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: an anatomy of key memes, phrases, canards, shibboleths and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOTP language factories, Dec. 15-24, 2014

note: GOTP stands for Grand Old Tea Party

America hater: Obama, who loves the Cubans, Russians, Iranians, and illegal immigrants too much.

America’s moral standing: something Obama always talks about, but the GOTP actually does something about. This is the gold standard for GOTP criticism of Obama foreign policy because anything short of aggressive, unilateral action “tears down America” and “gives comfort to the bad guys”. Like the gold standard, only the GOTP seems to have the golden tablets on which are inscribed ways to gauge “America’s moral standing”.

anti-fossil fuel masochism: any opposition to fracking, coal production, or the use and consumption  of fossil fuels. Thus being “green” is not only to destroy the economy  but also to destroy oneself. Greenies are pathologically self-loathing.

comrades, cronies and pals: Obama supporters, especially any person or business getting a tax break or benefiting from a change in regulatory policy. The Grand Old Tea Party, of course, has “allies” and “supporters” rather than  comrades, cronies and pals.

demonizing the police: a prophylactic term intended to render the police immune from criticism. In this meme, freedom, as represented by the police, is equated with obeying authority, and order is privileged over justice. This all-purposecharge exemspts police from the social contract and the law.

hyena pack: journalists, progressive activist and trial lawyers (especially those pursuing class-action suits against corporations.

inappropriate: in the Peggy Noonan, moral scold, family of rhetorical sneers. An “adult” word, like “honor”, “dignity,” “duty,” etc. Somehow, Dems are always, like children, a little “inappropriate” and untempered in their public utterances. Any direct challenge to received GOTP pieties or shibboleths is automatically “inappropriate”. The idea of what is actually “appropriate” is lodged in the “moral bedrock” (see below) that only the GOTP seems to be born with.

to increase choice and competition:  Hold onto your wallet whenever you hear this ominous incantation. It’s axiomatic that decreased regulation and scrutiny invariably, over time, tend to lead to less choice and competition, but these two words are classic cases of what John Lanchester calls “reversification” of terms–when words become their opposites.

it’s only with hindsight: this is a deflective, prophylactic term, used to shield GOTP from especially effective challenges or criticism: e.g., it’s only “after the fact” or “with hindsight” that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation policies” might be seen as amounting to torture. Invidious moral distinctions that run counter to GOTP dogma are thus portrayed as impossible to imagine in real time. (see also, “reasonable people can disagree,” below).

let the courts figure it out: another immunizing meme, intended to stifle public debate and free speech. Don’t criticize the legality of police actions because you aren’t “qualified” to speak out on subjects of justice, social equity, and morals or ethics.

moral bedrock: any GOTP ideology. Dem morality rests on the shifting sands of “moral relativism” and permissiveness. Playing this rhetorical card goes toward establishing one’s ethos. It is on this very bedrock that civilization itself rests.

norms of public speech: what deBlasio and Obama violate whenever they speak about race relations in America. This is a rhetorical term of scolding, based on high moral dudgeon that such “bleeding heart” Dems are irresponsible and “inappropriate”. (See above). This charge is typically couched in rhetoric around the notion of “truth,” which itself becomes relative when weighed against “appropriateness”.

political operatives, cowards, and apologists: anyone still supporting Obama. (see also, “comrades, cronies and pals,” above)

the political unrest of the 60s:  pejorative description of The Civil Rights Movement

pro-growth policies: like progress, “growth” is said to only be possible in an environment of such “free market” policies as right-to-work legislation, private school vouchers, and pension and tort reform. In other words, the only way to promote growth is to cripple unions, reduce retirement benefits and make corporations basically immune from litigation, especially class action suits.

reasonable people can disagree; you can disagree with those rules or facts: another prophylactic term, and a false claim to rationality, and a misleading, startegically concessionary term. When the GOTP prefaces their rhetorical attacks on Dems with this phrase, they are really saying that even if the facts work against them, they are morally in the right.

stifling: what government inevitably does to innovation and competition. the “animal spirits” of business yearn to live free and unfettered.