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, July 13-18, 2017

pal review

rhetorical claim: progressivism’s junk science rests on fake facts, which are reinforced by the buddy system in which pal review replaces truly objective peer review.

rhetorical effect: delegitimizes the scientific process and scholarly peer review standards, and politicizes all scientific findings as part of a conspiracy. Rendering scientific truths–especially inconvenient ones such as those concerning global warming–relative allows them to present their alt-facts as equally legitimate–a case of false equivalencies.


liberal moralizing

rhetorical claim: liberal moralizing tends to read as college-educated people in cities arguing that everyone should behave more like them. These condescending busybodies are too busy telling everyone else how to live to examine their own arrogance and cultural prejudices. Thus they have created a permanent cultural disconnect between themselves and Trump supporters. The government should let people be free to do what they want in their lives.

rhetorical effect: calling liberals busybodies and scolders has always been a classic ad hominem attack, intended to redirect the focus from the facts themselves (i.e., that eating too much red meat is bad for your health and for the environment) to the messengers of those facts.) In this way, the right wing dissociates itself from any liberals claims of fact, reducing them all to moral superiority. This rhetorical belittling and defusing precludes ever having to take any liberal claims of fact seriously.


the coming period of time

(aka, “we’ll get something done, eventually”)

rhetorical claim: Trump says he will reveal his modified thoughts on the Paris Accord in “the coming period of time.”

rhetorical effect: “The coming period of time” never comes with Trump, so this phrase obfuscates the fact that Trump has no intention of revisiting the US position on climate change, no plan for defeating ISIS, no plan for “getting Mexico to pay for the wall”, no “big, beautiful” health care bill, etc. In fact, whenever Trump uses this phrase, you can assume he is really confessing his unpreparedness and so is lying.



rhetorical claim: the real collusion has been between the Dems and foreign agents, who keep planting fake news stories or entrapping people like Donald Jr.

rhetorical effect: calling the whole thing a witch hunt or giant conspiracy against Trump or Stalinesque show trial  reinforces the paranoid vision of the Dems trying to overturn the election. By turning the tables and accusing the Dems of obstruction and collusion, Trump changes the subject and goes from defense to offense, clouding up what even counts as reality.


high quality person

rhetorical claim: Donald Jr. is totally innocent and transparent.  His meeting with the Russian lawyer was a real nothing burger. Like his father, he is the victim of the greatest witch hunt in history. He is a high-quality person.

rhetorical effect: as Gail Collins puts it, makes it sound as if  ” Junior was a washer-dryer on sale at the mall”. However, isn’t it  a “big deal” when senior representatives of an American presidential campaign meet with a purported representative of a hostile foreign power for the purpose of cooperating in that foreign power’s effort to influence an American presidential campaign? It’s an even bigger deal when news of that meeting emerges after an avalanche of denials and evasions. Desperate attempts to “save the narrative” of the whole Trump-Russia fiasco being nothing more than a fake fact are thus undermined. Since Junior has repeatedly lied about the meeting, his “high quality” doesn’t seem immediately apparent.


not a crime

rhetorical claim: meeting with a Russian is not a crime, and Junior’s initial statement about the meeting was a miscommunication. Trump’s enemies are desperate for something impeachable. But remember, there is no such thing as the crime of collusion. It’s not even a misdemeanor. And unless the Russian lawyer provided an illegal contribution, stolen property, etc., to the Trump campaign, there is no crime that will take this story where the media want it to go. But that doesn’t mean they will quit trying. There has been no crime.

rhetorical effect: This may be true in a narrow legal sense, but doesn’t wash ethically. As David French argues in The National Review,

The standard for impeachment, the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” is not concerned with criminal offenses found in the penal statute books and suitable for courtroom prosecution. It relates instead to the president’s high fiduciary duty to the American people and allegiance to our system of government.

Alexander Hamilton put it best in Federalist No. 65. Impeachable offenses are those Which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The bickering over collusion “crimes” misses the point. If an unfit person holds the presidency, the danger to our society is that he will abuse the power that he wields. The imperative is to remove him from office. Whether, in addition to that, his misconduct also happens to violate penal statutes and be ripe for criminal prosecution is a side issue.



rhetorical claim: As OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, explains,

If the Trump administration has one overarching goal, it’s to Make America Great Again. But what does this mean? It means we are promoting MAGAnomics—and that means sustained 3% economic growth….

For merely suggesting that we can get back to that level, the administration has been criticized as unrealistic. That’s fine with us. We heard the same pessimism 40 years ago, when the country was mired in “stagflation” and “malaise.” But Ronald Reagan dared to challenge that thinking and steered us to a boom that many people thought unachievable. In the 7½ years following the end of the recession in 1982, real GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.4%. That is what a recovery looks like, and what the American economy is still capable of achieving.

The focus of MAGAnomics is simple: Grow the economy and with it the wealth of, and opportunity for, all Americans. It does that by focusing on fundamental principles that made the U.S. economy the greatest engine of prosperity in the history of the planet.

rhetorical effect: makes short-term,”economic growth” an excuse for lowering taxes for the wealthy, gutting all federal regulation, decimating the social safety net, and decimating the environment. American Greatness is thus defined down from liberty and justice for all to tax relief–a Darwinian rather than a Jeffersonian vision for America.


the fake news industrial complex

rhetorical claim: the fake Tump-Russia story is undermining democracy and part of the fake news industrial network, a better name than the “mainstream media”.

rhetorical effect: As Frank Bruni explains:

It’s possible that Trump’s fans will never blame him, because of one of his most self-serving and corrosive feats: the stirring of partisanship and distrust of institutions into the conviction that there’s no such thing as objective truth. There are only rival claims. There are always “alternative facts.” Charges of mere bias are the antiquated weapons of yesteryear; “fake news” is the new nullifier, and it’s a phrase so dear to him that his unprincipled acolytes are building on it. Last week a Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, lashed out at the “fake news industrial complex.” Trump reportedly swooned.

What happens to a democracy whose citizens not only lose common ground but also take a match to the idea of a common reality? Thanks in part to Trump, we may find out. He doesn’t care about civility or basic decency, and even if he did, he lacks the discipline to yoke his actions to any ideals. The Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik expressed it perfectly, telling me, “His presidency is what happens when you have road rage in the Oval Office.”

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, July 1-10, 2017

political stunt

rhetorical claim: state electoral commissions’ refusal to provide the Election Integrity Commission with publicly available voter data is a political stunt

rhetorical effect: calling it a “stunt” rather than a principled position mocks and degrades it, turning voter information into a political time bomb. Appears to be a perfectly innocent, common sense request, whereas it actually is a wolf in sheep’s cloths, requesting privacy data (such as social security numbers and party affiliation) of all voters.


people will die

rhetorical claim: Dems tell us that Medicare cuts will lead to people dying. Rhetoric suggesting that “elected leaders are murderers if they dare pare back the welfare state” is both hypocritical and dangerous, By the Democrats’ logic, Barack Obama killed people. After all, some people lost health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Heck, life expectancy went down for the first time in decades after Obamacare went into effect.

Taken literally, such rhetoric means that entitlement reform is impossible, because any attempt to get our fiscal house in order would require some people, somewhere, to lose some benefits.

rhetorical effect: this justificatory GOP irony works hard to delegitimize any claims that Medicaid cuts will harm people-even that they are cuts at all. This dismissal of claims of harm opens the door for their main black-is-white lies: that Medicaid cuts will “stabilize” insurance markets, will also protect the poor better than ever before. This is analogous to the argument that more consumer “choice” of health plans will give Americans better coverage, instead of merely  eliminating any quality minimums.


heath care standardization and quality minimums

rhetorical claim: more consumer “choice” of health plans will give Americans access to better coverage.

rhetorical effect: “min-med” policies that cover virtually nothing will be allowed to proliferate as insurers rush to tweak plans that cater only the young and healthy; people won’t discover that they aren’t covered until it’s too late; eliminates quality minimums and standardization of health plans; increases likelihood of soaring deductibles, hidden exclusions, and skimpy coverage of actual conditions; makes it impossible to comparison shop health plans; greatly increases opportunities for obfuscation of terms and exclusions (i.e., covering one time of medicine for maybe only a month, or excluding some cancers from coverage altogether). The only “freedom to choose” will be either skimpy policies or Obama-care quality policies that will be too expensive and collapse. Freedom to have access does not mean freedom to afford.


he’s a counter-puncher

rhetorical claim: The president’s tweets is  a fighter and a counterpuncher who needs to return fire on the fake media. When they hot him, he hits back twice as hard.

rhetorical effect: “He’s a fighter” and “He’s a counterpuncher” are not serious arguments. They’re simply euphemistic descriptions of his tendency to let his id run free like an escaped monkey from a cocaine study. He intentionally equates “winning” with dominating the narrative, defining success tautologically as succeeding.


Leftist violence

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media play down incidents such as the Steve Scalise shooting when they are carried out by avowed liberals. They also minimize or ignore the anti-Trump hatred generated by Kathy Griffin, Shakespeare in the Park, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, etc.

rhetorical effect: this fallacy of false equivalency conflates violence with criticism, and criminalizes free speech. In line with the meme that the press is the enemy of the people, this hyperbolic claim of progressive violence also excuses racist hatred and violence on the right.


tax collectors for the entitlement state

rhetorical claim: big government advocates (aka, the dishonest left and the timid right), who see themselves as tax collectors for the entitlement state, are calling for keeping Obamacare’s surtax on investment income. Economic merits do not seem to count in this political fantasia. The reason to repeal the surtax isn’t to reward the rich, but to increase the stock of capital and improve the incentives for capital formation, which in turns increases labor productivity, wages and job creation.

rhetorical effect: this unified field theory of the great Trickle Down is an attempt to cloak the wolf of enormous tax cuts for the wealthy in the sheep’s clothes of greater prosperity for all. The tax cuts come immediately and irretrievably–the wider prosperity not so quickly, even to the vanishing point. Conservative magical thinking orthodoxy is clearly at work here, a kind of domino theory of inevitable causation: tax cuts beget capital, labor productivity and jobs. Tax cuts are thus presented as the magical elixir, fixing all of our economic inequalities, inadequacies, and sluggishness.


the rent-seeking, parasite economy

rhetorical claim: the Beltway’s deep state is a rent-seeking, parasitic economy based on government bloat, regulatory stranglehold over the rest of America, unbridled greed, cultural and social elitism, and unrivaled hypocrisy.

rhetorical effect: any advocate of regulation, equality, justice, or the social safety net is dismissed as a “parasite,”–a blood-sucking vermin drinking up the blood of the real Americans. This is another rhetorical step toward dehumanizing the left, thus justifying violence and persecution against them.


the bonds of culture, faith and tradition

rhetorical claim: radical Islamic terrorists are trying to undermine the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that unite the US and the West against barbarism. Any defense of justification of them thus erodes civilization itself.

rhetorical effect: revives the “blood, God and country” totalitarian militarism of Nazi Germany. Conflates identity, nationalism and religion in a way that criminalizes any minority religious beliefs and castigates them as uncivilized. Promotes a zero-sum clash of civilizations: whenever one wins, the other loses. Dehumanizes Islam and essentializes white, Eurocentric values. It’s not clear who “our civilization” will “triumph” over, but it is clear that Trump sees a coming cultural Armageddon and wants to be Crusader In Chief.


The modern day  Presidential

rhetorical claim: Trump’s tweets and campaign rallies are the “modern day Presidential,” and thus a departure from boring speeches and policy papers.

rhetorical effect: debases public discourse; gives rise to character assassination of opponents; offer simple solutions to complex problems; allows for contradiction and ambiguity. Leads to a total public breakdown of political communication.


responsibility as accountability

rhetorical claim: individual responsibility means making people accountable for their lives and circumstances.

rhetorical effect: ends the notion of responsibility as a social duty; makes welfare and social safety net programs seem like handouts from the “winners” to the losers,” shifts the focus of government from the collective to the individual.


the question of Russian interference

moving forward

rhetorical claim: the whole issue of Russian interference ion our election cycle, is, according to Rex Tillerson, a “question.” Donald Trump agrees, pointing pout that “we’ll probably never know” the truth and we should move forward in our relations with Russia.

rhetorical effect: confuses absolute certainty with high probability; by calling it a question rather than a fact, casts the entire process as a controversy or even a conspiratorial fantasy; “moving forward” means not looking back–in other words, a cover-up and total exoneration of Putin.



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, June 27-29, 2017


rhetorical claim: Trumpcare will offer consumers more choices than Obamacare, with a wider variety of premium costs and  deductibles, better coverage to the neediest, etc.  This will put heath care in the hands of consumers, not the government

rhetorical effect: makes it sound like even Medicaid is a “choice,” with lots of alternatives–just another marketplace where consumers can make their own choices according to their own tastes and budgets, as they might at Whole Foods or Walmart,Of course, it isn’t—people forced off Medicaid will not have anywhere else to go and thus will be back to emergency room visits to cover all medical issues. ‘Choice” to the GOP always means being at the dictates of the supposedly flawless “free market,” which is ‘”free” only if you believe collusion, price-fixing, and obscene profits don’t exist. What will the concept of a “free market” mean when elderly Medicare recipients are suddenly priced out of their nursing homes? When the GOP says ‘”choice” they actually mean either unaffordability or ultra-skimpy insurance plans. As explained in the Washington Post:

It would make individual market premiums, even after including subsidies, prohibitively expensive, effectively locking millions out of the “choice” of individual insurance, too.

In fact, for some unlucky people, subsidized individual plans would disappear entirely. That’s because the Senate bill says that people offered any employer coverage would become ineligible for subsidized insurance on the exchanges — even if they can’t actually afford the plan their employer offers.

I suppose lots of sick people will newly have the “choice” of buying an expensive plan that covers none of the services they need. So there’s that.

When all’s said and done, there’s just one major Republican health-care principle this bill remains loyal to: tax cuts for the rich.

In the new GOP rhetoric, “choice” now connotes greed without shame, the neediest be damned.



rhetorical claim: Trumpcare will finally give Americans the freedom to only buy the health care they want, and to stop subsidizing the unhealthy lifestyles of others.

rhetorical effect: The only freedom Trumpcare offers is the freedom for rich people to not be taxed. Oh, and poor people would have the freedom to buy insurance with a deductible they cannot afford. In this case, the best slogan  for Trumpcare, comes from Janis Joplin: “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”



rhetorical claim: Trumpcare will eliminate all government mandates and let the people choose their own healthcare.

rhetorical effect: obscures the true reality of Trumpcare, which is itself a gigantic mandate to take an entitlement away from the poor and give a tax cut to the rich. Survival of the richest! Also obscures the latest Trumpcare mandate: the “tweak” that fines those who go without insurance for six months.


upgraded state insurance markets

rhetorical claim: Trumpcare will give states the flexibility to upgrade insurance markets.

rhetorical effect: “upgrades” will entail reduced coverage, higher deductibles, annual and lifetime caps, and restricted access to Medicaid. The only thing upgraded will be insurance company profits. Synonyms for “upgrade” include “choice”, “enhanced”, “efficient”, “unleashed” and “patient-centered.”


enhanced understanding

rhetorical claim: Due to the so-called “enhanced understanding” of liberal federal  judges, progressives smugly think that unelected judges know best when it comes to issues best fitted for federalist (that is, state)  solutions, such as abortion and marriage. More proof that they believe the American public can’t be trusted.

rhetorical effect: pits progressives against “the people,” thus making populists out to be elitists.


job creators

rhetorical claim: eliminate regulations protecting workers, consumers and the environment are job-creation measures. This is just trickle-down economics in another form: Whatever fulfills the desires of the most-privileged sectors in our society is declared to be good for everyone else. But God forbid that government do anything to help the non-rich directly.

rhetorical effect: as A.J. Dionne argues,

This is just trickle-down economics in another form: Whatever fulfills the desires of the most-privileged sectors in our society is declared to be good for everyone else. But God forbid that government do anything to help the non-rich directly.


welfare reform

rhetorical claim: Medicaid is a form of welfare, not social insurance. According to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney,

For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft.

Mulvaney goes on to reach out to core Trump supporters:

So if you left for work this morning in the dark, if you came home after your kids were asleep, if you feel lucky to get overtime pay to support your aging parents or adult children, if you’re working part-time but praying for a full-time job, if your savings are as exhausted as you are, you have not been forgotten.

rhetorical effect: By calling Medicaid welfare rather than insurance, this argument justifies decimating the social safety net by vilifying all government aid recipients as deadbeats, frauds and even criminals. Divides Americans between the makers and the takers, and justifies social darwinism. The only larceny being committed is the GOP taking away social insurance.


energy dominance

rhetorical claim: America no longer just wants energy independence–we want energy dominance.

rhetorical effect: best explained by Gail Collins:

Remember the good old days when all we wanted was energy independence? It’s a new era and you don’t want to be just skipping along the independence trail when you could be right up there on the mountaintop with your foot on the rest of the world’s throat. Leaders, shmeaders. We’re going to be dominators.


the war on truth

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media produces endless qualities of fake news in an attempt to overturn the 2016 election results. They have started a war on truth.

rhetorical effect: Trump’s notion of truth is whatever he can get away with, at any given moment, for any given purpose. To Trump, truth is a series of wants and wishes, and is totally removed from any facts. This rhetorical strategy was first devised by Richard Nixon, As explained by Jonathan Schell in his 1975 classic, The Time of Illusion:

But whether the Administration was saying one thing in public while doing the opposite in secret or was saying one thing in public while doing the opposite also in public, and whether it was cloaking liberal programs in conservative disguises or cloaking conservative programs in liberal disguises, and whether it was framing policy that was meant to succeed or framing policy that was meant to fail, the one constant was that it had broken the unity of word and deed which makes political action intelligible to the rest of the world.

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, June 20-25, 2017

suicide by diversity

rhetorical claim: Europe is creating cultural suicide with lax immigration policies. Increasing terrorism across Europe is a direct result of these lax immigration policies.

rhetorical effect: demonizes and delegitimizes immigrants; assumes that cultural firewalls are possible and that cultural purity can be maintained in an age of digital technology, globalization, and cultural change and recombination. By demonizing immigrants, limits who counts as “real” people, worthy of citizenship.


bomb the shit out of ’em

rhetorical claim: Trump’s America First militancy doesn’t include any apology tours, “red lines” or “reset buttons.” He means what he says, and his actions back up his words.

rhetorical effect: Ready. Fire. Aim, The hell with international law, diplomacy, the efficacy of NATO, the immorality of torture, or the inadvisability of using the rhetoric of “radical Islamic terrorism.”


judicial pretexts

rhetorical claim: liberal-leaning federal appeals courts have discovered pretexts to strike down the Muslim travel ban. Their ends-justify-the-means ransacking and undermining of the Constitution threatens the balance of power.

rhetorical effect: calling legal opinions mere “pretexts” insures that no opinions Trumpinistas oppose can be taken seriously because they are hypocritical, naked power grabs, not based on constitutional principles. The rhetorical effect is to consider them “so-called judges,” thus completely undermining their authority. Judicial opinions acceptable to the GOP are defended as bring “originalist” and based on sound Constitutional reasoning.


cultural norms

rhetorical claim: the sexual revolution of the 1960s completely undermined long-standing cultural norms, thus excusing and even condoning deviancy. It also made women sexual slaves by reducing sex from its elevated Genesis vision of human dignity to a mere bodily function.

rhetorical effect: leads directly to abortion bans, the banning of contraception, and abstinence-only education. Tries to establish eternal, fixed “cultural norms,” especially those established in the 1950s; paternalisticly undermines any belief in the equality of the sexes by claiming that women need to be protected from their own sexuality.


innocuous, incidental and routine

rhetorical claim: the absurd notion that the President of the United States committed treason with the Russians is a Dem fantasy built entirely on innocuous, incidental and routine contacts between Americans and Russians. It is an attempt to criminalize perfectly innocent human contacts that are natural and grounded in Washington practice.

rhetorical effect: trivializes any charges of collusion with Russians as overblown and baseless by attempting to normalize them as “business as usual.” Makes it impossible to make a case for criminal charges because the threshold for such charges–outright transcripts or recordings of collusion- is set so high and is so literal-minded. Dismisses any attempt to prove a discernible pattern of behavior;”connecting the dots” is impossible if there are no “dots,” only innocent contacts. Truth disregarded becomes truth degraded.


the exterminating Left

rhetorical claim: political correctness and charges of “cultural appropriation” have led the Left to unparalleled intolerance of free speech, and they are quick to exterminate anyone who challenges their Taliban-like control over thought and speech.

rhetorical effect: defames, discredits and delegitimizes all liberal policy positions and language. Treats all ideals about injustice, intolerance and  inequality as intolerant ideology; acts as if the GOP doesn’t also police their own language by using phrases such “the death tax” rather than “the estate tax,” and doesn’t mercilessly cast out any apostates.


more flexibility to the states

rhetorical claim: under Trumpcare, everyone will have access to affordable health care, and will have a choice of doctors and plans. Trumpcare is pAtient-centered, and market-driven.

rhetorical effect: softens the regressive, redistrubutionist effects of the Trumpcare bill, as explained by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post:

All of this suggests that in some key ways, the GOP strategy is working. Republicans have gone to enormous lengths to obscure the plan’s profoundly regressive features. They have endlessly told the lie that no one will be worse off (because everyone will have “access” to affordable coverage), and they’ve developed numerous cleverly designed talking points designed to create the impression that, by slowly phasing in the loss of coverage for millions over time, this will create a painless transition to … well, to a blissful state in which everyone, again, has “access” to affordable coverage. Among these: “Smooth glide path.” “Rescue mission.” “Bridge to better health care.” “Soft landing.”

As Sargent goes on to point out, the irony is that starting in 2021, when federal Medicaid expansion starts to be phased out, states will have no flexibility because they must balance their own budgets and will only be able to do so by reducing health care for the poor.


dodgy dossier

rhetorical claim: Democratic leaders in Congress keep referring to it to cook up more charges against Trump, while liberal media continue to use it as a road map to find “scoops” on Trump in the “Russiagate” conspiracy they’re peddling — still hoping against hope that the central thrust of the report — that Trump entered into an unholy alliance with the Russian government during the election — will one day prove true and bring about the downfall of his presidency.

rhetorical effect: pejoratives such as “cook up,” “scoops”, “peddling,” undermine the efficacy and motivation behind “Russiagate.” itself also in  fright quotes. Reinforces the argument that the entire things is “fake news” and a ‘witch hunt”.


special interests

rhetorical claim: special interests such as seniors, hospitals, doctors and nurses are out to derail the Trumpcare bill.

rhetorical effect: turns the majority into a “special” interest. This seemingly neutral or even approving phrase has long been weaponized in political discourse to mean parochial, selfish interests that should be dismissed. Justifies Trump’s authoritarian pseudopopulism, all done in the name of the people against the “special interests,” “the swamp” or “the Deep State”


place at the table

rhetorical claim: instead of being obstructionist, the Dems should compromise on health care and take their place at the table in negotiating health care reform.

rhetorical effect: makes the Dems seem obstructionist when they have in fact never been invited to the table, and when the price of a seat is to surrender all of their values and policies.

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, June 13-18, 2017


rhetorical claim: progressives have triumphed over faith. Now they’re targeting conscience itself. Their bleak vision of civic life does not allow any religious liberty in the public square.

rhetorical effect: makes progressives out to be godless bigots fighting a tyrannical war against religious freedom. By arguing that progressives lack any respect for conscience, this meme equates liberalism with nihilism.


preposterous Russian fantasies

rhetorical claim: the Dems’ witch hunt is nothing more than a vendetta against Trump for winning the election, and is merely based on innuendo and partisan distaste with Trump. A presidential election is being overturned by an elite consensus across the vast ideological and cultural divide running all the way from the New York Times to the Washington Post. 

rhetorical effect: dusts off the old argument about liberal elites dominating the mainstream media; relegates all adverse Russia-Trump stories to being “fake news” and liberal fantasies. Their logic seems to be that if you say something isn’t there enough times, maybe it will just go away.


informed choice

rhetorical claim: consumer protections should help people make informed choices instead of trying to dictate choices with prohibitive rules.

rhetorical effect: often used in defense of stripping away most Dodd-Frank provisions, this inside-out logic argues that fewer government regulations mean more consumer protection–that people are more informed when the government doesn’t mandate any transparency or information.



rhetorical claim: Speaking of obstruction of justice, what about Loretta Lynch blocking the Clinton e-mail investigation?

rhetorical effect: proves effective at changing the subject or creating false equivalencies. Acts as if any question, inconsistency or factual error invalidates an entire claim.


freedom from

rhetorical claim: The GOP plan to eliminate health coverage for millions of Americans and do away with such essential health benefits as maternity care for millions more is just a matter of good old free-market consumerism. As explained by Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Tea Party Republican, “Americans have choices. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” As Paul Ryan put it,  “Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Trumpcare, Mike Pence tell us, is all about “bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

rhetorical effect: Trumpcare offers “freedom” from health care. As Jim Hightower puts it,  you are as free as you can afford to be:

right-wing, corporate-funded ideologues have fabricated a new negative notion of “freedoms” derived from individual choice. You’re free to be poor, free to be politically powerless or free to be ill and uncared for; it’s all a matter of decisions you freely make in life, and our larger society has no business interfering with your free will.


sexual risk avoidance

rhetorical claim: marriage is the best context for sexual activity, and we need to normalize sexual delay for teenagers. So a holistic policy of  virginity until marriage is the best solution, and also in line with biblical reaching. Premarital sex makes people dirty and incapable of falling in love.

rhetorical effect: makes it sound as if abstinence-only education is a public health initiative instead of religion-tinged sexual shaming. Demonizes contraception.


multicultural indemnity

rhetorical claim: President Obama was able to do whatever he wanted because , according to Victor David Hanson, he was protected by “the thin exculpatory veneer of Ivy League pretension, multicultural indemnity, and studied smoothness.”

rhetorical effect: implies that any expressed belief in the benefits of multiculturalism amounts to a hypocritical excuse to abuse power. Multiculturalism is thus framed as essentially a con game  based on the quest for power, not on principle.


defending my honor

rhetorical claim: Jeff Sessions defended himself against “false and scurrilous attacks” because his honor was at stake. Despite Dem attempts to defame him as a liar, prevaricator and co-conspirator, Sessions defended his honor.

rhetorical effect: playing the honor card in this case is a threat, designed to make questioners back off in order to avoid a personal confrontation. The honor card allowed him to either lie or refuse to answer key questions. The only thing he seems to have remembered is that he did nothing wrong.

However, Sessions did plenty wrong, especially in refusing, on several occasions, to act, and thus revealing an either gross incompetence or a bewildering lack of curiosity:

  1. Sessions says that he discussed getting rid of Comey after the election but before the inauguration. If Comey was doing such damage to the FBI, why did Sessions wait six months to recommend his removal? Also, in all that time why didn’t he discuss Comey’s job performance with Comey?
  2. Sally Yates warned the new administration about not trusting Michael Flynn because he was under an investigative cloud, but apparently this admonition never spread to the FBI Director or else he was blase about it.
  3. Sessions never discussed Russian hacking with Comey, Trump  or the Russians. How is it possible that he has still not been briefed on it, and only knows about from media reports?
  4. Sessions never asked Comey what Trump said when he cleared the room to be alone with Comey.
  5. Sessions couldn’t cite any law or policy preventing him from reporting conversations with the President. How could he not have been prepped to answer this most fundamental question?
  6. Sessions testified that he “in effect” recused himself his second day in office, but didn’t actually do so for another two or three weeks. Why not?


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, June 5-11, 2017

nefarious plot

rhetorical claim:  First the Dems tried the plot line that Trump himself was responsible, but with that now failing they are falling back on a fictional, nefarious “conspiracy” or “collusion”  plot.

rhetorical effect: Every attempt to link the players in this drama is called a false conspiracy theory, and every piece of evidence pointing to a concerted coverup is dismissed as anecdotal or out of context. Calling something “nefarious” undermines its credibility by making it sound shadowy and delusional.


he’s just new to this

rhetorical claim: “He’s just new to this,” offered Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, by way of explanation for President Trump’s oafish efforts to get James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to drop the bureau’s investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. Mr. Trump stumbled, Mr. Ryan went on, because he is “learning as he goes,” and because “he wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between D.O.J., F.B.I. and White Houses.”

rhetorical effect: As Maureen Dowd puts it, “The real problem isn’t that Trump is a Washington naïf, though he is. It’s that he brought his own distorted reality and warped values with him.” This Candide defense turns Trump into a useful idiot rather than a Machiavellian autocrat; defies common sense and experience: of course Trump knew he was threatening Comey. As the New York Times editorializes,

The claim of inexperience is but one of the excuses offered by the caucus, compelled by this president’s misbehavior and misadventures to grow more inventive by the day……

Republican officeholders are in a quandary, ashamed of Mr. Trump but terrified that if they speak out his voters will send them packing in 2018. If they can fake respect for him long enough, they might manage to enact their agenda. While Americans focused on the Comey hearing on Thursday, the House passed a bill rolling back Wall Street rules aimed at preventing another financial crisis. And in the Senate, behind closed doors, Republicans worked to shove a bill gutting health care coverage to a vote without a single hearing.


long-running protocols

rhetorical claim: (see above)

rhetorical effect: turns laws, customs and norms into mere protocols, thus diminishing their importance–as “protocols,” they seem makeshift and artificial, not rooted in morality. Isn’t telling the truth one of our “long-running protocols?”


foreign policy arena

rhetorical claim: H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s advisers on security and economics, have recently written that: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, non-governmental 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: this Hobbesian view of all against all makes life sound like a Roman gladiatorial circus. As Martin Wolfe puts it in The Financial Times:

The US abandoned such a 19th-century view of international relations after it ended so catastrophically in the 20th. In its place came the ideas, embedded in the institutions it created and the alliances it formed, that values matter as well as interests and responsibilities, as well as benefits. Above all, the earth is not just an arena. It is our shared home. It does not belong to one nation, even such a powerful one. Looking after the planet is the moral responsibility of all.

The US cannot be made “great” by rejecting global responsibility and embracing coal. That is atavistic. Mr Trump’s appeal to irrationality, xenophobia and resentment is frightening.


equivocation fallacy

rhetorical claim: since there are no substantiated allegations in the Trump-Russia probe, the Dems are having to fall back on the false equivocation fallacy that talking with the Russians after the election is tantamount to colluding with them and fixing the election.

rhetorical effect: part of the p.r.campaign to completely exonerate Trump and make the whole thing go away; attempts to limit any Trump culpability to overt, specific threats to Comey if he didn’t end the investigation; accuses the Dems of equivocating because they don’t have any evidence.



rhetorical claim: Freedom–of people, minds and markets–is the solution to our vexing social and economic problems, not their cause.

rhetorical effect: equates freedom from constraints–on speech, behavior, markets–with freedom to do anything in the name of freedom. For example, free markets are often the cause of problems–price-fixing, discrimination, shoddy products, consumer frauds–and not their solution. This “freedom” mantra is a Hobbesian view of mankind–all against all. Offers no vision of community or values other than the lack of constraints.



rhetorical claim: President Trump is said to be getting increasingly frustrated at the slowness of the courts and bureaucracies to implement his political and economic agenda.

rhetorical effect: As explained by Greg Sargent in The Washington Post:

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University who writes extensively on authoritarianism and Italian fascism, told me that a discernible trait of authoritarian and autocratic rulers is ongoing “frustration” with the “inability to make others do their bidding” and with “institutional and bureaucratic procedures and checks and balances.”

“Trump doesn’t respect democratic procedure and finds it to be something that gets in his way,” Ben-Ghiat said. “The blaming of others is very typical of autocrats, because they have difficulty listening to a reality that doesn’t coincide with their version of it. It’s part of the authoritarian temperament to blame others when things aren’t working.”

Trump expects independent officials “to behave according to personal loyalty, as opposed to following the rules,” added Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who wrote “On Tyranny,” a book of lessons from the 20th century. “For Trump, that is how the world is supposed to work. Trump doesn’t understand that in the world there might truly be laws and rules that constrain a leader.”

Snyder noted that authoritarian tendencies often go hand in hand with impatience at such constraints. “You have to have morality and a set of institutions that escape the normal balance of administrative practice,” Snyder said. “You have to be able to lie all the time. You have to have people around you who tell you how wonderful you are all the time. You have to have institutions which don’t follow the law and instead follow some kind of law of loyalty.”


sneering liberal elites

rhetorical claim: sneering liberal elites are suddenly talking about ways to attract Trump voters back to the Democrats, but in doing so continue to condescend to working, religious-minded, gun-totting Americans. The modern American progressive has no faith in the democratic process because he has no trust in the American people. Progressives consider all political opponents to be oppressors.

rhetorical effect: defending progressive values and policy positions against Trump-style autocratic populism is vilified as condescending and inherently discriminatory. In other words, in accusing the progressives of elitist identity politics, the GOP itself engages in essentialized identity politics, considering all  progressives to be elitists.


coddling Islamists

rhetorical claim: we must end the political coddling of so-called soft Islamic groups and imams who treat candor about the Islamist threat as anti-Muslim or refuse to identify radicals in their midst. This coddling also extends to opposition to NSA metadata gathering and surveillance, which must be stepped up, not curtailed for politically correct but irrelevant “civil rights” reasons.

rhetorical effect: paves the way for the segregation–even quarantining and interning–all Muslims. Creates the internal logic for religious discrimination.


coal and mining jobs

rhetorical claim: Trump has already created 50,000 coal and mining jobs as part of Making America Great Again.

rhetorical effect: this talking point makes it sound as if coal is making an unprecedented comeback, whereas, in reality, as argued in the Washington Post, almost all the new jobs in “coal and mining” come in oil production and infrastructure. Only about 1,000 of these 50,000 jobs are in the coal industry. The truth is that nearly every administration statement about the economy either misrepresents the facts or just makes them up. Nothing should be taken at face value.


carbon taxes

rhetorical claim: Paris Accord taxes on carbon emissions would cripple US industry and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Innovation and the free market will solve climate issues, not government policy.

rhetorical effect: makes any proposed environmental regulatory policy sound unpatriotic and economically suicidal. They never explain, though, why the magic of the free market can’t assert itself even in the face of a modest carbon tax–why it only seems to work when the GOP gets its way on everything.


America First

rhetorical claim: in abrogating the Paris Accord, President Trump is taking an “America First” approach: we won’t be bullied by other nations, globalist lobbyists, elitist climate alarmists, or other who want to tear down American power.

rhetorical effect: Best explained by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post:

The problem with “America First” is that it describes an attitude, not a purpose. It substitutes selfishness for realism.

It implies that nations can go it alone, that we stand for nothing beyond our immediate self-interest, and that we should give little thought to how the rest of humanity thinks or lives. It suggests that if we are strong enough, we can prosper no matter how much chaos, disorder or injustice surrounds us.

America First leads to the diplomacy of narcissism, to use what has become a loaded word in the Trump era. And narcissism is as unhealthy for nations as it is for people.

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, June 1-4, 2017

privatizing infrastructure

rhetorical claim: Transferring government assets to private parties will lead to new efficiencies in roads, bridges, airports, waterways, etc. Eliminating onerous government regulatory oversight and burdensome environmental reviews will lead to millions of new jobs. .

rhetorical effect: Russian oligarchs amassed their fortunes when government assets were transferred to private parties at bargain-basement prices by a regime based on cronyism. The tax savings from eliminating these programs from the federal budget will be more than offset by tolls on using roads, airports, maybe even water systems.


total authority

rhetorical claim: just as Trump says he gives the military “total authority” over decisions to use US force abroad, he deserves the right to get his way in domestic matters as well because he won the election in a landslide.

rhetorical effect: as argued by Masha Gessen:

Mr. Trump has admitted that being president is harder than he thought. He does not, however, appear to be humbled by this discovery. More likely, he is, in keeping with his understanding of politics, resentful because his opponents — his predecessor, the elites, the establishment — have made things so complicated. If they had not, things would be as he thinks they should be: One man would give orders, and they would be carried out. He would not have to deal with recalcitrant legislators or, worse, meddlesome investigators. One nation, with the biggest bombs in the world, would dominate every other country and would not have to concern itself with the endlessly intricate relationships among and between all those other countries. The United States would run like a business, an old-fashioned top-down company of the sort Mr. Trump used to run, the kind of company managed through the sheer exertion of power.


Pittsburgh, Not Paris

rhetorical claim: In dropping out of the Paris Accord, Trump has put America first, again. We will no longer be taken advantage of by other nations, who were laughing at us because they had no intention of cutting their own emissions.  As Trump put it in his Rose Garden speech, “At what point does America get demeaned?”

rhetorical effect: strengthens the pernicious myth that the New World Order–particularly the Europeans–are a vast socialist conspiracy aimed at undermining US interests. Also plays to his crucial midwestern political base, who feel sucker-punched by everyone–the Democrats, the Deep State, the EU, etc. “Fortress America” is reborn and re-energized.


the foreign arena

rhetorical claim: According to Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster, “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that 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: replaces a somewhat benign view of the world as a mutual cooperation society to a starkly Darwinian Thunder Dome of unvarying competition. Ridicules the whole idea of community, and equates military strength with moral strength. Argues that selfishness is the main driver of human affairs. As David Brooks argues,

In the essay, McMaster and Cohn make explicit the great act of moral decoupling woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest.

We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases.

The error is that it misunderstands what drives human action. Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals……

Realist leaders like Trump, McMaster and Cohn seek to dismiss this whole moral realm. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.

By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.

By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.


the Resistance

rhetorical claim: federal appeals courts defying Trump administration policies are a holdover from the Obama tyranny, in effect serving as “the Resistance,” and punishing the American people for having voted for the wrong presidential candidate.

rhetorical effect: paves the way for courts to become complete political lackeys, as in a banana republic; undermines judicial independence and separation of powers; equates winning the electoral college with a mandate to silence judicial dissent.



rhetorical claim: Donald Trump represents the authority of the people. As the first truly populist President, he must battle the “deep state” constantly.

rhetorical effect: disguises Trump’s plutopopulism.


disability-welfare state

rhetorical claim: like the Deep State, the disability-welfare state will do everything it can to resist Trump. This permanent state of dependence serves as a de facto guaranteed annual income to millions of takers.

rhetorical effect: shames people with disabilities, accusing them of fraud; makes any social service programs seem hypocritical and wasteful; provides an enemy to take pot shots at.


undue burden

rhetorical claim: as is the case with Dodd-Frank, or the fiduciary bill, government over-regulation stifles economic freedom, innovation, and growth. This undue burden on capitalism shackles American prosperity.

rhetorical effect: likens any federal regulation of the private sector to a burden rather than a safeguard. Decides what is “undue,” but never explains that calculus. After all, is there any “due” burden in the mind of the GOP?


climate alarmism

rhetorical claim: As argued in The American Thinker:

The climate agenda is much bigger than it seems; it moves hundreds of billions of dollars annually and demands trillions. In the ’90s, the science wasn’t settled regarding the numerical values of the effect of human-emitted infrared active gases and particulates.  But there has never been evidence justifying alarm.  Today, the science is settled against climate alarmism.  Throughout history, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been much higher than it is today or is expected to be in the foreseeable future, yet life has thrived.  Carbon dioxide is the product of human breath and essential for plant survival.  The global temperature trends over the last hundred years show no correlation with carbon dioxide concentration.  The alarmist denial of this basic scientific knowledge makes the climate agenda an effective weapon of mass social destruction.

At long last, we finally have a president who is willing and able to abolish climate alarmism in America. The climate agenda must be renounced for its scientific invalidity.  All the economic and political reasons to reject it remain in force, but invoking them tempts European politicians to engage in virtue-signaling and ritual scapegoating of the U.S.

Climate alarmism will not simply fade away.  Something receiving hundreds of billions of dollars annually cannot fade away.  Besides, very powerful political forces have tied their destiny to climate alarmism.  In the U.S., these forces include Big Green, the mis-educational complex, and possibly even the Democratic Party.  Abroad, most of the European political establishment is on the hook.  Together, they wield a lot of power and know how to use it.  On the other hand, a mere renouncement by the U.S. government would deliver a knockout to climate alarmism.  Abandoning the unratified Paris agreement would be a small step in the right direction.

rhetorical effect: In the name of corporate profits and deregulation, their distortions cover over the big lie that the market and technology will solve any environmental crisis. They perpetuate this lie by ridiculing climate change scientific researchers as “purported” scientists; likening environmental concerns to a giant conspiracy theory; calling any climate change press coverage “media hysteria”; claiming that there is no such thing as “settled science”, and making environmentalists out to be either fools,  con artists or part of a conspiracy of “global activists.”