Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps Aug 24-30, 2018

draining the swamp

rhetorical claim: During his extraordinary run for the presidency, Donald Trump vowed again and again to “drain the swamp” and rid our government of corruption, waste, and insider-dealing. Last week in West Virginia he claimed he is making enormous progress on what Steve Bannon called “deconstructing the administrative state.”

rhetorical effect:distraction from what’s going on behind the Trump circus curtain. According to USA Today:

More than 100 former federal lobbyists have found jobs in the Trump administration, despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to restrict the power of special interests in Washington, according to a tally provided to USA TODAY by a Democratic group.

And roughly two-thirds of them — 69 — work in the agencies they have lobbied at some point in their careers, according to research by American Bridge 21st Century. They include about three dozen recent lobbyists who have not received waivers from Trump’s ethics rule that bar industry insiders and former lobbyists from working on specific matters that benefited their former employers or clients for two years after their appointments.

The prevalence of lobbyists in the new administration shows that Trump and his aides are “are holding themselves to a different standard than we expected,” said Lisa Gilbert of the liberal-leaning group Public Citizen, which is expected to release its own study this week, highlighting ex-lobbyists working on the same issues in government as they did in their recent lobbying posts.

As argued by Edward Luce:

In practice, he has handed the country to the highest bidders. The big picture is a looting of public goods. Students will find it harder to pay off debt. Financial outfits will find it easier to secrete punitive clauses into contracts. People’s health will be damaged by toxins and dirty air. He will leave Washington more corrupt, and forgotten Americans more disenchanted, than he found them. While Mr Trump keeps us all amused, his crew is turning the swamp into a primeval soup.


environmental terrorist groups

wise use

rhetorical claim: according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke,:

We have been held hostage by these environmental terrorist groups that have not allowed public access — that refuse to allow [the] harvest of timber,” he told Breitbart earlier this month. The underlying cause of catastrophic blazes, he said, is the “fuel load” of dead and dying timber in our forests.

rhetorical effect: demonizes environmentalist as eco-terrorists, planting a fictional boogeyman in the imagination of the American voters; ; undercuts the efficacy of climate science and fire management; polarizes the electorate in order to justify the privatization of public lands. Part of the “wise use” anti-environmentalist approach to managing federal lands that emphasizes extraction. Its agenda, spelled in 1988, includes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening all public lands to mining and oil exploration, and clear-cutting old growth in national forests — partly for wildfire prevention, of course. In other words, this tenuous link between ecoterrorism and logging is 20 years old.


sadism, not justice

power-drunk commisars

rhetorical claim: Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are being railroaded through the justice system and scapegoated, as explained by Roger Kimball:

One of the reasons so many people are confused by the operations of our self-appointed fourth branch of government—I mean in this instance the unending, Kafkaesque investigations conducted by Robert Mueller and his crack team of anti-Trump shock troops—is that while we have seen plenty of punishment meted out, crimes have been rather less populous on the ground.

Yes, I understand that Paul Manafort has been nabbed for tax evasion and bank fraud, and that he now faces additional charges in yet another court. One of the nice things about our modern prosecutors is their handy multiplication machine that takes what is essentially one crime and gins it up into dozens or even hundreds of counts. Presto! You’re facing 18 counts, peasant—try beating that

The point is, when you have carte-blanche to torment someone, why stop when you’ve got him locked up for life? Like a cat toying with an injured mouse, the modern major prosecutor keeps batting his prey about till he stops moving altogether. What might have been justice for a serial killer is gleefully applied to someone who fudged his tax returns or tripped over himself answering an FBI agent. Then we have sadism, not justice.

When it comes to our legal system, they say that it is the punishment. But that leaves out the other side of the equation: that for the system, for wretched power-drunk commissars like Robert Mueller, the process, because of the punishment, is all the fun. They enjoy tormenting people.

rhetorical effect: a corollary of the Guiliani “truth is not truth” master-meme: in this case, “crime is not crime.” The punishment becomes the crime, so the rule of law is even more eroded, all in preparation for the coming epoch confrontation between Trump, the law, and the Constitution. In alternative GOP universes: 1)  the only “crime” liberals care about is the election of Donald Trump; 2) the only real Russian collusion in the 2016 election, was between the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Christopher Steele on one side and “dubious” Russian sources on the other and,  3) the only truly unaccountable sectors in America are the justice system (FBI, intelligence community, Justice Dept.) and the media, even though they are the only remaining institutions that are actually functioning and accountable–and thus the only sectors to threaten Trump in any way. As Jonathan Chait puts it:

The implicit argument that this memo’s existence makes is striking. The fact that Trump’s combined self-dealing and lack of transparency create extensive possibilities for corruption, and the fact that Trump’s financial dealings with Russia and possible conspiracy with Russian sabotage of our election could subject him to blackmail, should ideally suggest to those tasked with oversight that they should, you know, exercise more oversight.

Instead, as Jonathan Chait points out, Republicans have converted all this into a rationale not to exercise oversight — and into a reason to keep Republicans in control of the House to keep this status quo undisturbed. Notes Chait: “Republicans have so internalized their subordination to Trump that they are now leaning into the cover-up as a case for maintaining their power.”

It’s also worth noting that Republicans have made this argument explicit. Remember, on leaked audio, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes flatly stated that if Attorney General Jeff Sessions won’t rein in Mueller’s probe, House Republicans are Trump’s last line of protection. “If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones,” Nunes said. “We have to keep the majority.”


flipping almost ought to be illegal

rhetorical claim: Trump:

If somebody defrauded a bank and he is going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail, but you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you will go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. … And I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.

rhetorical effect: as explained by Charles Blow:

The use of informants is a central part of how some criminal prosecutions are executed. This is how the justice system works.

In his mind, the fact that he may be implicated by the justice system is a blasphemy, a distortion of the American power structure, in which the wealthy almost always win.

As he told Fox: “I’ve always had controversy in my life and I’ve always succeeded. I’ve always won. I’ve always won.”

Two additional rhetorical notes: 1) this shows that Trump divides the world into winners and losers, and that “winning” proves you were right, and, 2) saying that flipping “almost” ought to be illegal is classic Trump innuendo; hedging and qualifying a boldface outrage doesn’t mitigate it, but only strengthens it, while nonetheless providing a smokescreen of plausible denial later on if necessary.


media-fueled psychodrama

rhetorical claim: The pulling down of confederate statues reflects today’s frenzied ahistorical climate on campuses, there is only melodrama or rather media-fueled psychodrama of the zealous, but otherwise mostly ignorant. Few grasp the essence of tragedy in bravely fighting for a disreputable cause, sometimes one that is repugnant to one’s own sense of morality.  The ultimate logic of today’s statue smashers is a similar effort to war against the past, and erase all the complexities, all the tragic lessons of history, and to replace it was some easy Manichean morality play. Where exactly will it stop?

rhetorical effect: “where will it stop” reframes a moral crusade to acknowledge the past and correct for it, into  to an a apocalyptic “Manichean” wish to erase history and start at Marxist Year One.


Project Fear

rhetorical claim: the “restore” wing of British politics has fomented a hysterical prediction of economic devastation if Brexit is allowed to happen with no deal. Shortages of medicine; the garden of England turned into a lorry park; a surge in red-tape; new tariffs on cars and food; factories halted for lack of parts. Those are the grim scenarios conjured up by planning for a “ no-deal Brexit”. Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles…The motivations of the hardline Brexiters are, in some ways, easiest to understand. They believe that the proposal of Theresa May’s government would be the worst of all worlds: leaving Britain with the obligations of EU membership, without the supposed benefits of Brexit. But their argument that Britain should hold out for something better depends on dismissing all the warnings about no-deal as scare stories or “Project Fear”.

rhetorical outcome: divides the electorate and demonizes compromise. As Gideon Rachman argues,

That argument is uncomfortably close to a Marxist embrace of the immiseration of the people as a necessary condition for political progress. It also rests on the questionable assumption that an economic and social crisis would strengthen the centre ground in politics. In the real world, it is more likely to empower the political extremes.



rhetorical claim: compensatory mitigation, the practice that energy companies must pay the federal government for restoring damaged land or buy new land to set aside for conservation, is nothing short of extortion.

rhetorical effect: transforms any form of mitigation, penalty, or fee into an unwarranted governmental intrusion, a trampling of individual rights. In this scenario, the government is always the bully and industry is always the victim. So federal agencies should be re-named The Environmental Plunder Agency and The Department of Exploitng (or Monetizing) the Interior.


cultural vandalism

rhetorical claim: the perpetually outraged cultural-Marxist Left is rapidly vandalizing American history and culture in the name of diversity. Like their Soviet, Chinese, and Cambodian forebears, they cannot abide anything that does not conform to their world-view right this minute, and therefore must constantly update their “Index of Forbidden Books, Films, Words, and Cultural Artifacts.” We know what kind of future the Left has planned: nasty, brutish, and short, except that instead of a state of nature in which every man’s hand is against all, and all against his, it will simply be a Stalinist State of Huxleyian proportions, in which everything that is not prescribed is forbidden, and overseen by battalions of Nurse Ratcheds, ready to administer psychotropic drugs or a lobotomy, as the case may be.

rhetorical effect: the classic defense of Volk white culture: “they” are stealing the present by covering over history and reinventing it as a one world socialist state. The denunciation of political correctness and globalization is used by the enemies of the constitution in a demagogic appeal to emotions. The politics of cultural despair never fail to fire up the Kulture, Trump’s base base.