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 27-31, 2017

Orwellian language change alert:

According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration is rapidly transforming (or “rebranding”) official government language on websites and policy documents:

“Climate change” is out. “Resilience” is in. “Victims of domestic violence” are now “victims of crime.” Foreign aid for refu­gee rights has become aid to protect “national security.” “Clean energy investment” has been transformed into just plain “energy” investment….The Environmental Protection Agency has shifted from enacting climate change regulations to reversing them, while the Energy Department has moved from boosting prospects for renewable energy to promoting President Trump’s fossil fuel-focused agenda. The Trump State Department is aiming to cut spending on diplomacy and foreign aid, and the Agriculture Department has backed away from Obama-era rules to ensure healthy school lunches. Domestic violence is now called “crime.”


soft power

rhetorical claim: “America First” means leading from a position of strength, not Obama’s soft power approach of “leading from behind.” Military strength is more important than diplomatic niceties or multilateral trade deals that are bad for America.

rhetorical effect: As explained by Martin Wolf:

Mr Trump seems to prefer autocrats to today’s western Europeans. He is warm towards Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, not to mention Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He appears to care not at all about democracy or human rights. Neither does he seem committed to the mutual defence principles of Nato.

Mr Trump’s “alt- right” supporters see not a divide between the democracies and the despotisms; but rather between social progressives and globalists, whom they despise, and social traditionalists and nationalists, whom they support. For them, western Europeans are on the wrong side: they are enemies, not friends.
Now consider the west and, above all, the US in the world. The rise of China has reduced its economic and political weight. A recent history of failed wars and financial crises has savaged its leaders’ credibility. The choice of Mr Trump, a man so signally lacking in the virtues, abilities, knowledge and experience to be expected of a president, has further damaged the attractions of the democratic system. Now the west seems deeply divided internally too.

Across the world, people question the future role of the US. Would it not be wiser, they wonder, to move closer to China? Mr Trump would not appear to mind if this did happen. He voluntarily withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aimed at being an alternative to Chinese leadership. Under him, the US seems to be abandoning the notion of soft power. Indeed, the proposed budget tells us that the administration sees the idea as largely empty: guns matter, diplomacy does not.


Medicaid enhancements

rhetorical claim Medicaid for all Americans will be bigger and more beautiful than ever before.  States and insurance companies will have the flexibility to offer a variety of plans and coverages, and the market will finally be allowed to sort itself out.

rhetorical effect: Serves as a counter-factual claim to cover over the $800 billion and $1.4 trillion in future Medicaid spending over 10 years. Ideal use of a smokescreen: our cuts are not really cuts, but increased discretionary power for the states to make health care better in their local context and for insurance companies to offer bare-bones policies.


single payer fantasies

rhetorical claim: California is leading the new crusade to mandate universal, single-payer heath care reform. This proves two things: that liberals’ only response to government failure is more government, and that their Platonic ideal of health care is everything for everyone all the time. This approach will bankrupt the state.

rhetorical effect: makes any single-payer argument sound unreasonable and utopian, even though Medicare is successful; justifies limited coverage plans.


we are not here to lecture

rhetorical claim: in Saudi Arabia recently, Trump said:

“America is a sovereign nation, and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

rhetorical effect: De-emphasizes human rights as a mainstay of US foreign policy; allows autocratic states such as Russia, Turkey, China and Hungary to trample human rights with near impunity; makes any moral standard of defending human rights out to be a prissy or hypocritical “lecture” instead of a statement of principle.


rights-of-man mantra

rhetorical claim: We have a big problem with Islam, and it’s impossible to solve it through globalist, individualist, rights-of-man mantras. Islam is a rigid, authoritative religion demanding unquestioning submission. By rejecting both the nation state and Judeo-Christianity, Liberals have destroyed the main forms of communion, opening the way to radical Islam to fill the void.

rhetorical effect: privileges nationalism over globalism and human rights; makes universal human rights values sound fatuous and dangerous; paints islam as a religion of hate and intolerance, thus justifying Muslim travel bans, workplace discrimination against Muslims, and violation of Muslims’ civil rights. Calling human rights a mantra makes it sound like a cult.


anti-Trump leakers

rhetorical claim: the real (and only)  Russian-Trump scandal is going to prove to be that the anti-Trump leakers of false stories of collusion were either consciously or unwittingly working for the Russians. Mueller’s main investigation should be into leaks, not a phantom chase for non-existent Trump campaign “collusion.” The media who pass along these fake leaks are profoundly stupid and naive about how they are being manipulated by the Russians.

rhetorical effect: turns any press criticism of Trump or any aggressive news coverage into treason because it is all supposedly being directed by the Russians; plays into the “the press is the enemy of the people” meme; changes the subject from the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia into the media’s collusion with Russia.


moral and just

rhetorical claim: mandatory minimum prison sentences and three strikes rules are moral and just, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

rhetorical effect: paves the way for the return of the failed War on Drugs. Ensures that the African-American male population will continue to face mass incarceration, with its attendant stripping of all human rights and voting rights. Falsely equates morality with justice, justice with punishment, and cruelly long prison sentences for effective crime reduction.

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 19-26, 2017.

libertarian America

rhetorical claim: America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. The dynamism of the free market and personal freedom and responsibility produce consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, and taxpayers.

rhetorical effect: precludes any discussion of citizenship, compassion, collectivity, environmentalism, or human rights.


Fortress America

rhetorical claim: “America First”!  The country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.

rhetorical effect: This backward-looking and pessimistic narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it justifies autocracy and prejudice.  It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”



rhetorical claim: the Dump Trump Dems reflexively attack health care and tax reform bills in order to continue their scorched earth policy of villification and demonization of all things Trump and GOP. They will accept nothing less than Trump’s removal from office.

rhetorical effect: turns any criticism into a threat and a deliberate distortion and exaggeration. Makes the Dems sound like one-dimensional sufferers of Trump Derangement Syndrome. This projection of their own Total War strategy unto the Dems is an attempt to make themselves seem to be the reasonable and accommodating party instead of the callous, cruel, and conspiratorial party that they have turned into. . Makes any agreement with the Dems politically radioactive.


Tax Payer First Budget

rhetorical claim: to quote White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

If I had sort of a subtitle for this budget, it would be the Taxpayer First Budget. This is I think the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes. So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side: How does the budget affect those who either receive or don’t receive benefits?…Can I ask somebody, a family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to pay tax money to the government so that I can do X?…“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, describing massive safety-net program cuts that would not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.

rhetorical effect: distorts reality in a number of ways:

  1.  assumes that anyone getting social safety net aid is not paying taxes.
  2. assumes that merely cutting social safety net programs will eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse without specifying how this will be accomplished.
  3. Applies that government programs Trump voters like–the military, Social Security, Medicare–aren’t really government programs at all.
  4. assumes that scapegoating the poor for federal budget deficits will fool people into accepting massive tax cuts for the rich.
  5.  Republicans only propose massive safety net cuts when the people they’re victimizing don’t have enough political power to fight back.
  6. massive safety-net program cuts will not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.
  7. As Catherine Rampell argues in The Washington Post,

    Trumponomics — like Ryanonomics — is based on the principle that living in poverty doesn’t suck quite enough. That is, more people would be motivated to become rich if only being poor weren’t so much fun. The political ideology is reflected in major cuts to anti-poverty programs and the social safety net, all in the name of not “discourag[ing] able-bodied adults from working.” And so, with the “compassionate” goal of making the poor a little less comfortable and a little more motivated, this budget savages nearly every anti-poverty program you can imagine.



rhetorical claim: President Trump’s unapologetic foreign policy puts America first. Unlike Obama, Trump wastes no time blaming America or making excuses for our adversaries. Trump also offers safety for the entire civilized world.

rhetorical effect: implies that anyone opposing Trump is uncivilized and on the side of the terrorist, and that you either love America or are cast out as an evil adversary. Being American once again means you never have to apologize. In this hypermasculinized world, apology is tantamount to weakness and surrender.


voluntary exchanges

rhetorical claim: a thriving free market relies on voluntary exchanges between willing parties, and rests on the assumption that customers know best what is good for them and their families. In a truly fee market, the little guy is king, and can challenge the big guys with the right new idea. Everyone can participate in this totally free market without the government dictating what they can and can’t do. Big government removes the critical “voluntary” dimension of the free market. if the government would just get out of the way, business investment and worker productivity would rise substantially

rhetorical effect: justifies monopolies, price fixing, and greed in the same of competition. Acts as if markets are not rigged by tax breaks, friendly regulators, monopoly pricing, and coercion. Perpetuates the Big Lie that the free market is any way truly “free,” and that we are all primary actors in that market, directing our own fate.


cost sharing

rhetorical claim: in the new Trump budget food stamps and other safety net programs will be phased out or put on a cost sharing basis with the states.

rhetorical effect: the only people sharing the costs of these cuts will be the poor. Cost sharing is a euphemism for starving a federal program to death and blaming its demise on the states.



rhetorical claim: Mick Mulvaney argues that the new budget shows compassion for the poor by making them honor the dignity of work and get off the dole. It’s tough love, but being dependent on government handouts is not in their long-term bests interests.

rhetorical effect: Lumps all the poor together, regardless of circumstances or disabilities; makes government assistance a shameful act; accuses the poor of deceit and laziness; defines compassion as the lack of any assistance–in Christian terms, the opposite of charity. As Gail Collins puts it,

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.


slapping on

rhetorical claim: Obama-era regulators “slapped on” layer after layer of unwanted, stifling, and preemptive regulations in their heavy-handed attempt to rule America by regulatory diktat. A “light touch” administrative approach better serves the consumer and the market.

rhetorical effect: makes any regulation sound draconian and unnecessary; paves the way for massive concessions to private industry.; conflates the concepts of the consumer and the market–as if the public’s best interests are always congruent with those of private corporations. (he old way of putting this was ‘What’s good for GM is good for America.”) Makes the case for government actions that are reactionary rather than preventative.


liberal media

rhetorical claim: the liberal media are creating a false narrative about Trump, Comey, and the Russians. There is not one shred of evidence of any electoral collusion with the Russians; Comey was fired because he is incompetent and because of the Clinton investigation, and now the media has made up a story about how Trump is either impeachable or crazy.

  • Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for his mishandling of the Clinton investigation and his stubborn insistence on continuing the Russia investigation despite no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
  • The liberal media drove this narrative to take down Trump, who only wanted the investigation “done properly,” and then started to question Trump’s mental stability.
  • The “deep state” leaked classified info to the Washington Post. Plus, Trump has the right to disclose classified information to Russians, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees.
  • Comey is getting revenge with memos that reveal Trump asked him to shut down the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

rhetorical effect: strips the Comey and Russia/Trump stories of context to make these events seem random or non-existent; makes up an imaginary third party–the evil liberal media–to be the main villain in the piece; creates a false narrative of Trump as the victim of a witch hunt. Stripping context away from these stories allows Trump supporters to make up a false alternative narrative. As Vox explains:

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Right-wing media is creating coherent alternate storylines with different characters and different context — but a narrative that competes with contextual facts that support a more accurate story. Even amid some of the most troubling presidential news in decades, a huge portion of this country is having a very different experience of these events, and repeating it over and over. Our collective memories — and, in turn, our shared culture — are being splintered.

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 13-17, 2017

economic nationalism

rhetorical claim: economic nationalism, especially fairer trade deals, will lead to more jobs, more investment, and greater prosperity for all Americans.

rhetorical effect: conflates economic nationalism with free trade, even though they are polar opposites.


peripheral and incidental

rhetorical claim: the fake Trump-Russia narrative is fueled by the constant, hyperventilating reporting of peripheral and incidental connections of the Trump campaign and business empire to Russia.

rhetorical effect: trivializes the possible collusion or else nonchalantly makes it sound like business as usual; discourages any attempts to connect the dots.


one of the greatest electoral victories ever

rhetorical claim: Trump’s electoral victory was one of the greatest ever, and he actually won the popular vote if you discount the three million fraudulent Hillary votes.  He is overwhelmingly the people’s choice, yet the media continues to undermine his legitimacy.

rhetorical effect: this ridiculous claim represents Trump’s signature style: crude myth-making rooted in paranoia and cloaked in the language of democracy and the rule of law.



rhetorical claim: the Trump boom will create unparalleled economic opportunity for all Americans.

rhetorical effect: conflates opportunity with opportunism. Not only are Trump family members and cronies cashing in, but proposed tax cuts will mostly benefit the wealthiest Americans. Trump is the greatest opportunity ever for the richest Americans to get richer in the greatest redistribution of wealth in American history.



rhetorical claim: negotiating better trade deals for America will create greater prosperity and stop foreign nations from taking advantage of the US.

rhetorical effect: turns the reciprocity of negotiation into a zero-sum game with clear winners and losers. Equates winning with justice and equity.



rhetorical claim: like racism and sexism, the media’s knee-jerk, eye-rolling response to Trump represents an inborn form of discrimination. It’s all about the “feigned pained look, the furrowed brow, the curled lip.”Or comments such as, “That makes no sense” or “You must be lying” that anchors make anytime an advocate of President Trump goes on television to defend him.

rhetorical effect: makes the media appear dismissive of Trump even when they are responding to the substance (or lack of substance)i of one of Trump’s tweets or one of his surrogates’ defenses. This attack leads to false equivalency (call it “on the one hand, on the other hand”ism). Makes them treat false facts and phony narratives as real, thus normalizing deceptions and creating an ultimately exhausting fog of confusion.


pansy America

rhetorical claim: from The American Thinker website:

Americans have become a wilting, withering mass of weak, needy crybabies who have departed far and away from the strength of back, intellect, and character of America’s Founders, who created a system that none other has ever equaled.  Rather than follow along the path that made America a strong, economically thriving and prosperous nation, many Americans, especially Millennials, pursue petty and paltry pleasures, as would a sloth and a glutton, and claim their slightest whim to be a “right.”

Some things, like food, shelter, clothing, water, and health care, are critical to our lives.  However, they are not “rights.”  Even if they were made rights, this would set in motion a confiscatory requirement to satisfy that right at the expense of others, much as America currently chafes against our current welfare system.

More and more, Americans hear a clamor from their progressive countrymen of all rank and file, for wants and desires to be provided through government funds, the taxpayers’ dollars.  Now, not only do many across the nation demand health care as a right, but they also demand a $15-per-hour minimum wage and free university educations.

rhetorical effect: this diatribe demeans concepts such as health care is a right, workers deserve a living wage, the social safety net. etc. It posits a Darwinian world where the government is reduced to the military/police complex.


Trump’s “hopes”

rhetorical claim: in Comey’s alleged memo, Trump is quoted as saying that he “hopes” Comey gives up the pursuit of Flynn. Note that he never directly orders Comey to do so. How can Trump be impeached for just “hoping” for something?

rhetorical effect: makes a thinly-veiled threat–an impeachable offense– sound like a reasonably honest wish or feeling–hardly an impeachable offense.


economic equality

rhetorical claim: under Obama (and really going to back to FDR), individual Americans’ right to personal property has been taken away in the name of “equality” and “economic security.” This redistributionism will lead to the collectivization of rights and then the collectivization of property. Individual rights will be a thing of the past. The current political fight is over the future of the Bill of Rights.

rhetorical effect: turns equality into a pejorative term; privileges property over human needs; reframes the social safety net as an iron cage of fascism.



rhetorical claim: Trump and his spokespersons sometimes misspeak when tweeting, characterizing events or making statements. This is equivalent to a typo, but is seized upon by the mainstream media as proof of collusion or deception.

rhetorical effect: bait and switch: swapping a major sin (lying) for a minor one (tripping up on language, using a malapropism, etc.)


obstruction of the executive

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media challenges Trump’s authority to manage the executive branch by obstructing his every statement and policy.

rhetorical effect: turns the phrase “obstruction of justice” upside down and inside out by making it appear that it is Trump who is being obstructed. Part of the master-meme to make the media the true threats to America.


light-touch regulatory framework

rhetorical claim: we need to return to the light-touch regulatory framework of the Clinton and Bush years, where government more or less got out of the way of Wall Street, public utilities, mortgage lenders, and payday loan companies.

rhetorical effect: a euphemism for a non-touch regulatory framework; complete deregulation



rhetorical claim: trade deals have to be reciprocal, otherwise America is getting taken advantage of.

rhetorical effect: conflates retaliatory tit-for-tat with matching concessions, so, instead of imposing, say, a 10% surcharge on a nation that has its own 10% surcharge on US exports, instead we charge 10% somewhere else in our trade portfolio with that country. In other words, the reciprocity should be impacts from initial conditions, not knee-jerk retaliation.



rhetorical claim: according to McMaster, what Trump said was “wholly appropriate to that conversation” and, “in the context of the conversation,” “wholly appropriate with what the expectations are of our intelligence partners,” and it is “wholly appropriate for the President to share whatever information he thinks to advance the safety of the American people. That’s what he did.” It was also “wholly appropriate given the purpose of that conversation and the purpose of what the President was trying to achieve”—whatever purpose he might have, it seems, and whatever he might be trying to achieve.

rhetorical effect: makes it seem literally impossible for the President to ever violate classification rules; makes appropriate behavior totally dependent on circumstances. Also, as Amy Davidson points out in The New Yorker:

“There are no sensitivities in terms of me,” McMaster said. He tried to return the reporters to what he, personally, considered the “real issue”: leakers. They were the ones endangering national security, McMaster said. It sounded like the coming attractions for the next episode of White House chaos: the bitter hunt for whoever on the inside was talking to the Post.

And yet it might be the leakers who are keeping the country safe. Government officials turn to reporters when there is something that strikes them as not right. The events of this week and last have gone to the heart of what it means to work for Donald Trump. The likelihood that one will be publicly humiliated may be the least of it; participation in policies that are not good for this country is a grimmer prospect. And so is the possibility that we might forget what we expect from a President, or from the people who work for him. It might be seen as improper for a member of the intelligence community to meet with a journalist, or out of line for a national-security adviser to publicly break with his boss. But there are times when it is appropriate to do so; there are even moments when it is necessary.

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 11-13, 2017


rhetorical claim: Trump had every right to fire Comey, though the optics and timing of the firing were bad. In draining the swamp, Trump inadvertently created the appearance of a conflict of interest. There is no conflict of course because the entire Trump-Russia narrative is fake news.

rhetorical effect: as Timothy Egan argues in the NYT:,

Donald Trump is the first president in history whose campaign has come under federal investigation for collusion with a hostile foreign power. And now the person heading that investigation, the F.B.I. director, has been fired.

We’re looking for a few good men and women in Congress to understand the gravity of this debasement. We don’t need more parsing about the bad “optics” or “timing” of Trump firing the man who could have ended his presidency. We need a Republican in power to call it what it is: a bungled attempt to obstruct justice.

And the tragic part is that Trump is likely to succeed, at least in the short term. The person he chooses for F.B.I. director will never assemble a prosecutable case of treason that leads to the doorstep of this White House.

calm down

rhetorical claim: when people calm down about the Comey firing, Americans will see that trump was right.

rhetorical effect: authoritarian talk that makes any criticism of Trump seem like hysteria; makes the Comey firing seem logical and inevitable; positions Trump as being ahead of the country in terms of political insights and judgement.


constitutional crisis

rhetorical claim: In another instance of fake news, the Comey firing is being likened to Watergate and called a constitutional crisis. However, a real constitutional crisis is a trust and subservience to an entrenched, seemingly permanent, bureaucratic government that distances its citizens from ownership of their republic by elevating employees to a status higher than that of elected officials.

rhetorical effect: this “deep state” paranoia gives the right a permanent boogie man, much like The Trilateral Commission in days of yore.


strands and crumbs

rhetorical claim: the Trump-Russia false narrative is being help together by disparate and unproven strands and crumbs. Every chance meeting, offhand remark, and six-degree connection is exploited and treated as a smoking gun, whereas in actuality there was no conspiracy and there is no cover-up because there hasn’t been proven that there was anything to conspire for and so nothing to cover up.

rhetorical effect: trivializes the investigation by dismissing (though not disputing) every detail and denies its very existence by calling it a false narrative. Thus this is a false narrative about an alleged false narrative.


slow-growth welfarist malaise

rhetorical claim: the Obama years can be characterized as a slow-growth, welfarist malaise that redistributed money from the makers to the takers and discouraged American innovation and productivity.

rhetorical effect: reinforces class warfare; covers over the record profits of US corporations at the same time wage growth has stagnated. Blames the slow-growth economy on Obama, when it really is a reaction to the crash that happened under Bushie.


lost in the process

rhetorical claim: Critics of Trump’s firing of Comey get lost in the process when the main story is actually that Trump lost confidence in Comey.

rhetorical effect: justifies lying about how and why Comey got fired; deflects attention away from Trump’s obvious obstruction of justice by normalizing it as just another executive act.



rhetorical claim: Trump-Russia conspiracy theorists are peddling a false narrative.

rhetorical effect: likens Trump’s critics into traveling rag dealers or otherwise shady merchants whose goods are defective. GOP claims are never said to be peddled, but instead, are said to be revealed or uncovered.



rhetorical claim: used as an intensifier when making a claim or statement, especially at a crucial juncture of that statement. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Sarah Sanders’ recent Daily Presidential Briefing:

MS. SANDERS:  I think it’s been an erosion of confidence.  I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months and, frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes.  And certainly I think that, as you’ve seen from many of the comments from Democrat members, including Senator Schumer, they didn’t think he should be there, they thought he should be gone.  Frankly, I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this since they’ve been calling for it for so long.

rhetorical effect: whenever the GOP is about to lie, they try to soften the blow by saying “frankly” as an aside to the listener or reader, as if they are really being truthful and confiding in the listener or reader.



rhetorical claim: sure the GOP health care bill may affect the insurance coverage of millions, but what about Obamacare?

rhetorical effect: by always countering any criticisms of Trump with negatives about liberals, makes everything an ad hominem argument against the Dems. This constant attack mode forms a protective rhetorical ring around Trump.


 corporate taxes

rhetorical claim: the burden of corporate taxes actually falls on the workers, not the corporation, in the form of lower wages and benefits, fewer jobs, etc. Thus a corporate tax cut is really populist.

rhetorical effect: turns language on its head by transforming corporations into populist enterprises whose main aim is purportedly employee welfare, not profits.

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 2-10, 2017


rhetorical claim: Our comeuppance lies in a less and less distant future. But today from the media we get only the horror of any proposed budget cut. We get told about the intolerability of any entitlement reform—and will continue to get such reporting right up to the day when it all unravels. Any cut in the nominal tax rate for affluent taxpayers is an attack on the poor even if this claim has no relation to the logic of how our tax system actually works.

Entitlements won’t entitle: Medicare will pay for an operation only at a price no doctor will accept. Programmed into law already is a 29% across-the-board cut to Social Security when its trust fund runs out in 12 years.

Then, in the other great twitch of American journalism, will come the blame-laying. The finger will be pointed at everybody but the press itself for wringing out of our politicians any inclination they might have mustered to meet our challenges head-on.

rhetorical effect: the threat of a coming economic catastrophe unless the social safety net is eviscerated is designed to justify inhumane cuts to almost all non-defense sectors of the federal budget. The closest we’ve actually come to an economic meltdown was, of course, under a Republican regime.



rhetorical claim: eliminating the capital gains tax and deregulating the economy will create an unprecedented surge in US economic prosperity. Thus everyone wins–all boats rise on a rising tide.

rhetorical effect: more corporate power gleaned from deregulation will actually create even more of a winner-take-all economy. “Win-win” talk is just a euphemism for social and economic Darwinism.


abrupt and expensive changes

rhetorical claim: so-called “climate change” is either a hoax or a cyclical natural phenomenon being blamed on man-made causes. In either case, the prudent response is either to do nothing or else go things very gradually. We need to avoid abrupt and expensive fixes to a problem that probably will go away on is own.

rhetorical effect: the effects of do-nothingism or gradualism are ever more obvious as the planet warms, oceans rise, droughts and storms get more extreme, plant and animal species migrate, etc. Calling any proposed changes “abrupt” is to postpone them indefinitely. Climate change doesn’t go on recess, but Congress does.


eliminate tax breaks for special interests

rhetorical claim: Trumpian tax reform will help pay for itself by eliminating tax breaks for special interests.

rhetorical effect: this vague and simple elixir-like chant conceals multitudinous lies and helps justify tax cuts for the wealthy without addressing how they might affect the deficit. The lies include calling it tax “reform” when it is only a tax cut; the idea that anything can or will “pay for itself” without consequences and long-lasting side-effects, and that some nefarious, especially greedy group of “special interests” is driving up the federal deficit through “tax breaks.” Of course, the process of identifying which groups and which interests will be highly politicized, and whatever tax breaks the wealthy and corporations give up will be more than offset by their tax cuts.


health care policy

rhetorical claim: health care will only get more efficient and affordable if Obamacare is repealed and the government gets out of the health care business. A market approach will bring a new era of patient-directed health care.

rhetorical effect: turns health care into a product, not a right, and patients into consumers. Calla a massive tax cut a “policy,” when it’s actually just a tax cut.


Trump will be Trump

rhetorical claim: Trump is just going to do what he says he’d do and what he wants to do. This resoluteness and independence is why people voted for him in the first place.

rhetorical effect: forces the GOP into either Congressional stalemate or tortuous comprise–such as the proposed American Health Care Act. Could also make Trump irrelevant, since what he wants to do simply can’t be done–there can’t be any instant Middle East peace or an overnight crushing of ISIS or a Muslim ban or a wall across the entire US-Mexican border. He can’t pull us out of NATO or start a trade war with China or end press freedom or make theories of climate change  hoaxes.. Being Trump, oblivious to every nuance except how to advance his brand, inevitably means bumping into reality. The Dems’ greatest hope if that Trump remains Trump.


give the people what they want

rhetorical claim: the House health insurance bill gives the states flexibility to offer innovative solutions to health care expenses. The bill simply gives the people what they want–freedom to buy the insurance they want and keep their doctors.

rhetorical effect: justifies a tax break for the rich in the name of populism. “What the people really want” is affordable health care that mandates the essential services covered under the HCA and guarantees that no one with a preexisting condition can ever be denied insurance or charged an unaffordable rate. In other words, what “the people really want” is community rating. If the GOP, as claimed, also wants this, why are they even providing an escape hatch via a state waiver? Is there anyone out there who wants an insurance policy that doesn’t cover most essential services and excludes preexisting conditions?


political opponents

rhetorical claim: Sally Yates’ testimony about Flynn should be dismissed because she is a political opponent of Trump and so can’t be trusted. If anything, Yates and Susan Rice should be put on trial for “unmasking” Flynn.

rhetorical effect: makes opposing Trump a dishonorable act. By calling his opponents liars, by definition Trump becomes the only source of truth–obviously a key turning point in the establishment of a dictatorship.


lynch journalism

rhetorical claim: mainstream media journalists have a pack mentality that is always on full attack mode when it comes to Trump. They in effect are a permanent lynch party, always on patrol.

rhetorical effect: equates dissent with treason; uses reverse racism to accuse the media of the racism the right wing is steeped in.

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, April 26-30, 2017

trickle down theory

rhetorical claim: an ambitious tax cut would unleash businesses that now feel constrained by one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Corporations would be freed to build plants and create jobs in the United States instead of in foreign countries, and would bring home money currently sheltered overseas.

rhetorical effect: justifies huge tax cuts for the wealthy–they get a gusher, everyone else gets a trickle. (Also suggests getting pissed on.)  This theory persists even though there is no evidence that tax cuts produce sustained economic growth. In the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Voodoo economics indeed.


freedom to learn

rhetorical claim: freeing up public money in the form of education savings accounts or vouchers will give parents who withdraw their kids from public schools 90% of their child’s per-pupil state allocation to spend on private-school tuition, curriculum, tutoring or other state-approved education expenses.

rhetorical effect: in the name of “freedom”, school choice is a Trojan Horse for destroying the public schools. Funny how Republicans are pro-choice in education and anti-choice when it comes to abortion. Has nothing to do with learning, but everything to do with dismantling teachers’ unions and spending public money on religious indoctrination. Should be called “freedom to earn ” because of the tremendous windfall for the private sector that will ensue.


growth will pay for it

rhetorical claim: tax cuts will stimulate the economy and produce the largest  growth surge since the 1990s. Cutting corporate taxes will also amount to a pay raise for all employees, creating universal prosperity, raising everyone’s pay, increasing businesses to invest, and eliminating inheritance taxes.

rhetorical effect: A profession of pure faith–magic fairy dust. Promises all things to all people. After all, who is against lower taxes overall? Despite the fact that trickle down theory never has worked, this faith in tax cuts will never go away. Any government program is acceptable under this scenario because “growth will pay for it.” This is the biggest lie of all. As Charles Blow explains about Trump’s lies: “In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter. Passionate performance is the only ideal. A lie forcefully told and often repeated is better than truth — it is accepted as an act of faith, which is better than a point of fact.


legal babel

rhetorical claim: Obamacare’s 2,000 pages of legal babel cripple the health care insurance market, just as Dodd-Frank is full of regulatory sludge.

rhetorical effect: eliminating any policy constraints or coverage mandates will indeed simplify the insurance market: inadequate or exorbitant policies will become the universal norm. The pernicious claim tat markets are allergic to regulation is one of the wedge rhetorical ploys for all Obama administration policy changes. Demonizing regulation as sewage of nonsense makes it easier to discard altogether.


Trump administration momentum

rhetorical claim: the Freedom Caucus’s blocking Obamacare repeal stymied the Trump administration’s very real progress on deregulation, international leadership, the Supreme Court, etc.

rhetorical effect: this totally mythical conceit is designed to misdirect attention to the fact that Trump has not delivered on his signature campaign promises. The concept of “momentum” assumes that progress has already underway, which is belied by stymied Muslim travel ban, health care reform, tax reform, border wall construction, actions against China, withdrawing from the Paris Accord, etc.


left wing lunatic

rhetorical claim: the Dems are driving further leftward  ever since the election, making any of their candidates unelectable.

rhetorical effect: demonizes any opposition to Trump as crazy.


holistic tax reform

rhetorical claim: Trump’s swashbuckling tax proposals combine into one document all the tax-reform ideas that most inspire conservative movers and shakers. Simplify the brackets? Check. Lower rates? Check. Harmonize rates between corporations and small businesses? Check. Move to a territorial corporate-tax system? Check. Kill off the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, itemized deductions, and corporate loopholes? Check. This is the sort of stuff that think tanks, congressional reformers and business groups have been salivating over for since Ronald Reagan. The media will spend the coming weeks attempting to drag this debate into the minutiae, highlighting every GOP disagreement over every teensy provision.

rhetorical effect: by lumping them all together, makes it impossible to attack any one of these “plans” (really mostly just cuts) without endangering the whole schema. Belittles any attempts at compromise over such “teensie” matters as the elimination of the alternative minimum tax. Covers over the fact that the reason they’ve been hatching these plans for 25 years are the enormous tax breaks it gives to the wealthy. Most importantly, calling it “holistic” tax “reform” is double misleading because  by only cutting taxes and thus reducing revenues it is not budget neutral. In other words, without any explanation of how it would “pay for itself” (see above), it is just a tax cut, not a tax reform, or even a tax “plan”. At best it is only part of the solution, not a “holistic” approach.


climate hysterics

rhetorical claim: only climate hysterics support the “theory” of climate change or global warming, and they will lie as much as possible to perpetuate this myth.

rhetorical effect: makes any scientific claiming supporting climate change sosund hysterical–what men call women who argue with them, used as a way to belittle and silence dissent.


net neutrality

rhetorical claim: so-called “net neutrality” is a euphemism for government control of the internet. Unfettered free markets made the internet revolution happen, and should be left alone to help it continue to flourish. It is in no one’s interest to slow down or filer the internet.

rhetorical effect: assumes the free market is the only truly “neutral” force, as if monopolies do not exist.

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, April 21-25, 2017.

common values

rhetorical claim: Mainstream America wanted jobs and racial healing, secure borders and safety from jihad.  Obama gave them the opposite.  Once elected, he went further and repeatedly dissed his white voters as bigots.  Obama’s radical millennial shock troops, financed and trained during his eight years in office, now pipe the tune to which the Democrats dance. Americans began to lose their lives to jihadis and cop killers and illegal criminal aliens.  If you didn’t like it, you were called a racist and Islamophobe.  Progressives boasted that whites would soon be a minority in America.  People could see the exploding Hispanic and Muslim population in their towns and cities, brought into this country for the good of the Democrat Party, not for America’s good.  The culture war Obama launched against religious freedom was the coup de grace.  Happily, the rest of us are not stuck in Obama’s scenario.  America is not as racist as he is.  We have a unified vision of success for the whole country, based on our common American values. A renewal of freedom and personal responsibility has the potential to unleash enormous prosperity for every American citizen.

rhetorical effect: blames Obama for Trump’s victory. Polarizes the country by calling the Dems–especially the centrist Obama– polarizing. Normalizes a rhetoric of fear, overt racism and Islamophobia to justify racist and Islamophobe policies, and calls these racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic values “common” values. Plays the race card to prove they don’t play the race card.


a big beautiful wall

rhetorical claim: To stop the onslaught of illegal immigrants from eneering the US and taking American jobs, America will build a big, beautiful border wall and Mexico will pay for it. They just don’t know it yet.

rhetorical effect: justifies a fake solution to a  manufactured crisis, making  the wall sound like an inevitability. The American people are going to have to pay for, they just don’t know it yet.


health care regulatory discretion

rhetorical claim: from the WSJ:

Setting essential health benefits and pre-existing conditions allows states that want to continue to ruin their insurance markets to go right ahead. But the deal creates an exit ramp for reform Governors who want to experiment with market-based solutions. States that apply for waivers and then stimulate more liquid insurance systems with more choices and lower costs could nurture public confidence in non-ObamaCare alternatives.

The Affordable Care Act gave the Health and Human Services Department the regulatory discretion to achieve similar results, but the new waivers would carry fewer conditions for states. One reason the temperature of American politics is so hot is that too many questions have become binary decisions imposed by Washington, and decentralizing power to the states would be a pluralistic achievement.

rhetorical effect: much to unpack here. The gist seems to be that “market-based solutions”–aka, “waivers” or “regulatory concessions” –will provide an “exit ramp” for Governors who do not want mandated coverage of community rating of preexisting conditions. So this “compromise” bill will appear to be keeping essential benefits and covering preexisting conditions, but, in reality, actually won’t do either . “Market-based” is a synonym for Darwinian or fraudulent.

Instead, we will get “liquid insurance systems,” which simply means they will disappear when you make substantial claims. What they call a “pluralistic” outcome will in effect be the one outcome they seek: much leaner “junk” policies that will appear to lower costs but will end up sending everyone back to the e.r. because their insurance is useless.

The “fix” is in.


student thuggery

rhetorical claim: “snowflake” college students are suppressing free speech when they exercise soft totalitarianism to ban unpalatable speakers. Mugging the First Amendment is hardly the sign of a tolerant, educated person.

rhetorical effect: tars students as thugs and totalitarians if they simply oppose their school’s support of racist, sexist speakers. Shifts the focus from the hate-filled words and malign intent of the speakers to the supposed naivete and imperiousness of the students. Creates a false equivalency between “free” speech and “hate” speech.


hoax of the month

rhetorical claim: Bill O’Reilly is hated because he sees through the progressives’ hoax of the month: global warming, evil bankers, sympathetic criminals, Black Lives Matter, Cops Lives Don’t Matter, etc. There will be no patience for the likes of Black Lives Matter and the anarchist groups seen disrupting Berkeley and the colleges. Traditional cultural norms will reassert themselves, and the exotic lifestyles that have flourished in the last 20 years will be frowned on.

rhetorical effect: all liberal causes are linked together as fake news, and progressivism is perceived as a gigantic hoax on the American people.


the Fourth Turning

rhetorical claim: Steve Bannon is right: there is a new cycle in American history in which the real Americans will prevail with lower taxes, fewer sex offenders, and real borders. Free people with guns and money to use as they choose will control the country. . Criminal justice will be swift and rough. Vagrants will be rounded up, the mentally ill recommitted, criminal appeals shortened, and executions hastened.

rhetorical effect: “Free people with guns and money” want to foment a civil war.The Fourth Turning is code language for racism, sexism, political repression, and attacks on free speech.


leading from the side

rhetorical claim: America is once again leading the world via economic, military and political influence, as opposed to Obama’s abandonment of global leadership otherwise known as “leading from behind.” This “leading from the side strategy” emphasizes engaging with allies. The Mattis-McMaster foreign policy taking shape looks like a flexible strategy born of military experience in fast, fluid circumstances—our world. It is based on both formal and mobile alliances with partners willing to use diplomatic, financial, political and, if necessary, military pressure to establish stable outcomes. The word “abandon” doesn’t fit here.

rhetorical effect: beneath the blather about honoring alliances and being flexible, this is either the same as Obama’s foreign policy or else a smokescreen for Trump’s erratic, kneejerk volatility, which only warns the world that America is unstable and unreliable.


American economic exceptionalism

rhetorical claim: The best way to gauge America’s capacity to reignite economic growth through tax reform is to move beyond congressional economic models and look to the empirical evidence of our historical ability to grow and prosper. America’s economic exceptionalism has been the product of freedom and opportunity, secured through limited government–and especially in Reagan’s administration. When government policies have strengthened or impeded these sources of American exceptionalism, they have yielded quantifiably different results.

rhetorical effect: Paves the way for tax cuts for the rich–the only group that really ever enjoy economic exceptionalism, freedom, and opportunity. The trickle-down fantasists  claim about Reagan’s tax cuts is designed to cover up his military keynesianism that exploded the debt. Reagan inherited a $90 billion national debt and left his successor a  $2.9 trillion debt, mostly because of his Pentagon build up. In addition, Reagan’s big tax cuts overshot so badly that he subsequently raised taxes eleven times to stanch the flow of red ink. And, from page 276 of Principles of Macroeconomics, 7th edition, written by N. Gregory Mankiw, a conservative: “When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he was committed to smaller government and lower taxes. Yet he found cutting government spending to be more difficult politically than cutting taxes. The result was the beginning of a period of large budget deficits that continued not only through Reagan’s time in office but also for many years thereafter. As a result, government debt rose from 26 percent of GDP in 1980 to 50 percent of GDP in 1993.”

The tax-cutting, deregulating snake oil salesmen always claim that economic progress in subsequent years is due to Reagan’s policies, as if George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had nothing to do with Clinton’s surpluses.

We saw what happened with Junior Bush’s tax cuts and unfunded war/legislation — he left Obama a $1.4 trillion deficit. The tax fairy abandoned him, as well.

An remember: under Obama we had 75 months of continuous job growth — despite inheriting an 800,000 monthly job loss.


economic nationalism

rhetorical claim: an ”America First” economic policy will revive the economy and create thousands of good-paying jobs. The coming economic boom will be fueled by American-made products.

rhetorical effect: As Kevin Williamson argues in National Review

To call it “economic nationalism” would be too grand: It is merely a very narrow form of special-interest politics consisting of backdoor handouts to favored corporate interests.

Trump has signed an executive order organized around two themes: “Buy American” and “Hire American.” In sum, the executive order is intended to provide incentives for American businessmen to . . . not act too much like the guy who built Trump Tower with illegal-immigrant labor and who relies on the H-2B visa program to keep Mar-a-Lago stocked with dishwashers and housekeepers. That guy, if we are to take Trump’s rhetoric seriously, is kind of a jerk, one who doesn’t care about the country at all. The “Buy American” order is, in Trump style, pretty vague, with a lot that will need to be filled in later by people who know what the hell they’re talking about. (Fortunately, he does have a few of those around.) It makes minor administrative changes to existing “Buy American” federal procurement rules, which date back to the “Buy American Act” passed in 1933, a year not renowned for the excellence of its political and economic ideas. Bad call, Herbert Hoover.