Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, Dec 21-Jan 1, 2019

spending problem

rhetorical claim: the budget deficit is not a revenue problem but is caused by Congress’ spending problem.

rhetorical effect: the trickle-sown fantasy at work: the deregulated, low-tax economy will somehow, magically, produce enough new revenue generated by a booming economy, to wipe out the deficit. Ignores several inconvenient facts: the budget deficit (like the trade deficit) is increasing; Trump himself wants to spend billions more on the border wall and defense; and the trickling has only reached the top .1 percent.


the Trump Doctrine

rhetorical claim: no one should meddle with either the President’s personal finances or his foreign and domestic policies. Prosecutorial mischief is rampant as Mueller illegally and unconstitutionally deepens his fake investigations into trumped-up charges.

rhetorical effect: the Trump doctrine–even when couched as “America First”– is always and only “Trump First”, with no accountability nor honor whatsoever. His despotic personality is proving to be his undoing. This brazen indifference toward any standards of accountability obscures just how disgusting Trump is, and actually enables him–making things much worse almost every day now. As David Brooks puts it, “Trump doesn’t recognize, understand or respect institutional authority. He only understands personal power. He sees every conflict as a personal conflict in which he destroys or gets destroyed”.


government shutdown

rhetorical claim: the government shutdown is the President’s principled, stalwart defense of border security.

rhetorical effect: obscures what is in reality a breakdown, not a shutdown or showdown.



rhetorical claim: Trump is a disrupter, so what appears to be chaos is actual reform and even revolutionary change coming into being in real time. This is what it looks and feels like to drain the swamp.

rhetorical effect: best expressed by Paul Krugman

People wanted disruption, but too often Trump has given us destruction, distraction, debasement and sheer ignorance.

And while, yes, we need disruption in some areas, we also desperately need innovation in others. How do we manage these giant social networks? How do we integrate artificial intelligence into every aspect of our society, as China is doing? How do we make lifelong learning available to every American? At a time when we need to be building bridges to the 21st century, all Trump can talk about is building a wall with Mexico — a political stunt to energize his base rather than the comprehensive immigration reform that we really need.

Indeed, Trump’s biggest disruption has been to undermine the norms and values we associate with a U.S. president and U.S. leadership. And now that Trump has freed himself of all restraints from within his White House staff, his cabinet and his party — so that “Trump can be Trump,” we are told — he is freer than ever to remake America in his image.

And what is that image? According to The Washington Post’s latest tally, Trump has made 7,546 false or misleading claims through Dec. 20, the 700th day of his term in office. And all that was supposedly before “we let Trump be Trump.”

If America starts to behave as a selfish, shameless, lying grifter like Trump, you simply cannot imagine how unstable — how disruptive — world markets and geopolitics may become.

We cannot afford to find out.


the American pantheon

rhetorical claim: As we look to our celebrities, billionaires, intellectuals and senior statesmen, a sort of American pantheon, do we to find sources of reassurance in Hollywood, perhaps in the statements and behavior of the last two years of Cher, Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp, or Madonna? Do the Oscars, Tonys, and Emmys showcase the expertise, competence, and professionalism of our entertainers?

Our self-righteous anti- and pre-Trump aristocracy was so often a mediocracy. It had assumed status and privilege largely on suspect criteria. Its record abroad and at home inspired little confidence. Doing mostly the opposite of what elite conventional wisdom advocated since January 2017 has made the nation stronger, not weaker.

Strangest of all, the elite’s furious venom directed at Trump, couched in ethical pretense, has had the odd effect to remind the American people how unethical and incompetent these people were, are, and likely will continue to be.

rhetorical effect: calling moral objections to Trump ‘”ethical pretenses” strips them of their import: if they are only an excuse to bash Trump, then they have no ethical foundation. Thus, the logic goes, all Trump critics lack ethics, morals, principles, self-distance and competence. The New Man–a Trump man–becomes the new measure of the ideal American–jingoistic, racist, sexist, indifferent to human suffering. As Michael Gerson argues–in this case about Trump’s wall–:

Even as a political metaphor, the wall is badly lacking. It is the symbol of a political movement that has left liberty, inclusion and optimism behind it. Trumpism cultivates public fears to increase the role and power of the state. It locates national strength not in the character of a people but in the actions of an empowered leader. This is not even in the general category of conservatism.


manifest destiny

rhetorical claim: from the American Greatness website:

Trump is not looking to Europe and the nationalists of the 1930s but he drawing on the spirit and the history of America’s founding and early decades, looking to the great men who solidified a great nation.

We can call it whatever we want, but theirs is the intellectual heritage that Trump is harking back to when he speaks of American nationalism. Clay, Jackson, Polk and the rest had flaws, God knows. The Left holds as a matter of faith and doctrine that America was founded on racism, imperialism, slavery, and exploitation large and small. Is that what our contemporary “conservatives” now think, too?

The truth is, America’s first nationalists took the reins from the founding generation and secured America’s future as a growing power. America came of age during in the 19th century and the imprint that period left is still very much with us today. When Donald Trump talks about “America First,” he’s calling upon a long and noble tradition of fighting for the country’s best interests.

Trump yearns for an America that can fulfill its destiny.

rhetorical effect: Lionizing Trump as a disrupter on behalf of the “the people”, fulfilling  a mystical and self-serving  sense of a national destiny,  is tantamount to creating a myth about history and turning unfolding history into a myth.


the Trump Prophecy

rhetorical claim: The month before the 2018 midterms, a thousand theaters screened “The Trump Prophecy,” a film that tells the story of Mark Taylor, a former firefighter who claims that God told him in 2011 that Donald Trump would be elected president.

At a critical moment in the film, just after the actor representing Mr. Taylor collapses in the flashing light of an epiphany, he picks up a Bible and turns to the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah, which describes the anointment of King Cyrus by God. In the next scene, we hear Mr. Trump being interviewed on “The 700 Club,” a popular Christian television show.

As Lance Wallnau, an evangelical author and speaker who appears in the film, once said, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”

rhetorical effect: contributes to the sense that Trump can do no wrong and is above the law.  King Donald. Resistance to Trump equates with resistance to God. As Katherine Stewart puts it:

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.


California elitism

rhetorical claim: as argued by Victor Davis Hanson:

California residents by far buys more Lexuses and Mercedes than people buy in any other state; 16 percent of all in-state car sales are luxury brands. The reigning ideology of aristocratic wealth, however, is neither conservatism nor blue-stocking Republicanism, but a strange blend of capitalism and socialism.

Or, rather, it’s explained best in the medieval terms of absolution and penance: a Gallic-like psychological syndrome of wanting lots of money in the concrete but in the abstract justifying such retrograde appetites by promoting cultural progressivism, with the caveat that the wages of entitlements, high taxes, illegal immigration, radical environmentalism, soaring home prices, multiculturalism, and diversity do not really affect those in Palo Verdes, Malibu, Healdsburg, or Menlo Park.

In other words, the costly effects of green mandates on power and gasoline, the rising bloated diversity bureaucracy in the public schools and colleges, the release to the ocean of millions of acre feet of precious stored water in reservoirs, and the $100 billion high-speed-rail debacle under way in Fresno and Kings County are simply the psychological atonements for living the life in a cloistered Versailles….

There is a new mentality in which the virtue-signaling elite enjoy the cheap labor of the poor and do not much care about the poor’s inability to access reasonably priced gasoline and electrical power, safe neighborhoods, and quality schools and infrastructure. From their secure keeps, they square that circle by offering generous entitlements, open borders, and progressive empathy — and lots of self-righteous bumper-sticker rhetoric.

rhetorical effect: class warfare, anti-intellectualism; techphobia; racism.

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