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 6-11, 2018

energy dominance

rhetorical claim: America is once again pursuing a policy of energy dominance rather than being beholden to foreign oil. This means unleashing America’s great energy potential through more mining, fracking, oil drilling, and offshore oil production.

rhetorical effect: this dominance comes at the expense of environmental safeguards and replaces the Obama-era policy of mixed use, and to put an end to all collaborative, locally-grounded land management. Reinforces the whole nationalist agenda of America First–the need to “dominate” a world much better suited to collaboration.


American Greatness

rhetorical claim: throwing out the Iranian deal, cracking down on the Chinese trade cheaters and ending NAFTA , reigning in the North Koreans, and walls and Muslim travel bans are some of the moving parts of MAGA.

rhetorical effect: the nationalist narrative of American greatness: the highest profits and the biggest bombs. This populist narrative is grounded in 1) a core conspiracy theory of history: Obama is a secret Kenyan Muslim; foreigners like him and immigrants are trying to steal “our” elections, 2) the Koch brothers’ experiments in crushing labor unions, denying women reproductive rights, dismantling public schools, poisoning the water and the air, and disfranchising minority voters, and, 3) defending  the “real people” against their enemies by manipulating and pressuring the courts, the civil service, the Constitutions, and the media. The violence of Donald Trump’s verbal assaults on the media, the courts, and other institutions suggests a similar mindset, and he leads a political party that has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to trample on institutional norms and bend the mechanisms of government toward undemocratic ends. That is the meaning of the GOP’s voter-suppression campaigns, aggressive gerrymandering, and theft of a Supreme Court seat in the name of letting “the people have a say.” With Trump leading the way, America’s ruling party is lurching down the road of  “damaged” or “illiberal” or “defective” democracy.


left-wing NGOs

rhetorical claim: George Soros and his fellow travelers make up the left-wing NGO cabal, with its so-called human rights campaign masking greed, corruption, hypocrisy and lawlessness. They have become an extra-judicial paramilitary of their own.

rhetorical effect: spreads vast cynicism about any human rights campaign, labeling them “so-called” “extrajudiciary” and destabilizing of the rule of law. In most countries where Soros operates, human rights are endangered daily, and this smearing of the very concept of human rights turns them into their opposite. Any NGO championing basic human rights is now automatically tagged, Nancy Pelosi style, as “left wing.” Apparently human rights have become a solely liberal concept.


failed socialist experiment

rhetorical claim: desegregation efforts are a failed socialist experiment, and that’s why HUD is now allowing local and state governments to continue receiving grants even if they don’t comply with the full requirements of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

rhetorical effect: justifies and encourages residential segregation; makes the federal government itself an agent of discriminatory housing policies; allows states to look the other way when it comes to housing discrimination complaints. Equality is reduced to being a theory or “experiment”, human rights are made into a pejorative when branded as “socialist,” and the claim of failure is undefined and treated as a fact rather than an assertion.


pulling out of the Iran deal

rhetorical claim: the US is pulling out of the Iran deal because it is so one-sided and does not guarantee that Iran won’t develop nuclear capability. It is the worst deal ever drawn up by anybody.

rhetorical effect: masks the fact that, since the agreement had no escape clause, the US is simply violating the agreement, not just pulling out of it. Even so, we continue to claim that the Iranians are the ones doing the violating, despite no supporting evidence. Trump claims that Iran is cheating on the deal, but his own intelligence directors have said there is no evidence of this claim whatsoever. The International Atomic Energy Agency has certified Iran’s compliance 10 times since the deal was signed. Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified to a Senate committee last month that, after reading the 140-page agreement three times, he was struck by how “robust” the deal’s verification provisions were.


ornamental political correctness

rhetorical claim: liberals excel at promoting phony, ornamental, politically correct issues they know nothing about, such as the uncertainties of climate change theory

rhetorical effect: undercuts any liberal position as being unthinking, automatic and knee jerk. Delegitimizes liberalism by equating it with fake news, posturing, and ignorance.


civil terrorists

rhetorical claim: gun control advocates are civil terrorists, The NRA has become the target of a cyber war, death threats and intimidation from the mainstream media. Gun owners’ civil rights have been trampled at least as much as blacks were under slavery and Jim Crow.

rhetorical effect: criminalizes any call for gun control as a civil rights violation. Uses the logic of social justice to justify violence and turn gun owners into victims. Part of the rhetorical attempt to equate dissent (aka, terrorism) with treason  and turn non-violence an act of violent aggression.


the excellent Kim Jong -un

rhetorical claim: Kim Jong-un is, according to Donald Trump,  “honorable” and “excellent.”

rhetorical effect: If a mass murderer such as Kim is deemed “honorable” and “excellent”, what heinousness does it take for Trump to condemn human rights violations? Ignores Kim’s bloody, dictatorial rule, in which he rules a police state with no human rights whatsoever. As with strongmen ruling Russia, China, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, the Philipines, etc., Trump is willing to look the other way if he can somehow get a diplomatic “win”–even a symbolic one. Notice also that Trump’s very limited vocabulary seems to be rooted in meaningless superlatives such as excellent, great, incredible, etc., as if he has a 10-year-old publicist.


disparate outcomes

anti-racism pc

rhetorical claim: Liberals maintain the unfounded assumption that “there would be no disparate outcomes unless there were disparate treatment,”  despite abundant evidence to the contrary. The knee jerk liberal charge of racism used to explain disparate outcomes is itself racist, and part of the grievance mentality that is holding blacks back from economic prosperity. Anti-racism has become a new civic religion, a kind of über pc. The relatively new legal standard of “disparate impact” disregards the American legal principle of “burden of proof.” Economic outcomes vary greatly across individuals and groups and concepts like “disparate impact” fail to take into account these variations.

rhetorical effect: strips the moral dimension from claims of racism and inequality, reducing them to mere opinions at best and kniving forms of cynical “grievance-mongering” at worst. Defies common sense by arguing that unequal effects have nothing to do with causes rooted in inequality and prejudice.




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 21-28, 2017

poor medical decisions

rhetorical claim: if someone’s poor driving decisions cause their car insurance rates to skyrocket, no pone expects the government to bail them out. Likewise, if someone’s poor health decisions–obesity, smoking, drugs, etc.–lead to high insurance premiums, why should the government bail them out? Health care coverage is a privilege, not a right.

rhetorical effect: shifts the conversation from a care model to a blame-the-victim model, and the idea of responsibility-for-others into individual responsibility and independence.  Releases government from any notion of caring or helping.



rhetorical claim: government is a disease masquerading as its own cure. It only creates a sense of entitlement, laziness, and dependency, and undermines personal freedom.

rhetorical effect: the disease model of government leads to the anarchy and Darwinian state of an unfettered free market. And when you conceive the free market as not just an economic model but as the key to all human freedom, characterizing governing as disease-spreading also makes it psychological permissible–even required– to fire and even jail the vermin spreading the disease.

An alternative model of government is explained by linguist George Lakoff:

When it comes to politics, progressives and conservatives essentially have different brains. The unconscious beliefs conditioned in their brains are nearly exact opposites.

Here are two statements you will almost certainly agree with if you’re a progressive:

1) In Lincoln’s words, the American government should be a government of, by, and for the people.
2) Citizens care about other citizens, and work through their government to provide public resources for all — resources required for the wellbeing and freedom of all.

These imply just about all of progressive policies.

With a government of the people, those in the government are not separated from those outside. There is two way communication and transparency, and response to the people’s concerns.

With a government by the people, those in the government have the same basic experiences as those outside. The government therefore responds with empathy to the basic needs of its citizens.

A government for the people cares for its citizens and gives necessary help as a matter of course. There is no democracy without care.

The second principle – the need for public resources – has been essential to American democracy from the start. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources.

Public resources, including roads and bridges along with public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and the criminal justice system are necessary to have private enterprise. These public resources include protection — not just a military and police, but protection from harm by unscrupulous corporations either by poisoning products, the air, water, etc. or by unscrupulous banks, mortgage holders, and investors. These protections are carried out by “regulations”: protective laws and agencies.

Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support, and technologies like computers and satellite phones.

Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. These public resources provide freedom: freedom to start and run a business, and freedom in private life.

You’re not free if you are not educated, because your possibilities in life are limited.

You’re not free if you have cancer and no health insurance.

You’re not free if you have no income — or not enough for basic needs.

And if you work for a large company, you may not be free without a union. Unions free you from corporate servitude. They free you to have a living wage, safety on the job, regular working hours, a pension, health benefits, dignity.

If you’re a progressive, you most likely agree with these ideas. If you’re a conservative, you may be apoplectic by now.


the Judeo-Christian West

rhetorical claim: Trump is not only defending the Judeo-Christian West against barbarism, , but civilization itself.

rhetorical effect: stigmatizing non-Christians and non-westerners as uncivilized lays the groundwork for justifying their extermination.


voter integrity

rhetorical claim: there were at least 5 million illegal votes for Hillary in the last election, and The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity will find out why. The future of the country is at stake when fraudulent voters are permitted to hijack the electoral system.

rhetorical effect: cloaks a predetermined conclusion in the rhetoric of voter integrity. ‘”Getting to the bottom” of this “fraud” actually means more voter intimidation and suppression. As explained by  NY Times editorial:

It was born out of a marriage of convenience between conservative anti-voter-fraud crusaders, who refuse to accept actual data, and a president who refuses to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square. Its purpose is not to restore integrity to elections but to undermine the public’s confidence enough to push through policies and practices that make registration and voting harder, if not impossible, for certain groups of people who tend to vote Democratic.


growing the welfare state

rhetorical claim: the Democratic Party’s plan for health care: constrain markets to create monopolies that can be controlled by a federal regulatory regime (this is why liberals oppose markets expanding across state lines); and rather than worrying about access, choice, or cost, continue to incentivize the growth of the welfare state. When this situation becomes untenable, pass single-payer. What Democrats understand, but Republicans often don’t, is that you can reach your goals incrementally. The ACA is the Trojan Horse for single payer and choking social engineering and coercion.

rhetorical effect: equates all social safety net and human health and welfare programs and policies with the dependency model, and reduces Progressivism to a cynical attempt to get and hold power and deprive the “real Americans” of their liberty.


people losing Medicaid

rhetorical claim: A law that was sold as a tool to reign in rising costs quickly became a moral edifice that alleviated an imaginary humanitarian crisis (the ACA defense is now almost exclusively focused on people losing Medicaid).

rhetorical effect: ridicules millions losing their insurance as an “imaginary” crisis, part of Dem hysteria over health care reform. Makes it easier to justify removing Medicaid altogether, leaving everything up to the free market.


conflicts of interest

rhetorical claim: Robbie Mueller and his investigative team aswell as Ron Rosenstein have disqualifying conflicts of interest when it comes to investigating Donald Trump.

rhetorical effect: undercuts their credibility and conflates their personal politics with their integrity and professionalism. Makes the argument that no Dem can or should ever be in a position to legally investigate or convict Trump because politics and loyalty.are everything. To Trump, anyone opposed to his interests has a conflict of interest. The rule of law is reduced to the rule of any law that protects Trump.


let Obamacare fail

rhetorical claim: Obamacare will collapse of its own accord because it is an unworkable redistribution scheme that forces government onto people who don’t want it interfering in their lives.

rhetorical effect: shifts the blame for ACA market failures from GOP attempts to sabotage it to the bill itself. “Letting” it fail actually is a euphemism for ‘”making” it fail. “Letting” something to fail is either a cruel or negligent act, and often a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s Trump who is  failing, not Obamacare.


American greatness

rhetorical claim: America is great again because it is re-asserting itself in the world and assuming its natural role as the most powerful nation on earth.

rhetorical effect:  As Michael Gerson argues, This claim is ironic because America is actually practicing a policy of preemptive concession to Russian claims over Syria, US election tampering, and sanctions. As Michael Gerson argues,

Does this retreat come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history?

As Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times:

Far from a student of history, Trump is an ahistorical president at a time of historical geostrategic shifts. This is a problem. He cannot gauge our times because his only gauge is his own self-exaltation.

As William Burns, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former deputy secretary of state, said in a speech in May: “a nasty brew of mercantilism, unilateralism and unreconstructed nationalism” has bubbled to the surface under Trump. “At a moment when international order is under severe strain, power is fragmenting and great-power rivalry has returned, the values and purpose at the core of the American idea matter more than ever.”