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, Jan. 24-30, 2017

therapeutic foreign policy

rhetorical claim: Obama’s feel-good, apologetic, fuzzy-headed foreign policy assuaged liberal neuroses about asserting American power, but amounted to a “speak softly and carry a small stick” policy. Those near-treasonous, cosmopolitan, globalist days are over because Trump is not reflective or apologetic about putting “America first” in foreign policy.

rhetorical effect: such swaggering belligerence condones, even demands, bullying, jingoism, military adventurism, foreign entanglements, encouragement of militant Islamic jihadists, and knee-jerk, hair-trigger aggression. The opposite of therapeutic isn’t unreflective, but, instead, untreated; raw id  should not be driving foreign policy because recklessness exacts a heavy psychological price later on.



rhetorical claim: dissent has meant many things to liberals over the years: the highest form of patriotism during the Bush era , obstructionism during the Obama years, and now resistance in the Trump era.

rhetorical effect: dissent becomes potentially criminalized during the Trump era.


traditional partnership with the states

rhetorical claim: the Obama EPA set itself up as the sole regulator of every waterway in America, but the Trump EPA  will defer to the states, which should reassure developers that jobs and profits are just around the corner.

rhetorical effect: as with health care, the Trump administration will destroy unwanted programs and policies using the smokescreen of turning them over to the states. Thus underfunded programs or policies will just turn people away or disappear, and federal environmental regulations will go unenforced.


America First

rhetorical claim: American unilateralism incarnate: any foreign policy decisions or actions will be based solely on American interests, American gain. Foreign Policy is a zero-sum game of only winners and losers.

rhetorical effect: the end of the post-1945 era of American enlightened, liberal self-interest. In Trump’s instrumentalized vision, it’s the US vs. the world, with no thought to helping allies prosper. As best argued by Charles Krauthammer,:

Some claim that putting America first is a reassertion of American exceptionalism. On the contrary, it is the antithesis. It makes America no different from all the other countries that define themselves by a particularist blood-and-soil nationalism. What made America exceptional, unique in the world, was defining its own national interest beyond its narrow economic and security needs to encompass the safety and prosperity of a vast array of allies. A free world marked by open trade and mutual defense was President Truman’s vision, shared by every president since.

Until now…..

We are embarking upon insularity and smallness. Nor is this just theory. Trump’s long-promised but nonetheless abrupt withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the momentous first fruit of his foreign policy doctrine. Last year the prime minister of Singapore told John McCain that if we pulled out of the TPP “you’ll be finished in Asia.” He knows the region.

For 70 years, we sustained an international system of open commerce and democratic alliances that has enabled America and the West to grow and thrive. Global leadership is what made America great. We abandon it at our peril.


sympathy fatigue

rhetorical claim: minorities and immigrants have unfairly taken advantage of America to get unwarranted advantages over white Americans, especially older white men. They sneer at American norms and values, and consider themselves better than everyone else. Their greed and laziness has worn out any natural sympathy white Americans once had for them

rhetorical effect: life becomes a Darwinian, zeo-sum, tribal struggle. The social safety net gets destroyed, racism , misogyny, and homophobia become normalized, and bitter national divisions widen.


pro-active policing

rhetorical claim: “stop-and frisk” and “broken windows” policing tactics are the best defense against crime, but Black Lives Matter activists and the Obama Justice Department have made the police unwilling to do their jobs in controlling crime. Pro-active policing is what the citizens of the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods want. The federal government will no longer punish police for stopping people who are acting suspiciously.

rhetorical effect: the end to all Justice Dept. police conduct consent decrees, and thus the effective end of any external monitoring of police conduct. The racist practices of pro-active policing will thus go on unchecked, creating more racial animus.


union giveaways (aka, carveouts)

rhetorical claim: the Obama National Labor Relations Board wnt beyond the law to strengthen unions–especially public sector unions. Their weapons of choice were illegal administrative orders, many of which were overturned in the courts. The days of catering to labor unions are gone forever.

rhetorical effect: any concession to a labor union is now considered nothing but an illegal usurpation of power or an unwarranted handout. Worker rights and workplace safety will no longer be protected in an environment where the prevailing ideology is “you’re lucky to have a job.”


in dispute

rhetorical claim: “alternative facts” are necessary because the media always lies and distorts. As the opposition party, the media has declared war on Trump and truth. Everything they say can and should be disputed.

rhetorical effect: Truth is the first casualty of war.  Facts become lies from the “dishonest media” and lies become facts. E.J. Dionne, in the Washington Post puts it this way:

When confronted with untruths, all journalists have one and only one choice: to call them what they are. They cannot, without misleading the public, pretend that there are two sides to a purely factual question. Further, they need to avoid vague language about facts being “in dispute” when there is absolutely no question about what the facts are. Partisans might well emphasize some facts over others. But facts themselves aren’t partisan.

This, in turn, means that reporters may indeed seem “oppositional” when they confront an administration that, day after day, shows so little regard for fact or truth. But this is not the media’s problem. It’s Trump’s.

After a while, no one can differentiate facts from lies, and we enter a form of collective mental illness, as explained by Chris Hedges:

Reality is under assault. Verbal confusion reigns. Truth and illusion have merged. Mental chaos makes it hard to fathom what is happening. We feel trapped in a hall of mirrors. Exposed lies are answered with other lies. The rational is countered with the irrational. Cognitive dissonance prevails. We endure a disquieting shame and even guilt. Tens of millions of Americans, especially women, undocumented workers, Muslims and African-Americans, suffer the acute anxiety of being pursued by a predator. All this is by design. Demagogues always infect the governed with their own psychosis.

Glossary: Key memes, dog-whistles, canards, euphemisms, fake outrages and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, March 24-28, 2016

America First: America no longer “leading from behind,” and “losing internationally, but, instead, dictating the terms of trade deals, bullying foes into submission through overwhelming military force and torture, and blackmailing nations into submitting to US will. Another Superpower delusion.

Cheerleader-in-Chief: Trump’s version of Presidential leadership.

Cuban opening: Obama’s dorm-room enthusiasm for Che turned into American foreign policy. Coddling the tyrants.

faith-based justice: Ted Cruz’s legal framework. 

As this website points out,:

No one on the council represented any non-Christian religions nor any of the LGBT-inclusive or even more moderate Christian denominations. With Ted Cruz as president, it seems the only religion that will have any liberty is his particular conservative brand of evangelical Christianity.

It’s fascinating how a supposedly “objective” bedrock principle such as Constitutional Law can be based on faith, an unproven, wholly interpretive concept. (see also, “fear and loathing,” below).

fear and loathing: the core Trumpinista emotions. Explains their black and white dichotomies: winning/losing, us/them; telling it like it is/political correctness; making/taking, etc.

Herself: HRC.

“I don’t necessarily agree with his position on….”: How Trumpinistas frequently qualify their endorsement of Trump. This is usually followed by “but I know he won’t back down and he’ll fight for me.”

inner-city poverty: caused by the lack of “spirit” in “the Blacks,” according to the Donald.

Islamophobia: a junk term, akin to “climate change”, the female wage gap, or “evolution”. These are all Lib-Dem fairy tales.

life: a zero-sum game, with winners and losers (aka, “discards”) and no one in between. In The Donald’s  cruel black and white Darwinian world, success is defined in terms of money and power, and always comes at someone else’s expense. This is why he can’t just disagree with people but has to insult them. This is why he must smugly dominate every political issue. This is why he can lie and twist the facts. Life as total war, and Trump as the ultimate alpha male.

political correctness:  the Lib Dem’s free-floating world of ignorance and moral narcissism.

respect: respect the Trumpinistas’ anxiety; submit to their taxonomy of hatred, division, and animosity; cater to their fears and desperate need to feel protected from imaginary evils, enemies, and anarchic forces hellbent on defeating the US.