Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, June 7-11, 2018

very dishonest

rhetorical claim: Justin Trudeau betrayed America at the G-7 summit, and is a very dishonest person.

rhetorical effect: as usual, Trump accuses others of committing his own sins.


cost-benefit analysis


rhetorical claim: Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency jammed through an average of 565 new rules each year of his Presidency, imposing the highest regulatory costs of any agency. It pulled off this regulatory spree in part by gaming cost-benefit analysis to downplay the consequences of its major environmental rules. The Trump Administration has already rolled back some of this overregulation, and now Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to stop the EPA’s numerical shenanigans, too.

rhetorical effect: “overregulation” is the new definition of all Obama-era regulation. Costs and benefits have now reversed position: what used to be called long-term social cost is now seen as a benefit; any inconvenient outcome or side effect is no longer factored into “scientific” assessment, so that negative consequences are no longer recognized at all.

America First

rhetorical claim: America will no longer be taken advantage of in trade deals. ‘”America First” means a return to American greatness and economic dominance. In a commencement address at the Naval Academy last month, President Trump told the graduates: “Winning is such a great feeling, isn’t it? Winning is such a great feeling. Nothing like winning — you got to win.” He later repeated the idea: “Victory, winning, beautiful words, but that is what it is all about.”

rhetorical effect: a post-multilateral, Darwinian world in which trade is transactional and predatory and America uses its size advantage to bully the rest of the world. The US will no longer have friends, just temporary alliances. Effects include: disruption of the global supply chain, confusion, increasing Chinese influence in the world economy, possible inflation, and a view of international infrastructure projects as wasteful spending. As Ruth Marcus put it in the Washington Post:

To him, none of the benefits of the post-World War II international architecture matter. It’s about his pride, his demand for attention, his ability to create havoc — and if he needs to take a wrecking ball to the Western alliance to convince himself he’s smarter than all his predecessors, he’ll not think twice about it.


letting Trump be Trump

draining the swamp


rhetorical claim: Trump being Trump is upsetting a lot of people, and the more he drains the swamp and makes America Great Again, the angrier and more desperate liberals get.

rhetorical effect: chaos, demoralization, the breakdown of the rule of law and  rules-based foreign policies, the end of civil liberties, and the entire repeal of the New Deal. As argued by Chauncy DeVega:

This is a version of what philosopher Hans Sluga has described as Donald Trump’s “empire of disorientation.” It is one of the most powerful outputs of the malignant reality that Donald Trump and other authoritarians have cast upon the land like dark mages.

Many people have been left exhausted and sickened by Trump’s lies and chaos, and by the anti-democratic agenda that has been so quickly normalized. But for his supporters this conjuring is a type of glamour where the gullible and desperate, the self-interested and mercenary, are made to believe that there will be a restoration of a mythic, glorious American past in the present which will somehow last for all time. This offers Trump and his followers a type of immortality by proxy. But despite the promises these grand designs are usually not very durable; they crumble; Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” only lasted 12 years….

Historian Nancy MacLean explained this in a conversation with me for Salon last year:

In this Koch-donor dream, we are all responsible for ourselves from the cradle to the grave, unless there is a charity that happens to take an interest in us. We do not have federal laws to outlaw pollution or to prevent discrimination. Instead we trust everything to the free market and private property. This cause has pitted itself against the whole American model of 20th-century government. Regulation of food and drugs, the New Deal’s federal support for workers to organize and hold corporations accountable, the civil rights movement, the women’s and the environmental movements, all of these things are illegitimate in the eyes of these people on the right…

In an interview during the 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump said that his effort to “Make America Great Again” would return the country to the 1940s and 1950s. This is a “Leave it to Beaver” American Whiteopia, which was also a nightmare for anyone who was not a straight white man. In reality, this was an era of Jim Crow white supremacy when women were treated as second-class citizens and gays, lesbians and transgender people were stigmatized as being “mentally ill,” “deviants” or “predators.”

But Trump’s “empire of disorientation” and its co-conspirators in the American right would be happy to bring America back much farther than to a mythic version of the 1950s or 1940s. They yearn to re-create the 19th-century Gilded Age, when there were few if any limits on the ruinous behavior of big business and the rich.

If Trump and his allies were to fully get their way, America could perhaps even be returned to the 19th century. A second Confederate States of America would be inaugurated where in its updated 21st-century version nonwhites — especially blacks — would “know their place,” women would be “properly submissive,” there would be no unions or labor laws, gays and lesbians would disappear back into the closet, right-wing Christianity would supersede secular laws and white men would rule for all time because that was and is “the natural order of things.”


post-identity politics

rhetorical claim: the Trump era means we have entered a phase of post-identity politics. People can no longer expect to have an unfair advantage because they are women,  minorities or refugees or whatever. Political correctness is dead, and white people won’t be discriminated against any more.

rhetorical effect: obscures the fact that considering yourself white is itself a form of identity politics, a certain privileging. Rhetorically transforming whites from being oppressors to victims it itself a form of oppression



rhetorical claim: As explained by Daniel Henninger:

The people who voted for Hillary still claim to be shocked and stunned that an electorate beaten down by the politicization of everything in life voted for the guy who makes a mockery of all that.

Donald Trump is a showman, who has been playing the media like a Stradivarius his whole life. Now he’s got Twitter, his own loud calliope.

In 2016, his Republican primary opponents didn’t recognize that we are living in an age of bread and circuses, an age Donald Trump didn’t create but into which he inserted his own circus. Curiosity seekers filled the tent and loved the show.

The sophisticates in the media thought they could beat Donald Trump at this game by burying him under waves of negative publicity. But he feeds off of it, just as he turned the Philadelphia Eagles’ White House no-show into a display of patriotic music, with the maestro at the center.

Now, fantastically, some Democrats are complaining that they can’t get their message out (the tax cut didn’t work, Medicare for all) because Donald Trump has blotted out the media sun. Gee whiz, whose fault is that?

The eclipse won’t end. The media has turned the Trump presidency into a phenomenon of constant self-absorption — their self-absorption in this one person. Donald Trump has become the biggest balloon in a political Macy’s parade of modern media’s own creation. They could let go of the ropes. But they won’t.

rhetorical effect: sarcastically blaming the media “sophisticates” for Trump’s bombast and constant dishonesty is classic turn-the-tables reframing or reversal of fact and truth, or transformation of presumption. . There is a difference between politicizing to make a moral point or an ethical argument and politicizing just to “win” at any cost, without any moral or ethical basis. Trump lacks an ethos.

Blame shifting would likely be the best term that covers this rhetorical sleight-of-hand. It is a rhetorical technique as old as leadership. Although often used to shift blame to scapegoats it could be used against your opponent as well. Such types of rhetoric are not new they were well practiced in ancient Rome. The four fundamental elements of all classical rhetoric were.

  • Addition (adiectio), also called repetition/expansion/superabundance
  • Omission (detractio), also called subtraction/abridgement/lack
  • Transposition (transmutatio), also called transferring
  • Permutation (immutatio), also called switching / interchange / substitution / transmutation

Language in the Age of Trump is a constant act of reversing known and observable reality, a kind of verbal conjuring in which all compass points are obliterated and everyone is thus perpetually disoriented and cut off from dependable, representational language.



rhetorical claim: Mr. Trump has understood better than his predecessors that the U.S. can be in the strong position if it wants to be. His predecessors made themselves supplicants to the Kim family, much as the Obama administration made itself a supplicant to Iran. They put themselves in the position of begging an adversary not to take steps that would require the U.S. to carry out its threats.

rhetorical effect: Turns any attempt to compromise with North Korea or offer them incentives to an act of surrender, appeasement, supplication. Curiously enough, this is exactly what Trump ended up doing anyway: offering them everything and getting nothing in return.

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