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, May 19-26, 2017.

libertarian America

rhetorical claim: America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. The dynamism of the free market and personal freedom and responsibility produce consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, and taxpayers.

rhetorical effect: precludes any discussion of citizenship, compassion, collectivity, environmentalism, or human rights.

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Fortress America

rhetorical claim: “America First”!  The country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.

rhetorical effect: This backward-looking and pessimistic narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it justifies autocracy and prejudice.  It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”

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demonize

rhetorical claim: the Dump Trump Dems reflexively attack health care and tax reform bills in order to continue their scorched earth policy of villification and demonization of all things Trump and GOP. They will accept nothing less than Trump’s removal from office.

rhetorical effect: turns any criticism into a threat and a deliberate distortion and exaggeration. Makes the Dems sound like one-dimensional sufferers of Trump Derangement Syndrome. This projection of their own Total War strategy unto the Dems is an attempt to make themselves seem to be the reasonable and accommodating party instead of the callous, cruel, and conspiratorial party that they have turned into. . Makes any agreement with the Dems politically radioactive.

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Tax Payer First Budget

rhetorical claim: to quote White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney:

If I had sort of a subtitle for this budget, it would be the Taxpayer First Budget. This is I think the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes. So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side: How does the budget affect those who either receive or don’t receive benefits?…Can I ask somebody, a family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to pay tax money to the government so that I can do X?…“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, describing massive safety-net program cuts that would not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.

rhetorical effect: distorts reality in a number of ways:

  1.  assumes that anyone getting social safety net aid is not paying taxes.
  2. assumes that merely cutting social safety net programs will eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse without specifying how this will be accomplished.
  3. Applies that government programs Trump voters like–the military, Social Security, Medicare–aren’t really government programs at all.
  4. assumes that scapegoating the poor for federal budget deficits will fool people into accepting massive tax cuts for the rich.
  5.  Republicans only propose massive safety net cuts when the people they’re victimizing don’t have enough political power to fight back.
  6. massive safety-net program cuts will not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.
  7. As Catherine Rampell argues in The Washington Post,

    Trumponomics — like Ryanonomics — is based on the principle that living in poverty doesn’t suck quite enough. That is, more people would be motivated to become rich if only being poor weren’t so much fun. The political ideology is reflected in major cuts to anti-poverty programs and the social safety net, all in the name of not “discourag[ing] able-bodied adults from working.” And so, with the “compassionate” goal of making the poor a little less comfortable and a little more motivated, this budget savages nearly every anti-poverty program you can imagine.

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unapologetic

rhetorical claim: President Trump’s unapologetic foreign policy puts America first. Unlike Obama, Trump wastes no time blaming America or making excuses for our adversaries. Trump also offers safety for the entire civilized world.

rhetorical effect: implies that anyone opposing Trump is uncivilized and on the side of the terrorist, and that you either love America or are cast out as an evil adversary. Being American once again means you never have to apologize. In this hypermasculinized world, apology is tantamount to weakness and surrender.

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voluntary exchanges

rhetorical claim: a thriving free market relies on voluntary exchanges between willing parties, and rests on the assumption that customers know best what is good for them and their families. In a truly fee market, the little guy is king, and can challenge the big guys with the right new idea. Everyone can participate in this totally free market without the government dictating what they can and can’t do. Big government removes the critical “voluntary” dimension of the free market. if the government would just get out of the way, business investment and worker productivity would rise substantially

rhetorical effect: justifies monopolies, price fixing, and greed in the same of competition. Acts as if markets are not rigged by tax breaks, friendly regulators, monopoly pricing, and coercion. Perpetuates the Big Lie that the free market is any way truly “free,” and that we are all primary actors in that market, directing our own fate.

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cost sharing

rhetorical claim: in the new Trump budget food stamps and other safety net programs will be phased out or put on a cost sharing basis with the states.

rhetorical effect: the only people sharing the costs of these cuts will be the poor. Cost sharing is a euphemism for starving a federal program to death and blaming its demise on the states.

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compassionate

rhetorical claim: Mick Mulvaney argues that the new budget shows compassion for the poor by making them honor the dignity of work and get off the dole. It’s tough love, but being dependent on government handouts is not in their long-term bests interests.

rhetorical effect: Lumps all the poor together, regardless of circumstances or disabilities; makes government assistance a shameful act; accuses the poor of deceit and laziness; defines compassion as the lack of any assistance–in Christian terms, the opposite of charity. As Gail Collins puts it,

Mulvaney claimed the new budget was all about “compassion.” It’s not everybody whose heart bleeds so much for wealthy taxpayers that he’s prepared to feed them the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

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slapping on

rhetorical claim: Obama-era regulators “slapped on” layer after layer of unwanted, stifling, and preemptive regulations in their heavy-handed attempt to rule America by regulatory diktat. A “light touch” administrative approach better serves the consumer and the market.

rhetorical effect: makes any regulation sound draconian and unnecessary; paves the way for massive concessions to private industry.; conflates the concepts of the consumer and the market–as if the public’s best interests are always congruent with those of private corporations. (he old way of putting this was ‘What’s good for GM is good for America.”) Makes the case for government actions that are reactionary rather than preventative.

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liberal media

rhetorical claim: the liberal media are creating a false narrative about Trump, Comey, and the Russians. There is not one shred of evidence of any electoral collusion with the Russians; Comey was fired because he is incompetent and because of the Clinton investigation, and now the media has made up a story about how Trump is either impeachable or crazy.

  • Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for his mishandling of the Clinton investigation and his stubborn insistence on continuing the Russia investigation despite no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
  • The liberal media drove this narrative to take down Trump, who only wanted the investigation “done properly,” and then started to question Trump’s mental stability.
  • The “deep state” leaked classified info to the Washington Post. Plus, Trump has the right to disclose classified information to Russians, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees.
  • Comey is getting revenge with memos that reveal Trump asked him to shut down the investigation into his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

rhetorical effect: strips the Comey and Russia/Trump stories of context to make these events seem random or non-existent; makes up an imaginary third party–the evil liberal media–to be the main villain in the piece; creates a false narrative of Trump as the victim of a witch hunt. Stripping context away from these stories allows Trump supporters to make up a false alternative narrative. As Vox explains:

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Right-wing media is creating coherent alternate storylines with different characters and different context — but a narrative that competes with contextual facts that support a more accurate story. Even amid some of the most troubling presidential news in decades, a huge portion of this country is having a very different experience of these events, and repeating it over and over. Our collective memories — and, in turn, our shared culture — are being splintered.

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