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, Sept. 11-15, 2017.

The abuse of power becoming the reversal of truth edition. Lots of Karl Rove (and Lewis Carroll) inspired, up-is-down reversals this week: voters should be subject to greater legal scrutiny than gun owners; globalism is a greater hate crime than Nazism; tax cuts are not a boon to the rich but an economic miracle for everyone; the alt-right perpetrators of hate speech are themselves the victims of hate speech; inequality amelioration only leads to more inequality, and consumer protection only leads to increased consumer risk.



rhetorical claim: Trump should not only hold firm on eliminating DACA, but require e-Verify for all employees, all welfare recipients, and all voters.

rhetorical effect: converts Trumpinistas who supposedly loathe government into promoters of the most radical government intrusion into private lives ever.  Would basically disenfranchise millions of minority voters, throw minorities out of work, and end the social safety net. Would be a giant step toward a police state, where people no longer have the right to have rights.


economic hate crimes

rhetorical claim: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon told Charlie Rose that elites on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Washington, DC, have committed an “economic hate crime” against working-class Americans by eviscerating the country’s industrial base. (see The American System, below)

rhetorical effect: turns the tables on the Charlottesville rhetoric about white supremacists by calling the anti-Trump  forces the haters, while also neatly putting them all in the same category: enemies of the people.


3% growth norm

rhetorical claim: as Phil Gramm argues in the WSJ:

A tidal wave of new rules and regulations across health care, financial services, energy and manufacturing forced companies to spend billions on new capital and labor that served government and not consumers. Banks hired compliance officers rather than loan officers. Energy companies spent billions on environmental compliance costs, and none of it produced energy more cheaply or abundantly. Health-insurance premiums skyrocketed but with no additional benefit to the vast majority of covered workers.

…By waiving work requirements for welfare, lowering food-stamp eligibility requirements and easing standards for disability payments, Mr. Obama’s policies disincentivized work. Disability rolls have expanded 18.6% during the current recovery, compared with a 16% decline during the Reagan recovery. The CBO estimates ObamaCare alone will reduce work hours by 2% and eliminate 2.5 million jobs by 2024. At the current 1% growth in the civilian population above the age of 16, a mere reversion to the pre-Obama labor-force participation rates would supply more than enough workers to generate a 3% growth rate.

rhetorical effect: economic arrogance; belief  that tax cutting and deregulation are economic wonder drugs; maintains the illusion that economic growth can occur under Trump when all evidence points to the contrary, as explained in Business Insider:

“Six months into President Trump’s administration, there have been no signature legislative accomplishments, health care repeal appears stalled, tax reform has yet to show any public signs of progress, there is a seemingly constant barrage of investigation headlines, presidential pardoning power is a topic of conversation among real and imagined legal scholars, and the window for acting on the GOP’s legislative agenda is closing. With a quarter of the 115th Congress already elapsed, there has been no tangible evidence that the GOP is capable of legislating in a meaningful manner as nearly half of the bills signed into law thus far have either reversed Obama-era regulations or dealt with relatively minor matters

The International Monetary Fund has sharply revised its forecast for US economic growth in a direct indictment of President Donald Trump’s lack of action on promised policy changes.

The IMF downgraded its forecast for US gross-domestic-product growth to just 2.1% this year, down from 2.3%, and it also cut its 2018 estimate to 2.1% from 2.5%.

That revision is especially striking since it matched cuts not seen anywhere in the world other than two major emerging economies facing deep political crises — Brazil and South Africa.

The IMF’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, said in a blog post that its “most important downgrade is the United States.”

“Near-term U.S. fiscal policy looks less likely to be expansionary than we believed in April,” he adds.


seductive Antifa violence

rhetorical claim: The danger posed by the extreme hard left is about the future. Leaders of tomorrow are being educated today on campus. The tolerance for censorship and even violence to suppress dissenting voices may be a foretaste of things to come. The growing influence of “intersectionality”—which creates alliances among “oppressed” groups—has led to a strange acceptance by much of the extreme left of the far-from-progressive goals and violent means of radical Islamic terrorist groups that are sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Western. This combination of hard-left secular views and extreme Islamic theological views is toxic.

rhetorical effect: reduces all anti-Trump protestors with the Antifa; equates free speech with violence, and calls it the gateway drug to jihad, Sharia law, and ISIS; belittles the very idea of “oppression”; undercuts the very idea of “intersectionality”–the idea that inequality makes many disparate groups have more in common with one another; somehow ends up accusing dissidents of being sexist, racist and homophobic.


the American System

rhetorical claim: according to Steve Bannon (on Sixty Minutes):

America’s built on our citizens. Look at the 19th century. What built America is called the American System. From Hamilton to Polk to Henry Clay to Lincoln to the Roosevelts. A system of protection of our manufacturing, financial system that lends to manufacturers and a control of our borders.”

America has had a winning game plan from the beginning — a combination of nationalism, federal government, and business coordination through which it has achieved greatness throughout history.

rhetorical effect: Bannon would have you believe that American identity is simple — that there is a clear line of logic throughout our history and that if we could just get back to that perfect place, we’ll be OK again. It’s a comforting thought, but it’s wrong. Moreover, it’s why white nationalists and neo-Nazis are attracted to him, so it’s also dangerous.


the right time to talk about climate change

rhetorical claim: it’s hugely cynical and politically exploitative to talk about climate change during major hurricanes or other extreme weather events. Doing so is to be insensitive to storm victims, as expressed by EPA Director Scott Pruitt.

rhetorical effect: makes it never the right time to talk about climate change, just as it’s never the right time to talk about gun control. In actuality, not talking about these things is a much greater disrespect to their victims than addressing the root causes head-on. As Thomas Friedman argues in the New York Times,

Makes me wonder … if Pruitt were afflicted with cancer, would he not want scientists discussing with him, let alone researching, the possible causes and solutions? Wouldn’t want to upset him.

Frauds like Pruitt like to say that the climate has been changing since long before any human drove a car, so how could humans be causing climate change? Of course they aren’t solely responsible. The climate has always changed by itself through its own natural variability. But that doesn’t mean that humans can’t exacerbate or disrupt this natural variability by warming the planet even more and, by doing so, making the hots hotter, the wets wetter, the storms harsher, the colds colder and the droughts drier….

Trump has recently fired various knuckle-headed aides whose behavior was causing him short-term embarrassment. The person he needs to fire is Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is going to cause Trump long-term embarrassment. But instead, together they are authoring a new national security doctrine — one that says when faced with a low-probability, high-impact event like North Korea, the U.S. should spend any amount of money, and if the threat doesn’t materialize, well, we’ll have a lot of Army surplus and scrap metal.

But when faced with an actually high-probability, high-impact threat called climate change, we should do nothing and poke both our eyes out, even though if the impact is less severe — and we prepare for it anyway — we will be left healthier, stronger, more productive, more resilient and more respected around the world.

That is the Pruitt-Trump Doctrine — soon to be known as “Trump’s Folly.”


the right word

rhetorical claim: Kris Kobach claims he didn’t “use the right word” recently when claiming that the New Hampshire Senate race was “stolen” by illegal Dem voters, adding “we will never know the answer regarding the legitimacy of this particular election.”

rhetorical effect: clouds the answer to his questions of legitimacy by claiming we need more data; raises a question where there is actually no question: the New Hampshire results were certified and legal;  as one commission member put it:

Making this equation that somehow people not updating their driver’s license is indicative of voter fraud would be almost as absurd as saying that if you have cash in your wallet, that that’s proof that you robbed a bank…it’s a reckless statement to make.


assaults on free speech

rhetorical claim: The Left is engaged in an all-out European-style war on free speech and freedom of assembly.  Today, a “racist” is someone who believes in legal immigration. An “extremist” is someone who doesn’t believe in mass, state-funded abortion. A “xenophobe” is someone who takes pride in their nation. An “anti-Semite” is — curiously — someone who supports the State of Israel, and “white supremacy” now occupies the Oval Office. The Overton window has shifted so far that even practicing Muslims are now decried by the most heavily quoted sources as “Islamophobes”.

rhetorical effect: by conflating  hate speech with free speech, sanctions hate speech; makes anti-racism positions seem unreasonable or ridiculous; confuses patriotism with white supremacy. By calling any attempt to curtail hate speech an “assault on free speech,” turns the perpetrators of hate speech into victims.


preoccupation with inequality

rhetorical claim: Liberals are bemoaning that the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, didn’t post a significant decline last year. But income inequality drops principally during recessions as the wealthy lose a larger share of their earnings than everyone else. As we learned in the Obama years, the preoccupation with inequality leads to economic policies that reduce growth, which leads to more inequality.

rhetorical effect: in classic Roveian reversal (a form of absurdity with its roots in Swift and Lewis Carroll), black becomes white, day becomes night, and a concern with inequality only leads to greater inequality. The more you try to help the poor, te poorer they get. By extension, then, doing absolutely nothing for the poor is the quickest way to make them rich.


fairness in lending

rhetorical claim: fair lending practices gave rise to the Equifax identity theft case. Fairness laws, in the form of protections against racial prejudice, should be relaxed or eliminated, and credit issuers be allowed to return to an open and free market where their judgment i more important than impersonal numbers.

rhetorical effect: a return to redlining. Consumer protection is once again the culprit because it makes consumers less protected.



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, Feb. 7-12, 2017.

Islamic reform

rhetorical claim: We imperil America so long as we blithely ignore the fact that a significant minority–perhaps even a majority–of Muslims worldwide support sharia law. As Andrew McCarthy puts it in the National Review,

We are talking about a framework for the political organization of the state, and about the implementation of a legal corpus that is blatantly discriminatory, hostile to liberty, and — in its prescriptions of crime and punishment — cruel. Islam must reform so that this totalitarian political ideology, sharia supremacism (or, if you prefer, “radical Islam”), is expressly severable from Islam’s truly religious tenets. To fashion an immigration policy that serves our vital national-security interests without violating our commitment to religious liberty, we must be able to exclude sharia supremacists while admitting Muslims who reject sharia supremacism and would be loyal to the Constitution.

rhetorical effect: builds in a way to discriminate against Muslims while all the while sounding like a common-sense ban of just terrorists. How sharia radicals would be identified, or how this term could help but be applied to any Muslim, is unclear. How this doesn’t constitute a religious test is also unclear. But this lack of clarity won’t matter because the public will be be skeptical of any Muslim accused of being a Shariaist. Should ICE be deciding what is “truly religious”?


individual health empowerment

rhetorical claim: Obamacare repeal will lead to greater consumer choice (see below), cost savings, greater access to health care, health savings accounts, and greater consumer responsibility for their own health care.

rhetorical effect: the only things empowered will be the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The will be more choice, but the choice will be between shoddy, junk policies with high deductibles and lots of restrictions. These policies might cost less, but in the long run will cost much more because they won’t begin to cover even such things as a broken leg or kidney stone. The health savings accounts are a chimera–like the junk policies, they won’t begin to cover any even semi-expensive medical condition. Worst of all, shifting responsibility to the patient is just con-artist talk for blaming the victim.


scare campaign

rhetorical claim: Opposition to the repeal of Obamacare is just hyper-hysterical posturizing, aimed at needlessly scaring the voters.

rhetorical effect: opposition to any Trump policies or executive orders will soon be characterized this way. All dissent is thus framed as being in bad faith, and cynically aimed at recapturing power.


college speech codes

rhetorical claim: free speech has become so suppressed on college campuses that their lecture halls and classrooms have turned into re-education camps. Students are being brainwashed, infantalized, and turned into prudish censors by over-protective college administrators.

rhetorical effect: creates a hostile atmosphere condoning the expression of ideas of racial hatred, bullying, discrimination, homophobia, misogyny and American imperialism. By not considering both the causes and effects of speech, manages to de-contextualize hate speech and make it seem morally equivalent to tolerant and inclusive–while still critical and probing–discourse. By confusing “free” speech with “hate” speech, this position incites violence and prejudice.


politically-connected special interests

rhetorical claim: the corrupt Obama administration doled out political favors to politically-connected special interests, including teachers’ unions, Solyndra and other “green” companies, minority and LGBT groups, etc.

rhetorical effect: leads to the ridiculous claim that Trump is ‘cleaning the swamp,” despite his billionaire cabinet, Goldman Sachs alumni club, and flood of tax and regulatory and breaks that have happened the the first three weeks, including green-lighting the Keystone Pipeline, calls to eliminate class action suits; calls to eliminate essential benefits or price controls in the ACA; doing away with with fiduciary requirements for investment advisers working with retirees, ending limits on the dumping of mining waste in local waterways, eliminating the Dodd-Frank transparency rules for corporate executive compensation, etc.



rhetorical claim: sanctuary cities are akin to secessionist South Carolina in 1832 insofar as they unconstitutionally deny federal power in their borders. By nullifying the constitution,  they make immigration reform that much harder.

rhetorical effect: falsely equates community safety with a crackdown on immigrants; inhibits undocumented immigrants from co-operating with law enforcement; spreads fear throughout the immigrant community; equates the protection of immigranr rights with subversion of the US Constitution.


vouchers and charters

rhetorical claim: Betsy DeVos scares liberals because she cares more about the education of black children than she does about teachers’ unions. Anyone opposing her is a racist (because they in essence support failing inner city schools) and a bigot (because they support vouchers for religious schools.) All her opponents care about is keeping the paychecks flowing to the teachers’ unions.

rhetorical effect: further erosion of under-funded public schools; emergence of a two-tiered education system, one public, one private; the privatization of thought in American education; the destruction of teachers’ unions.


consumer protection

rhetorical claim:  consumers want less “protection” and more choice (competition); in terms of the ACA, consumers want fewer mandated essential benefits and more price competition.  Especially courtesy of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, consumer “protection” is a government shakedown of businesses and a threat to consumers caused by less competition. Policies that would actually benefit consumers would include limits on class action suits, relaxed laws on consumer credit and fraud, and less regulation of payday lenders, etc. The best consumer protection is to let the free market work its magic.

rhetorical effect: the end of class action suits; increased consumer fraud; misleading advertising, and fraudulent and exorbitant loan practices. What consumers are said to “really want”–lower prices, more choice–runs counter to what they “need”–transparent business practices, fraud protection, essential benefits, price controls to stop monopoly pricing, etc. To the GOP, consumer protection actually means business protection.


what people actually want

rhetorical claim: whether referring to health care options, school choice,  financial planners, or consumer protection, consumers want less regulation, lower costs, and  and more options. Only the free, competitive market can provide this trifecta. Aka, putting students, patients, retirees, and businesses first.

 rhetorical effect: do people actually want the right to be bilked? Beware of any populist voice supporting positions that cater to the elite and further inequality.


rhetorical claim: winner-take-all politics; no more multilateral trade deals; America First; the relaxation of moral norms when fighting terrorism; justification of torture, invasion of other countries, plunder of other countries’ resources, etc.

rhetorical effect: perhaps best expressed by the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens:

Mr. Trump’s purpose… isn’t to prevent a recurrence of bad behavior. It’s to permit it. In this reading, Mr. Putin’s behavior isn’t so different from ours. It’s largely the same, except more honest and effective. The U.S. could surely defeat ISIS—if only it weren’t hampered by the kind of scruples that keep us from carpet bombing Mosul in the way the Russians obliterated Aleppo. The U.S. could have come out ahead in Iraq—if only we’d behaved like unapologetic conquerors, not do-gooder liberators, and taken their oil.

This also explains why Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, calling the idea “insulting [to] the world” and seeing it as an undue burden on our rights and opportunities as a nation. Magnanimity, fair dealing, example setting, win-win solutions, a city set upon a hill: All this, in the president’s mind, is a sucker’s game, obscuring the dog-eat-dog realities of life. Among other distinctions, Mr. Trump may be our first Hobbesian president.