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 5-11, 2017

nefarious plot

rhetorical claim:  First the Dems tried the plot line that Trump himself was responsible, but with that now failing they are falling back on a fictional, nefarious “conspiracy” or “collusion”  plot.

rhetorical effect: Every attempt to link the players in this drama is called a false conspiracy theory, and every piece of evidence pointing to a concerted coverup is dismissed as anecdotal or out of context. Calling something “nefarious” undermines its credibility by making it sound shadowy and delusional.

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he’s just new to this

rhetorical claim: “He’s just new to this,” offered Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, by way of explanation for President Trump’s oafish efforts to get James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to drop the bureau’s investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. Mr. Trump stumbled, Mr. Ryan went on, because he is “learning as he goes,” and because “he wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between D.O.J., F.B.I. and White Houses.”

rhetorical effect: As Maureen Dowd puts it, “The real problem isn’t that Trump is a Washington naïf, though he is. It’s that he brought his own distorted reality and warped values with him.” This Candide defense turns Trump into a useful idiot rather than a Machiavellian autocrat; defies common sense and experience: of course Trump knew he was threatening Comey. As the New York Times editorializes,

The claim of inexperience is but one of the excuses offered by the caucus, compelled by this president’s misbehavior and misadventures to grow more inventive by the day……

Republican officeholders are in a quandary, ashamed of Mr. Trump but terrified that if they speak out his voters will send them packing in 2018. If they can fake respect for him long enough, they might manage to enact their agenda. While Americans focused on the Comey hearing on Thursday, the House passed a bill rolling back Wall Street rules aimed at preventing another financial crisis. And in the Senate, behind closed doors, Republicans worked to shove a bill gutting health care coverage to a vote without a single hearing.

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long-running protocols

rhetorical claim: (see above)

rhetorical effect: turns laws, customs and norms into mere protocols, thus diminishing their importance–as “protocols,” they seem makeshift and artificial, not rooted in morality. Isn’t telling the truth one of our “long-running protocols?”

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foreign policy arena

rhetorical claim: H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s advisers on security and economics, have recently written that: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.”

rhetorical effect: this Hobbesian view of all against all makes life sound like a Roman gladiatorial circus. As Martin Wolfe puts it in The Financial Times:

The US abandoned such a 19th-century view of international relations after it ended so catastrophically in the 20th. In its place came the ideas, embedded in the institutions it created and the alliances it formed, that values matter as well as interests and responsibilities, as well as benefits. Above all, the earth is not just an arena. It is our shared home. It does not belong to one nation, even such a powerful one. Looking after the planet is the moral responsibility of all.

The US cannot be made “great” by rejecting global responsibility and embracing coal. That is atavistic. Mr Trump’s appeal to irrationality, xenophobia and resentment is frightening.

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equivocation fallacy

rhetorical claim: since there are no substantiated allegations in the Trump-Russia probe, the Dems are having to fall back on the false equivocation fallacy that talking with the Russians after the election is tantamount to colluding with them and fixing the election.

rhetorical effect: part of the p.r.campaign to completely exonerate Trump and make the whole thing go away; attempts to limit any Trump culpability to overt, specific threats to Comey if he didn’t end the investigation; accuses the Dems of equivocating because they don’t have any evidence.

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freedom

rhetorical claim: Freedom–of people, minds and markets–is the solution to our vexing social and economic problems, not their cause.

rhetorical effect: equates freedom from constraints–on speech, behavior, markets–with freedom to do anything in the name of freedom. For example, free markets are often the cause of problems–price-fixing, discrimination, shoddy products, consumer frauds–and not their solution. This “freedom” mantra is a Hobbesian view of mankind–all against all. Offers no vision of community or values other than the lack of constraints.

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frustration

rhetorical claim: President Trump is said to be getting increasingly frustrated at the slowness of the courts and bureaucracies to implement his political and economic agenda.

rhetorical effect: As explained by Greg Sargent in The Washington Post:

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University who writes extensively on authoritarianism and Italian fascism, told me that a discernible trait of authoritarian and autocratic rulers is ongoing “frustration” with the “inability to make others do their bidding” and with “institutional and bureaucratic procedures and checks and balances.”

“Trump doesn’t respect democratic procedure and finds it to be something that gets in his way,” Ben-Ghiat said. “The blaming of others is very typical of autocrats, because they have difficulty listening to a reality that doesn’t coincide with their version of it. It’s part of the authoritarian temperament to blame others when things aren’t working.”

Trump expects independent officials “to behave according to personal loyalty, as opposed to following the rules,” added Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University who wrote “On Tyranny,” a book of lessons from the 20th century. “For Trump, that is how the world is supposed to work. Trump doesn’t understand that in the world there might truly be laws and rules that constrain a leader.”

Snyder noted that authoritarian tendencies often go hand in hand with impatience at such constraints. “You have to have morality and a set of institutions that escape the normal balance of administrative practice,” Snyder said. “You have to be able to lie all the time. You have to have people around you who tell you how wonderful you are all the time. You have to have institutions which don’t follow the law and instead follow some kind of law of loyalty.”

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sneering liberal elites

rhetorical claim: sneering liberal elites are suddenly talking about ways to attract Trump voters back to the Democrats, but in doing so continue to condescend to working, religious-minded, gun-totting Americans. The modern American progressive has no faith in the democratic process because he has no trust in the American people. Progressives consider all political opponents to be oppressors.

rhetorical effect: defending progressive values and policy positions against Trump-style autocratic populism is vilified as condescending and inherently discriminatory. In other words, in accusing the progressives of elitist identity politics, the GOP itself engages in essentialized identity politics, considering all  progressives to be elitists.

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coddling Islamists

rhetorical claim: we must end the political coddling of so-called soft Islamic groups and imams who treat candor about the Islamist threat as anti-Muslim or refuse to identify radicals in their midst. This coddling also extends to opposition to NSA metadata gathering and surveillance, which must be stepped up, not curtailed for politically correct but irrelevant “civil rights” reasons.

rhetorical effect: paves the way for the segregation–even quarantining and interning–all Muslims. Creates the internal logic for religious discrimination.

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coal and mining jobs

rhetorical claim: Trump has already created 50,000 coal and mining jobs as part of Making America Great Again.

rhetorical effect: this talking point makes it sound as if coal is making an unprecedented comeback, whereas, in reality, as argued in the Washington Post, almost all the new jobs in “coal and mining” come in oil production and infrastructure. Only about 1,000 of these 50,000 jobs are in the coal industry. The truth is that nearly every administration statement about the economy either misrepresents the facts or just makes them up. Nothing should be taken at face value.

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carbon taxes

rhetorical claim: Paris Accord taxes on carbon emissions would cripple US industry and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Innovation and the free market will solve climate issues, not government policy.

rhetorical effect: makes any proposed environmental regulatory policy sound unpatriotic and economically suicidal. They never explain, though, why the magic of the free market can’t assert itself even in the face of a modest carbon tax–why it only seems to work when the GOP gets its way on everything.

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America First

rhetorical claim: in abrogating the Paris Accord, President Trump is taking an “America First” approach: we won’t be bullied by other nations, globalist lobbyists, elitist climate alarmists, or other who want to tear down American power.

rhetorical effect: Best explained by E.J. Dionne Jr. in the Washington Post:

The problem with “America First” is that it describes an attitude, not a purpose. It substitutes selfishness for realism.

It implies that nations can go it alone, that we stand for nothing beyond our immediate self-interest, and that we should give little thought to how the rest of humanity thinks or lives. It suggests that if we are strong enough, we can prosper no matter how much chaos, disorder or injustice surrounds us.

America First leads to the diplomacy of narcissism, to use what has become a loaded word in the Trump era. And narcissism is as unhealthy for nations as it is for people.

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