Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, Nov 30-Dec 11, 2018

it’s a well-known fact

rhetorical claim: speaking in Mississippi earlier this week, Trump repeated  that the Bush and Obama administrations had “identical policies” of child separation; that the border wall was already being built; that his healthcare proposals would protect those with pre-existing conditions; that “steel mills are being built all over the country”. Shortly afterwards he announced outside the White House that “I don’t believe” his own government’s report on the effects of climate change.

rhetorical effect: outright lies become received truths, facts are no longer relevant to persuasive arguments, and the government can make any claims it wants to. Rhetorically speaking this is scorched earth policy: total war all the time means there is no possibility of common ground. As rhetorician Sam Leith argues:

This is, perhaps, the inevitable symptom of a disaggregated media and an accelerated culture. What you might call “pop-up commonplaces” are quickly minted, virally spread through an in-group, and given authority by repetition. In the circles of the US right you might include notions that the people in the migrant caravan are largely criminals; that liberals are free-speech-suppressing “snowflakes”; that Christine Blasey Ford’s sworn testimony against Brett Kavanaugh was a Democrat smear; that George Soros funds left wing protesters; and that reports of Russian interference in the US election are “fake news”.


nothing is off the table

rhetorical claim: at the G-20 Summit, Trump said that nothing is off the table, including meeting with Saudi Crown Prince MBS.

rhetorical effect: Trump’s embrace of MBS is universally condemned, yet he persists in a rhetorical show of courage and under the guise of fighting for US defense-related jobs.  Trump’s pro-MBS stance shows that Trump is not as a builder of the world order but its enemy, not an advocate for traditional U.S. values but an amoral transactionalist.

The G-20 meeting will be unlike any in the gathering’s short history. Instead of showcasing U.S. international leadership it will compound America’s increasing isolation, and showcase a rogue president on the world stage.


noble nations

rhetorical claim: Mike Pompeo argues that America’s allies should become “noble nations” by going it alone in the world, without the UN, EU, WHO, etc. They are part of a globalist plot to weaken national sovereignty and also have made China prosper. “Our mission is to reassert our sovereignty,” Mr Pompeo said in Brussels. “We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well.” Nationalism, not multilateralism, is the best way to confront China.

Pompeo declared that Trump “sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” adding: “He knows that nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests.” Pompeo defended Trump’s efforts to revamp the international order on terms supposedly more friendly to U.S. interests, articulating the nationalist trope that international institutions and multilateral cooperation, in their current form, are failing globally and, more important, eroding U.S. sovereignty — its right and ability to act in its own interests.

rhetorical effect: makes the entire world equivalent to China and Russia in the sense of being nationalistic and solitary. Greatly complicates the pursuit of mutual interests among countries, thus making China and Russia stronger, not weaker.



rhetorical claim: privatization is the most efficient way to organize education, natural resource development, even the military. The private sector has to be responsive to the pubic will, unlike government bureaucrats. Privatization will Make America Great Again.

rhetorical effect: MAGA is a threat, not a promise: a threat to sell off America and sell out America. The new Gilded Age of profiteering and self-dealing cloaks itself in the rhetoric of individuality and the family–rhetorics in which the concept of society does not exist, and doing good for others is actually damages those you’re trying to help.


sovereignty and transcendence

rhetorical claim: as Conrad Black argues:

Christmas and Hanukkah, the two premier holidays of December in America, both celebrate concepts that are an anathema to the Left. Hanukkah, with its celebration of religious liberty and military victory carries with it a commemoration of national sovereignty in the face of a godless and power-hungry government. The religious meaning of Christmas and its focus upon the advent of a historical incarnation of the Divine within a human being places inherent worth within the individual. In the case of the Christian tradition, a human incarnation of the Divine is predicated upon the notion that the human being is something more than a simple biological being. Instead, man is also a spiritual being that is transcendent and worthy enough of the Divinity’s attention to be saved at great sacrifice to Himself. To the Left, these notions are not only parochial, but also dangerous.

It is no secret that the Left loathes the concept of national sovereignty. President Trump triggered CNN in October by claiming to be a “nationalist” at a rally in Texas. For the Left, “nationalism” is synonymous with “racism.” Yet despite the Left’s manipulation of language, it forgets that nationalism is essentially limited in its aims and based upon shared identity and sovereignty. In his new book, The Virtue of Nationalism, Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony outlines nationalism in its historical terms. No stranger to leftist animosity, modern Israel epitomizes everything the Left hates in its strong national identity, a vibrant religiosity among much of its population, and a willingness to defend its borders.

rhetorical effect: Manichean paranoia: the heathens are at the gates, the end is nigh, and you must choose a side. Moreover, since God reigns over all creation, there is no point in trying to perfect society, fight global warming, h or practice any form of state redistributionism. If human nature is fundamentally flawed at an elemental level, no amount of wealth redistribution, no environmental program, and no global governance can fix it. Indeed, utopian projects lead to authoritarianism despite their good intentions.


process crime

rhetorical claim: Mueller’s charges as mere “process crimes.” Senator Lindsey Graham called Michael Cohen’s Friday plea a “process crime,” and Rush Limbaugh chimed in that “every one of Mueller’s indictments is a process crime.”

rhetorical effect: makes an overtly criminal act (such as perjury) a non-punishable technicality, and turns the whole process of weighing evidence into a mere “process” with crazy rules rather than a tradition rooted in jurisprudence, reason, argumentation, and the scientific method. As Charles Blow argues:

Trump likes to say on the issue of immigration that if we don’t have a border, we don’t have a country. I say that if we don’t have justice, we also don’t have a country.

America is a country of laws, and if we are to believe that, and not allow that to become a perversion, no man or woman can be above the law.

As Thomas Paine wrote in his 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense”:

“In America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

And yet, Trump, his team and to some degree his supporters in Congress seem to view Trump as very much above the law — or at least some laws. The defense is bizarre: Since he is the president, there are laws he isn’t obliged to obey. In other works, it is permissible for him to break some laws, but not others.

Last year, one of the president’s lawyers went even further, claiming that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

This all holds the potential to further make a mockery of a system of justice that already privileges power.


private transaction

rhetorical claim: Trump argues that he isn’t guilty of campaign finance law violations because his payments to Stormy Daniels were a “private transaction.”

rhetorical effect: downgrades convictions of Cohen of campaign finance law violations, fraud, paying hush money, perjury, and criminal conspiracy via a cover-up from criminal acts to mere “bookkeeper errors” or just private transactions. Apparently “private transactions” cover everything Trump ever said or did. He seems to believe that he can self-exonerate himself!

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