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, Oct 1-6, 2017

“economically and technologically achievable standards”

rhetorical claim: science shouldn’t have anything to do with environmental policy. Instead, economic impacts and achievable standards should dictate our clean air and water standards. We can longer bankrupt American industry in the name of the unproven theory of climate change.

rhetorical effect: the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology has removed the phrase “science-based standards” from its mission statement, replacing it with “economic and technologically achievable standards.”  Shortly after announcing that he wants climate researchers to “debate” climate deniers on live TV, EPA Director Scott Pruitt said “science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try and dictate policy in Washington DC. The idea that science should not dictate nor influence policy is insane. It really doesn’t need to be said that science is one of the key foundations of modern society, and that the Trump war on science and fact is eroding all the gains of the Enlightenment. The end of pluralism and the sharing and distribution of knowledge will lead to a new Dark Age.


relatively speaking

rhetorical claim: Trump on Puerto Rico relief efforts: “The loss of life, it’s always tragic. But it’s been incredible,” he said on CNN’s Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin. “The results that we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.” 

rhetorical effect: Comparing the absolute needs of Puerto Ricans with the needs of other disaster victims diminishes their need and justifies inaction.



rhetorical claim: Debates about gun control in the days immediately following a mass shooting are always premature. .Those who preen on about eroding the Second Amendment are simply politicizing tragedy and disrespecting the victims.

rhetorical effect: “premature” is really saying that Congress will never enact even modest efforts to prevent mass shootings. Every time–any time– is an inappropriate time to talk about gun control, and the call for respectful silence on the issue to avoid “politicizing” it is itself a politicized speech act. It anesthetizes any calls to action to, say, expand background checks, ban automatic weapons, or keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable. After all, everything is political in America.


gender ideology

rhetorical claim: Progressives liberals want to feminize boys, turn girls into lesbians, and destroy the family, all in the name of an ideology of gender equality

rhetorical effect: according to The Economist, this meme is part of a long-standing campaign against feminism by conservatives in the Catholic church which has widened in recent years into opposition to gay marriage and gay rights. The aim is to create an entirely fictional moral panic that the family is disintegrating. As The Economist puts it gender is in fact “not an ideology but it is a lightning rod.” Calling feminism, gay rights and gender equality ideologies, neutralizes their moral weight, reducing them to matters of opinion and politics.


heath care as a privilege

rhetorical claim: health care is a privilege, not a right. So-called human rights almost always have a cost that taxpayers have to cover. The burden of this coverage is not shared by all. Self-reliance and the free market should determine a person’s medical coverage. As Senator Ron Johnson explained,

When a student asked him if he considers health care to be a right or a privilege, Johnson replied, “I think it’s probably more of a privilege. Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right? What we have as ‘rights’ is ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Everything else is a limited resource.

rhetorical effect: Social Darwinism in action because it turns a basic human need into something to be earned. Turns basic human rights into a zero-sum game.


the costs and benefits of tax reform

rhetorical claim: according to Treasure Secretary Steve Mnuchin, no one can credibly estimate the effect of the plan, given how many details are still up in the air. However, the plan will reduce deficits by $1 trillion by stimulating growth that primarily benefits the middle class.

rhetorical effect: because both of these claims cannot be simultaneously true, this statement is the rhetorical equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. Mnuchin obscures the benefits of tax reform by claiming that corporate taxes are largely paid by workers, when they are in fact mostly paid by shareholders. The Trump administration will do everything it can to conceal and distort the true costs and benefits of their tax reform package and always falsely claim that its primary aim is to help the middle class. It estimated that by 2027 the proposal would increase deficits by $2.4 trillion, with about 80 percent of tax cuts going to the top 1 percent.”

Voters in the lower-income brackets have to pay attention. The GOP is essentially willing to blow a hole in the deficit to cut taxes for their wealthy donors and large corporations. This will increase income inequality in the nation; provide less money to invest in the items that have proven to grow the economy, like education, infrastructure and technology; burden future generations with more debt; and give the wealthy more money to fund lobbyists, campaign contributions and gamble on the stock market. The GOP wants us to look more like Latin America.



rhetorical claim: the Brookings Institution and the Tax Policy Center have sandbagged the GOP tax reform plan by trashing its consequences without any evidence.

rhetorical effect: “Sandbagging” is rhetorical shorthand for “criticizing.” Any criticism of the plan is called either  “premature” (see above) or “fake.” This pejorative thus short cuts any critical analysis because there is no middle ground for critical analysis, historical comparisons, or prevailing assumptions.


viewpoint discrimination

rhetorical claim: college administrators engage in viewpoint discrimination when they ban conservative speakers because of concerns over student safety. All opinions matter, and college-aged “snowflakes” have to get used to the rough and tumble of the real world.

rhetorical effect: encourages and even protects hate speech. In fact, this rhetorical inversion makes any demonstration against “white privilege” or “white supremacy” itself a racially biased act, subject to liability and the pulling of federal funding. Anything with a “viewpoint” is thus judged discriminatory, in the pejorative sense of the word. Of course, any distinction between terms or ideas is inherently discriminatory.


the price of freedom

rhetorical claim:  As Bill O’Reilly put it, “The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned. This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons,”

rhetorical effect: This master covering meme could be a GOP slogan for our time because it implies that collective action cannot lead to collective benefit. Justifies doing nothing about gun control; confuses freedom with self-reliance, as if freedom is an absolute with no social dimension or social consequences, and  as if there is always just a binary choice between freedom and any effective gun control;  dooms us all to a Wild West permissiveness in an age of weapons of mass destruction. As Heather Richardson put it on

The American casualties at Mandalay Bay are the horrific embodiment of what happened to America with the rise of movement conservatism: business profits became more important than human lives. Wealth has moved upward dramatically while regular Americans have seen their jobs evaporate, their health fail, infrastructure crumble and the environment degrade. Last week’s figures from the Federal Reserve show that in 2016, the top 1 percent of Americans controlled 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth, almost twice that of the bottom 90 percent. Also last week, we had the stomach-turning spectacle of Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin telling high school students that health care, food and shelter are privileges. And in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Republican media personality Bill O’Reilly called the carnage at Mandalay Bay “the price of freedom.”..Someday, people will wonder how we came to this state of insanity.