of PETA?

Who can calibrate the current plight of California feminist icon, #MeToo leader, and Latina assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who in the recent past has called for fellow legislators merely accused of sexual harassment to resign from office and to be ostracized by their associates?

Yet Garcia herself now stands accused of sexual assault. She is on temporary sabbatical. She insists she is innocent, won’t quit the legislature, and denies the independent allegation of four subordinates, who claim that they were groped, and propositioned by a supposedly randy Garcia. She now finds herself in a Thucydidean moment in which she yearns for the civil liberty protections that she was so eager to deny to others.

So who will police the police? Who is left to victimize the victims? Is it possible that the oppressed can oppress other oppressed?

rhetorical effect: Uses a circular argument (oppressors must themselves oppress in order to make their case) to undercut any charges of oppression. Labeling charges of repression hypocritical justifies all oppression, and doubly victimizes the victims of oppression.


equality of result, not of opportunity

rhetorical claim: In the eternal search for perfect justice and equality, what starts out as liberal can quickly end up as progressively absurd. The logic of equality of result, rather than equality of opportunity, demands that there is always one more group, one more grievance, one more complaint against the shrinking and overwhelmed majority.

rhetorical effect: justifies a Darwinian, winner-take-all world, a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Undercuts any progressive attempts to reduce inequality, provide any social safety net, or issue any regulations. Glibly assumes that everyone has equal opportunities,  so those who fall behind are just classic Trumpian losers.


blaming racism

rhetorical claim: As Jason Riley argues in the WSJ

We can’t hope to address effectively the social pathology on display in so many black ghettos by playing down the role of culture and personal responsibility so as to keep the focus on white racism. What blacks were doing on their own to develop human capital and to narrow racial gaps in the first half of the 20th century has a far better record of success than any government program.

rhetorical effect: arguing that we live in a “post-racist” society brackets any discussion of racism, blaming its victims’ own cultural “pathologies” and lack of “personal responsibility.” These terms in themselves are euphemisms for calling blacks degenerate and lazy; using these racist dog whistles to justify ending all social safety net programs is an unconscionable rhetorical slight-of-hand–assuming the very thing you need to prove, a form of illogical inference.


the mirage of social justice

rhetorical claim: the concept of social justice is a mirage or panacea, and does not offer a useful perspective on morality or political policy. More useful concepts include individual responsibility, justice toward individuals, protection of personal rights, and impartial application of the US Constitution as originally intended.

rhetorical effect: undercuts any discussion of collective or social justice, narrowly applying the term only to individual rights. Communitarianism, collectivity, redistributionism–all such concepts become suspect “pipe dreams.”


democracy promotion

rhetorical claim: democracy promotion has proven to be an almost universal failure (See Iraq, Libya, Egypt) for America despite being a sacred cow for both liberal and conservative globalists. A realistic foreign policy has us acting on our interests, not our values. Democratic states are not more peaceful or stable than autocracies. Morality and law cannot tame power.

rhetorical effect: questions the idea of building democracy at home and undermines the rule of law; promotes an emperor approach to the Presidency, who is placed above the law; reinforces the “realist” notion that “might makes right.”


not chaos, just tremendous energy

rhetorical claim: there is no chaos in the West Wing, only tremendous energy.

rhetorical effect: best explained by Charles Blow:

Lies. Of course the White House is in chaos. It’s just that Trump has lived his whole life in a state of chaos, so it feels perfectly normal to him. The only energy around Trump is a vortex of complicity and incompetence.

Furthermore, it should be clear to us all at this point that Trump’s public relations approach to dealing with unfavorable news is simply to rush to the nearest microphone — or log into Twitter — and say that the exact opposite is true, even when his statement is an easily provable lie.

Being right is never the point; retaliation is the point.

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