Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, June 21-26, 2018

child actors

fake news

rhetorical claim: To profess horror at the events taking place at the border, is to capitulate to those who care far more about foreigners than about their own people. It is to have lost the battle, and with it, the war. This is a matter of us and them, so don’t be fooled by child actors and fake news creating fake emotions to undermine a child-led human wave of illegal and vicious migrants. Progressives would make the entire population of Latin America into public charges for Americans, and ask Americans to nod and smile while it happens.

Should Congress and the president be manipulated by the social media outrage and the radical view that enforcement of the law is a totalitarian attack on democracy, they will be diminishing the essence of what it means to be a sovereign nation in a very fundamental way.

Without borders, there are no nations. Without a nation, there is no democracy, no civil society, and no liberal order.

These questions go to the heart of what it means to be a constitutional republic. How they are handled will determine, to a great extent, what kind of country America will be. Thus far, the national conversation largely has been driven by emotive images and grossly inappropriate Holocaust metaphors. This is not policy making, it is mob mentality. Our discourse, and our decision making, and the founding wisdom of our country deserve better.

rhetorical effect: talk about a slippery slope: if you don’t put families or separated kids in cages, you might as well kiss democracy goodbye. This reductio ad absurdum numbs us to the facts or even to the idea of the possibility of something–a word, an image, a video, a sound recording–being “real”; permits lies and distortions at all levels of government at all times; uses dehumanizing language to justify cruelty; gives people permission not to care, as argued by Megan Garber in The Atlantic:

The press conference conducted by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday was, overall, dedicated to the proposition that the reporting coming out of the holding facilities along the American border—the audio, the video, the images of tiny bodies held in massive cages, as a portrait of the American leader looks on—is wrong. (“Don’t believe the press,” Nielsen said, echoing one of the core intellectual and emotional propositions of Trumpism.) The president himself has embraced the corollary idea to Coulter’s claim that the screaming families are actors: that the compassion for them is misplaced. The real tragedy here, he has suggested, is the one perpetrated by Congress/the Democrats/the fake news/an infestation—again, an infestation—of people who are not American and therefore do not deserve the same level of sympathy that Americans might. Crisis actors of a different sort. 
The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, similarly dismissed the moral questions at the heart of the family separations by suggesting that there is a more sweeping moral code than the fickle workings of your own heart. (“It is very Biblical to enforce the law.”) The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, suggested the same. Humans, ever fallible, must practice humility, this logic goes; part of that practice must involve the recognition that even empathy must answer to a higher power. The higher power that insists, despite so much evidence to the contrary, “I alone can fix it.” And so: You are looking at the wrong thing, insist the current stewards of the national soul. You are caring about the wrong thing. Sleight of hand meets sleight of heart.

Or, as Hannah Arendt put it when writing about totalitarianism, “After a while, people come to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true,”


the elite

rhetorical claim: “You ever notice they always call the other side ‘the elite’?” Trump asked. “The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.”

rhetorical effect: such naked envy and resentment feeds like a poison into the bloodstream of Trump’s base, which is tormented (as Nixon was by the Kennedys) by the sense that they are always being sneered at. Of course, Trump–the billionaire– is the one doing the sneering at them instead. He will start calling them the true elite, the real Americans, the yeoman farmers etc.,  invoking a false nostalgia for an America that never existed.


my people

rhetorical claim: Trump claims that his supporters (“my people”) are the real Americans, whereas liberals and progressives hate America, want open borders so gang members can flood into the country, and are actually opposed to the pursuit of happiness.

rhetorical effect: confirms that Trump’s base is not all Americans, as it should be for a President; implies that Trump loyalists are the only true “people”; creates a vigilante atmosphere; uses unfounded fear and bias to create a false sense of crisis; creates a sense of tribalism, as argued by David Brooks:

The problem is that Trump doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals.

His tribalism is the evil twin of community. It is based on hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust. It creates belonging, but on vicious grounds.



rhetorical claim: In his remarks Tuesday before the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Trump suggested that many immigrants were “cheating” because they were following instructions from their attorneys.

“They have professional lawyers,” the president said. “Some are for good, others are do-gooders, and others are bad people. And they tell these people exactly what to say. They say, ‘Say the following’ — they write it down — ‘I am being harmed in my country. My country is extremely dangerous. I fear for my life.’ ”

rhetorical effect: following (and presumably also giving) legal advice is now akin to “cheating.” Soon anything or anyone opposed to Trump will either be a liar, a cheat, or a gang member.


what we’re up against

rhetorical claim: non-stop media pummeling of Donald Trump should just remind us what we’re up against: a federal gvt deep state, the media, Hollywood, the scientific community, the universities and the sneering coastal elites and “cosmopolitan” globalists.

rhetorical effect: total culture war all the time; no possibility of retreat, compromise or reasoned debate; rejection of all inconvenient truth as “fake news”; raving paranoia, Biblical age and despair.



anti-human environmentalism

rhetorical claim: humans have a God-given right, or even duty, to use natural resources without restriction, to eliminate government regulation, and also to subdue those who are enemies of this divine hierarchy. So-called “environmentalists” are anti-human, and anti-God.

rhetorical effect: Calling environmentalists anti-human and anti-God is probably akin to calling migrants vermin infestations. Neither characterization bodes well for the future of reasoned, evidence-based debate.



rhetorical claim: liberals are being uncivil and degrading the nation.when they shout people like Sarah Huckaby Sanders out of restaurants. They should expect similar treatment from Trump supporters.

rhetorical effect: as argued by Michelle Goldberg:

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens.Sometimes, their strategies may be poorly conceived. But there’s an abusive sort of victim-blaming in demanding that progressives single-handedly uphold civility, lest the right become even more uncivil in response. As long as our rulers wage war on cosmopolitan culture, they shouldn’t feel entitled to its fruits. If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.


deductive (or reductive) higher education

rhetorical claim: as argued by Victor David Hanson, higher education:

aims to be deductive. We start with this premise that men are sexist, or capitalism destroys the environment, or America’s racist. Then you find the examples to fit that preconceived idea.

And the result of it is that we’ve turned out students that are highly partisan and highly mobilized, and even sort of arrogant, but they’re also ignorant … that came at a cost. They did not learn to write well. If you ask them who’s General Sherman, or what’s a Corinthian column, or who was Dante, all of the building blocks that they could refer to later in life to enrich their experience, they have no reference. And then they don’t know how to think inductively. So if you point out the contradictions in free speech the way they shout down some speakers and not others, or the way that they hate capitalism, but they love Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they’re not able … they haven’t been trained philosophically to account for that, because they’re indoctrinated. And it’s quite sad to see the combination of ignorance and arrogance in young people, but that’s what we’ve turned out. A lot of people who are indebted and they’re arrogant, and they’re ignorant and they’re not up to the task of moving the United States forward as a leading country in the world.

rhetorical effect: because higher ed is judged to be nothing but an indoctrination into political correctness and Trump hatred, justifies turning higher ed into vocational school, as in the proposed merger of the Departments of Labor and Education. Uses the very existence of free speech to stifle free speech and evidence-based inquiry.





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, Nov. 23-27, 2016


rhetorical claim: “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Universalism, globalism, redistributionism, and egalitarianism are the common enemy, as represented by Beltway insiders, academics, social scientists, media pundits, entertainment elites, and policy professionals. Traditional conservatism, with its beliefs in liberty, freedom, free markets and capitalism, is an  inadequate response to today’s hyper-racialized world, which is eating away at America’s moral core.

rhetorical effect: euphemism for neo-Nazism, justifying racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, and white nationalism. Messianism wrapped up with Manifest Destiny.



rhetorical claim: critics who will, in knee-jerk fashion,charge Trump with conflicts of interest. They connive, via conspiracy and ideological dogma, to demonize Trump no matter what.

rhetorical effect:  Renders any criticism of Trump as conspiratorial and self-serving. Invites the question: in the eyes of the alt-right, is there any ethical way to criticize Trump?



rhetorical claim: any conventional form of tax, regulatory, and welfare policies is inherently self-defeating and thus doomed. Trump will “drain the swamp” and shatter all post-war orthodoxies. All that is solid melts into air.

rhetorical effect:  undermines any current shared assumptions about the rule of law, economic justice, human and civil rights, government regulation, women’s rights, etc. Characterizing these prevailing assumptions as inherently self-defeating is itself to argue for natural rights (and, of course, the inevitability of free markets).


zeroing-out the greens:

rhetorical claim: getting out from under Obama’s crushing environmental rules will end the take-no-prisoners reign of terror of the greens and ultra-liberal environmentalist elites. We need to compete with other energy-rich nations in taking advantage of our natural energy abundance, while still maintaining clean air and water.

rhetorical effect: makes any opposition to canceling Obama era environmental regulations, treaty agreements, clean-energy subsidies, bans on drilling or mining, building pipelines, etc. seem unpatriotic and economy-crushing. In actuality, zeroing out the greens means zeroing-out the environment. The claim that unlimited drilling can be done while maintaining environmental quality is fanciful at best, and dangerously misleading at worst. Trump’s zero-sum politics–his us-vs-them approach–guarantees a Total War on the environment, a scorched earth policy.



rhetorical claim:  Obama energy policies that protect the environment at the expense of energy production are already outdated, and will be quickly erased in the new Trump administration. Imposing any bans on energy exploration and production turns out to be nothing more than a form of moralizing by preening and self-satisfied green elites. In a realistic world, as understood by the Russians and Chinese, there is no room for moralizing.

rhetorical effect: neuters any moral defense of climate change mitigation, reducing the subject to a matter of opinion, with the reality to be determined by whomever is in power. Thus any kind of environmental regulation is a “politicization” of a supposedly neutral, “natural” process. In this world of outcomes, there is nothing more naive and impotent than idealism.

More broadly, the whole charge of moralizing covers over the moralizing assumptions behind the Tea Party’s nationalist, populist, statist,  law and order identity, their defense of cultural traditions not shared by everyone.



rhetorical claim: anti-Trump protestors intolerant sore losers who have nothing but scorn for Trump defenders.  Their disruptive protests undermine the common good and are inherently uncivilized.

rhetorical effect: One key step toward criminalizing dissent and defending censorship. The irony is that it was the Fox News hate machine that long ago destroyed civility in American political discourse. As Sofia MccLennen argues in Salon,

 Calls for civility are often a cover for censorship. While we don’t want to give up on the idea of civil society, we should recognize that it is often those in power who use the idea of civility to threaten the very idea of civil society itself.

It gets even messier. We also live in an era of mass-mediated manufactured anger. Trump couldn’t have come to power without tapping into the legacy of the Fox News hate machine. What used to pass for news is now just a bunch of angry vitriol that alternates between scaring viewers and getting them riled up.

repeal and replace

rhetorical claim: Obamacare will be replaced with a totally privatized insurance market relying on tax credits, savings accounts, competition, and caps on liability payouts.

rhetorical effect: covers over the fact that the new Ryancare (or Trumpcare) will offer restrictive, watered-down policies that will leave millions in bankruptcy or with no coverage at all. Just because the ACA has been replaced doesn’t mean it’s been improved.



rhetorical claim: to the progressives, the very idea of borders and national interests is reactionary and inherently racist. The New Globalization will lead to the eclipse of America.

rhetorical effect: renders any criticism of American power unpatriotic. This is the way the Tea Party/GOP  takes ownership of the word.


cosmopolitan broad-mindedness:

rhetorical claim: the identity politics of the contemporary Left is counterproductive, standing in the way of a genuine liberalism of principle and cosmopolitan broad-mindedness. Their implacable intolerance, all in the name of tolerance and multiculturalism, is steadily marginalizing the Dems

rhetorical effect: Makes any progressive moral stance on equity, tolerance, and justice seem unprincipled and self-serving. Thus, he only way progressives can prove their “cosmopolitan broad-mindedness” is to accede to Tea Party policies and principles.


polarizing and divisive

rhetorical claim: when educators and commentators  call the election “polarizing” and “divisive,” they are masking their contempt for Donald Trump. The Dems are the ones polarizing the country with identity politics.

rhetorical effect: cuts any criticism of the Trump administration off at the source by equating dissent with subverting the nation. Rhetorically, another step toward criminalizing dissent.


undocumented immigrant

rhetorical claim: really means “illegal alien.” Dems refuse to use honest, clear words such as “illegal” and “alien” out of fear of offense.

rhetorical effect: “others” all immigrants as illegal and “alien”. A major step toward regarding all migrants as criminals and as permanently “alien”–as if they are from a different planet.

Glossary: Key memes, dog-whistles, canards, euphemisms, fake outrages and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, March 5-16, 2016

antics: any Dem/liberal behavior at public meetings or rallies. When Tea Party supporters voice their opinions, it’s called free speech, not “antics”.

the big lie: that Americans (“clingers”) are racists with no right to defend their national borders.

civility: what the Libs/Dems have “cheapened” in American political discourse.

creating voters: what the Dems are doing with immigration politics. As usual, the Tea Party ascribes the basest motives to any Dem policy.

critical theory: academic PC logic: use scholarship to change society, not study it. The equivalent is politically-active judges, legislating from the bench.

government: a disease, masquerading as its own cure.

Islam hates us: they’re all fair game

Islamification of the homeland: Barack & Hillary’s America.

liberal fascists: any anti-Trump protesters. As per usual, this is a deployment of the Rove Principle: call everything its opposite and turn any label your opponents use against you back onto them. So the angry mobs that Trump encourages are really all liberals or fomented by liberals; the Dems are the racists; Obamacare has ruined  the American health care system even thought it’s added coverage for 15 million people, job growth is really job loss, etc.

nuance: political correctness

personal responsibility: what the takers (aka, losers) lack. GOP code language for the lack of any social responsibility  or obligation.

protestors and Democrats: America haters.

transnational collectives: What the entities formally known as nation states are turned into by globalization and trade agreements.

Trump opponents: anyone not 100% behind him is 1000% against him.