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, May 12-17, 2018

loyalty

rhetorical claim: President Trump above all prizes loyalty because leaks are part of the Washington Swamp culture.

rhetorical effect: best expressed by The Economist:

Mr Trump’s takeover has its roots in the take-no-prisoners tribalism that gripped American politics long before he became president. And in the past the Oval Office has occasionally belonged to narcissists some of whom lied, seduced, bullied or undermined presidential norms. But none has behaved quite as blatantly as Mr Trump.

At the heart of his system of power is his contempt for the truth….James Comey, whom Mr Trump fired as director of the FBI, laments “the lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth”. Mr Trump does not—perhaps cannot—distinguish between facts and falsehoods. As a businessman and on the campaign he behaved as if the truth was whatever he could get away with. And, as president, Mr Trump surely believes that his power means he can get away with a great deal.

When power dominates truth, criticism becomes betrayal. Critics cannot appeal to neutral facts and remain loyal, because facts are not neutral. As Hannah Arendt wrote of the 1920s and 1930s, any statement of fact becomes a question of motive. Thus, when H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser, said (uncontroversially) that Russia had interfered in the election campaign, Mr Trump heard his words as unforgivably hostile. Soon after, he was sacked.

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merit-based immigration

rhetorical claim: As asserted by Tomi Lahren on Fox News,  would-be immigrants “need to understand that it’s a privilege to be an American — and that’s a privilege that you work toward. It’s not a right, You don’t just come into this country with low skills, low education, not understanding the language — and come into our country, because someone says it makes them feel nice. That’s not what this country is based on. The fact that we care more about feelings and kinship over actually improving the United States of America is the problem.” As White House Chief of Staff John Kelly put it,

The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13 … but they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. …

They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. … The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.

rhetorical effect: increases xenophobia, racism,  and mindless nationalism; demonizes immigrants as freeloaders; breaks up families; decimates the American rags-to-riches dream by turning immigration into a meritocracy.

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militant Normals

rhetorical claim: Trump’s election stopped the liberals’ war on normalcy. Regular Americans rebelled against the elite to reclaim their democracy.

rhetorical effect: divides the country against itself; casts liberals as abnormal and un-American; accuses liberals of directly assaulting American democracy. supports Trump’s pony embrace of coal miners, auto workers, construction workers, etc., and thus camouflages the fact that the tax cut only is helping the very wealthy.

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so-called allies

rhetorical claim: the moment of truth is coming for our so-called European allies when it comes to Iran: will they enforce sanctions or appease a murderous regime and oppose US interest. In a Donald Trump presidency, the US must be respected or there will be a heavy price to pay.

rhetorical effect: undermines our key alliances with England, France, and Germany; prefers bullying and brute force to diplomacy; concedes America’s moral leadership in foreign policy; reduces foreign policy to a zero-sum, “with us or against us” discourse.

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let us reason together

safe spaces

rhetorical claim: college speech codes unduly protect campus “snowflakes” from true political debate. They should respect the age-old academic tradition of “let us reason together.” Argument should never be a safe space.

rhetorical effect: by ignoring the disproportionate inequalities created by power and privilege, simply reinforces power and privilege. Uses a false call to “reason” because it will not accept any claims of power or privilege. Premises the call for reason on the false premise of a level playing field.

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cost-benefit analysis

green button-pushing

rhetorical claim: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been squandering his chances to make New Yorkers energy-sufficient, all in the name of virtue-signaling his green credentials. His energy policies–and those of “greens” cannot sand up to cost-benefit analysis because there is no benefit–they only affect a vanishingly-small percentage of total greenhouse gases. As explained by Holman Jenkins:

Careers like Mr. Cuomo’s are built on running down what might be called “good policy” political capital. Mr. Cuomo is using up the state’s margin of energy survival to burnish his green potentials. He is sacrificing upstate’s economy to burnish his green credentials.

President Trump may lack decorum, but his corporate tax reform addressed a universally recognized problem, and now future politicians have a fresh cushion for antibusiness tax gestures without unduly risking the economy.

Ditto his trimming back of President Obama’s expensive but ineffectual climate policies: Now future politicians can dip their buckets in this well to advance their careers without overtaxing the citizenry’s ability to sustain costly climate gestures that produce no benefit.

This is the good-policy capital buffer at work. Mr. Cuomo is doing statewide what Mayor David Dinkins did for New York City in the early 1990s, using up the buffer.

rhetorical effect: dismisses alternative energy proposals as hypocritical, short-sighted and even dangerous to national security. Uses personal attack to undercut green policies, and repeats the old lie that responsible energy policies are, by definition, “anti-business.”

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looking forward, not backward

rhetorical claim: Gina Haspel should be confirmed to head the CIA because we need to look forward, not backward, when it comes to protecting national security. Her past support of torture should not be used against her because it is no longer relevant and she has also pledged to defy President Trump if he orders torture.

rhetorical effect: once again postpones the day or reckoning for past US uses of torture; uses the “rule of law” argument to support her when Trump violates the “rule of law” every day in every way and she has no track record of saying no to power. Whitewashes the past.

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animals

rhetorical claim: many immigrants into the US are animals, not people, and should be treated as such. We are under siege by a group of determined criminals and rapists and terrorists, and should even think about closing our border down altogether until we figure out what is going on.

rhetorical effect: dehumanizes all immigrants; condones abusing immigrants; furthers Trumps racist, xenophobic, hate-filled policies.

 

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