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, March 2-8, 2018

picking winners and losers

rhetorical claim: the GOP believes in letting free markets work themselves out by their internal logic, whereas the Dems always want to pick winners and losers,  putting their thumb on the scale of economic liberty.

rhetorical effect: obscures the truth, as revealed by Catherine Rampell:

Republicans love picking winners and losers, too. They just choose different winners and different losers than Democrats do. In the case of today’s Republican officials, the winners are mostly donors, incumbents, culture-war favorites and cheats…OP officials nationwide keep proving that when they say they’re “pro-business,” what they really mean is that they’re pro-certain businesses and anti-others.

Rampell mentions subsidies, tax breaks, tariffs, regulatory relief and the suppression of lawsuits against companies as some of the ways the Trump administration plays favorites. Trump defines winning as selling more to the other guy than he sells to you–a zero-sum Darwinian struggle for survival. In reality, though, the goal of trade is increased imports, and a trade deficit is meaningless. The Balkanization of the global trading system can only damage the US.

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the global arena

rhetorical claim: from McMaster’s & Cohn’s WSJ op-ed on Trump’s America First policy:

the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental 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: justifies: Ayn Rand-style American exceptionalism; the disruption of the post-war rules-based international order; tariffs; America’s bullying its way to get anything it wants and  the end of international cooperation. Seeing foreign affairs as an “arena” evokes gladiatorial, winner-take-all  contests

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the oppression of the oppressors

rhetorical claim: best articulated by Victor Davis Hanson:

We are reaching circular firing squad moments—and a topsy-turvy world.

The concept of “disparate impact” is asterisked by the disproportional “meritocracy” of the NFL or NBA. Yet meritocratic Asian admittances at UC Berkeley are seen as some sort of unnatural “overrepresentation,” and thus in the past were carefully and stealthily trimmed. (Isn’t a professional sports billet considered far more lucrative than an undergraduate slot at Berkeley?)

Cultural appropriation aimed at whites is not reciprocal. The doctrine does not absurdly mean that Latinas should not dye their hair blond, or that talented African-Americans should not become great violinists or opera singers, or that Asian actors should not play Hamlet or Lady Macbeth. But strangely, it does mean that those who are not minorities should not play minority roles, or even adopt for their own the fashions and styles of nonwhite peoples.

We are told that the concealing and carrying of firearms should be outlawed. Armed guards at schools only ensure greater violence. Mace and pepper spray suffice instead of bullets.

Yet politicians, celebrities and marquee athletes require well-armed bodyguards, on the premise that in their unique cases, guns really do both deter and in extremis protect the important. Do armed guards protect or provoke?

Post-Freddie Grey Baltimore has become a far more dangerous place for African-Americans and for small business owners—even as once oppressive and supposedly Neanderthal police became more socially aware and adopted enlightened reforms.

There are a few common denominators to all these paradoxes that overwhelm the daily news.

One, people are people, unique individuals, not monolithic cut-outs of classes, races, or religions.

Two, in comparative global terms, it is hard for anyone to be oppressed in a free-wheeling, rich, and leisured 21st-century America. The efforts to appear so can hinge on the embarrassing.

Three, when movements, such as the identity politics core of progressivism, rely on shared oppressions, and when the categories of the oppressed in many demographic groups outnumber the available oppressors, we should expect a confused competition of grievances.

Four, victimhood cannot serve as the basis of a viable political movement. Contemporary oppression requires a Byzantine regulatory handbook of qualifications, exceptions, and nuances to rank competing reparatory claims on society and culture. How else to account for things like multibillionaire Oprah Winfrey being “discriminated” against in a Swiss boutique on the basis of supposedly not easily being accorded a customer’s look at a $38,000 crocodile-skin handbag? And is such a luxury even permissible in the era of PETA?

Who can calibrate the current plight of California feminist icon, #MeToo leader, and Latina assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who in the recent past has called for fellow legislators merely accused of sexual harassment to resign from office and to be ostracized by their associates?

Yet Garcia herself now stands accused of sexual assault. She is on temporary sabbatical. She insists she is innocent, won’t quit the legislature, and denies the independent allegation of four subordinates, who claim that they were groped, and propositioned by a supposedly randy Garcia. She now finds herself in a Thucydidean moment in which she yearns for the civil liberty protections that she was so eager to deny to others.

So who will police the police? Who is left to victimize the victims? Is it possible that the oppressed can oppress other oppressed?

rhetorical effect: Uses a circular argument (oppressors must themselves oppress in order to make their case) to undercut any charges of oppression. Labeling charges of repression hypocritical justifies all oppression, and doubly victimizes the victims of oppression.

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equality of result, not of opportunity

rhetorical claim: In the eternal search for perfect justice and equality, what starts out as liberal can quickly end up as progressively absurd. The logic of equality of result, rather than equality of opportunity, demands that there is always one more group, one more grievance, one more complaint against the shrinking and overwhelmed majority.

rhetorical effect: justifies a Darwinian, winner-take-all world, a zero-sum game of winners and losers. Undercuts any progressive attempts to reduce inequality, provide any social safety net, or issue any regulations. Glibly assumes that everyone has equal opportunities,  so those who fall behind are just classic Trumpian losers.

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blaming racism

rhetorical claim: As Jason Riley argues in the WSJ

We can’t hope to address effectively the social pathology on display in so many black ghettos by playing down the role of culture and personal responsibility so as to keep the focus on white racism. What blacks were doing on their own to develop human capital and to narrow racial gaps in the first half of the 20th century has a far better record of success than any government program.

rhetorical effect: arguing that we live in a “post-racist” society brackets any discussion of racism, blaming its victims’ own cultural “pathologies” and lack of “personal responsibility.” These terms in themselves are euphemisms for calling blacks degenerate and lazy; using these racist dog whistles to justify ending all social safety net programs is an unconscionable rhetorical slight-of-hand–assuming the very thing you need to prove, a form of illogical inference.

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the mirage of social justice

rhetorical claim: the concept of social justice is a mirage or panacea, and does not offer a useful perspective on morality or political policy. More useful concepts include individual responsibility, justice toward individuals, protection of personal rights, and impartial application of the US Constitution as originally intended.

rhetorical effect: undercuts any discussion of collective or social justice, narrowly applying the term only to individual rights. Communitarianism, collectivity, redistributionism–all such concepts become suspect “pipe dreams.”

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democracy promotion

rhetorical claim: democracy promotion has proven to be an almost universal failure (See Iraq, Libya, Egypt) for America despite being a sacred cow for both liberal and conservative globalists. A realistic foreign policy has us acting on our interests, not our values. Democratic states are not more peaceful or stable than autocracies. Morality and law cannot tame power.

rhetorical effect: questions the idea of building democracy at home and undermines the rule of law; promotes an emperor approach to the Presidency, who is placed above the law; reinforces the “realist” notion that “might makes right.”

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not chaos, just tremendous energy

rhetorical claim: there is no chaos in the West Wing, only tremendous energy.

rhetorical effect: best explained by Charles Blow:

Lies. Of course the White House is in chaos. It’s just that Trump has lived his whole life in a state of chaos, so it feels perfectly normal to him. The only energy around Trump is a vortex of complicity and incompetence.

Furthermore, it should be clear to us all at this point that Trump’s public relations approach to dealing with unfavorable news is simply to rush to the nearest microphone — or log into Twitter — and say that the exact opposite is true, even when his statement is an easily provable lie.

Being right is never the point; retaliation is the point.

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, Aug 30-Sept. 3, 2017

Sovereign democracy edition. Trump’s grand bargain (see “pro-growth tax policy,” below) is economic prosperity in exchange for limited political freedoms, suppression of the media, the judiciary and Congress, and toxic hostility to human rights, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, minorities, and non-Christians. Very much in the Putin mold, let the dog eat well but not bark too much, and get rid of or silence those who bark too much. This new “realism” is really just authoritarianism and political repression. All of this is disguised as populism, the will of the people. This is what is now called ‘illiberal democracy,” what the The Kremlin calls “sovereign democracy.”

What this might portend for America’s future is well spelled out by Indiana University political scientist Jeffrey Isaac:

A spectre is haunting Europe and the United States; the spectre of illiberal democracy.

The project of instituting a new form of ‘illiberal democracy’ in place of the supposedly outmoded form of liberal democracy is most closely linked to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has repeatedly announced this intention. But the idea is commonly associated with a broader range of political leaders – Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, among others – who have sought to institute illiberal measures and to justify them, at least in part, by appeal to a more authentic form of ‘democracy.’ As David Ost has recently observed of the Hungarian and Polish cases:

Eviscerating the Constitutional Court and purging the judiciary, complete politicization of the civil service, turning public media into a government mouthpiece, restricting opposition prerogatives in parliament, unilateral wholesale change of the Constitution or plain violation of it, official tolerance and even promotion of racism and bigotry, administrative assertion of traditional gender norms, cultural resurrection of authoritarian traditions, placing loyalty over competence in awarding state posts, surveillance without check – with such policies and more, right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland are engaged in a direct attack on the institutions of democracy. The ruling parties, Fidesz and Law and Justice (PiS) respectively, do not even claim to adhere to ‘liberal’ democracy anymore. Are they committed to democracy at all? Both accept it now that elections have brought unchecked one-party rule by the party representing ‘the nation.’ Otherwise, ‘democracy’ appears to be only a curtsy to the political correctness they otherwise abhor.

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realism

rhetorical claim: the Trump “America First” foreign policy sees the international environment as an inherently zero-sum arena in which the gains of other countries are America’s losses, all foreign policy is inherently competitive, the promotion of human rights and democracy are distractions from winning, and only America stands in the way of the undermining of civilization. (see “the triumph of Western civilization,” below)

rhetorical effect: this dog-eat-dog vision alienates long-time allies, encourages dictators and autocrats, undermines existing treaties and institutions, ignores the very values that have made the US into a foreign policy force in the first place, and undermines all trust and cooperation in our network of alliances. This deterioration of trust can only lead to political, economic and military instability, and thus serve as a form of national security  that actually makes America more insecure.

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fake news

rhetorical claim: the mainstream media’s fake news is an effort to agitate, not inform, akin to foreign propaganda. It is a greater threat to the US than white supremacy.

rhetorical effect: putting the media on the same moral p[lane as the KKK and neo-Nazis further demonizes them. Hardens the cultural divisions between mainstream news media and those who consume it and the populist press and its supporters, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of mutual mistrust and hostility. Conveniently masks the fact just calling the media “fake news” is itself an example of fake news.

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the triumph of Western civilization

rhetorical claim: political correctness in the form of tearing down Confederate statues, limiting free speech, changing the ways history is depicted in textbooks so that all non-Europeans are portrayed as victims of racist white colonialists–such Orwellian attempts to not only limit but set the terms of political debate are key to the Left’s ultimate opposition to the triumph of Western civilization.

rhetorical effect: narrows what qualifies as “civilization”; equates conquest with ‘”triumph”; invokes the sentiments of the Crusades by type-casting most of the world as uncivilized infidels.

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pro-growth tax policy

rhetorical claim: President Trump’s supply-side tax cut proposal would stimulate the economy and help our workers, companies and country compete against China.

rhetorical effect: claims ownership of American workers and companies, so that anyone opposed to Trump’s massive tax cuts for the rich becomes an enemy of the people. Disguises trickle-down plutocracy as populism. Creates an authoritarian legitimacy by offering prosperity in exchange for political corruption, media intimidation, and playing to his racist, sexist white supremacy base.

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system of values

rhetorical claim: Trump’s system of values is America’s system of values: hard work, individual liberty, honor, patriotism, and respect for law and order. Liberals, by contrast, do not share any of the “Make America Great Again” values. They value government handouts over hard work, collective values over individual rights, constant doubt about American power, scoffing at the idea of patriotism, and respect for the state.

rhetorical effect: makes it sound as if liberals only values obstructionism , mockery and the sheer will-to-power.

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uncontrolled migration

rhetorical claim: uncontrolled migration is responsible for plummeting wages, rising crime and overcrowded schools.

rhetorical effect: skips over the facts that migration is strictly controlled, non-immigrants are far likelier to commit crimes than immigrants, technology has taken jobs away from Americans far more than immigrants have, overcrowding in schools is caused by a plethora of factors, and crime rates are lower among immigrants than among people born here

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antiquated Congressional processes and procedures

rhetorical claim: ending the filibuster and the 60-vote rule in the Senate; changing the way the CBO scores bills, changing the ways baseline spending is tallied, changing the definitions of budget windows–all of these changes to antiquated Congressional policies and procedures will free the administration up to enact real tax cuts and stimulate a supply-side boom economy.

rhetorical effect: changing the rules of the game to rig the results means that the truly pernicious and inequality-producing aspects of the tax bill will be disguised and will also ease the way to passage. The GOP is out to create a grammar ans a rhetoric of greed.

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race fatigue

rhetorical claim: Americans are experiencing race fatigue, no longer willing to feel guilty due to the progressives’  false charges of racism. The Left’s hypocritical false sense of moral superiority has been unmasked for what it truly is: the will to power, exclusion, and elitism. Racism is the wedge issue the haters want to use to destroy Trump and take over the entire the entire government

rhetorical effect: promulgates the pernicious myth that we live in a “post racial” society; makes any claims of racial bias false and self-serving, turning the victims into perpetrators of vicious stereotypes.

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environmental resilience

rhetorical claim: Environmental resilience comes from economic growth, not the Paris accord or climate change hysteria. As argued by Bret Stephens in the New York Times,

Only sustained economic growth leads to better safety standards, funds scientific research, builds spillways and wastewater plants, creates “green jobs,” sets aside prime real estate for conservation, and so on. Poverty, not wealth, is the enemy of the environment. Only the rich have the luxury of developing an ethical stance toward their trash.

Resilient economies are built on hard work, little or no regulation and government interference, and little or no zoning, Progressives’ obstructionist government regulation will not stop people from moving to cities (such as Houston) in which the progressives’ hidden agenda of political opportunism has been exposed and rejected by the voters. Thus these are the cities where houses are cheap and jobs are plentiful.

rhetorical effect: calling poverty the enemy of the environment makes the poor into enemies of the people and the planet. This may be couched as a rallying cry to end poverty, but is really a rhetorical justification of unchecked, unregulated economic growth. Progressive notions such as zoning, growth limits, environmental and land use regulations

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America’s CEO

rhetorical claim: as captured in this rant in The American Thinker:

President Trump, whatever one thinks of him, has taken off flying on the executive level. As a result of aggressive deregulation, the economy is roaring — record-low unemployment and a record-high stock market, plus an impressive rise in GDP, with new and major companies building and hiring. North Korea is being heavily sanctioned and dauntlessly confronted. (Imagine if Obama were President now; weakness is the last thing we need at this moment. Thank God that Trump is the Commander-in-Chief, rather than his predecessor, who left North Korea [and so many other totalitarian regimes] totally unchecked and enabled it to become a nuclear power.) Street gangs, such as MS-13, are being robustly prosecuted. Energy is on the move, including coal and the Keystone KL pipeline project. ISIS is on its deathbed, Taliban forces are in for a nasty surprise, and Iran and Syria have finally been shown that the U.S. means business. FEMA’s response to Hurricane Harvey was hailed and contrasted with the federal government’s response to disasters under previous administrations.

This progress is all the result of executive decisions, not legislation or anything related to Congress.

It is the intrepid and maverick approach of the current White House that cuts through the red tape and rushes to get things done, indifferent to naysayers and the weighty forces of inertia on the part of career politicians.

Trump is America’s CEO, and his executive-level successes will create his legacy and leave detractors to grope in their comfortable cloud of bureaucratic dust.

rhetorical effect: The impossible task of extolling Trump’s executive skills and accomplishments obviously relies on lies and distortions: everything except the pipelines was moving along under Obama as well. The real effects of having  a CEO, reality show marketer in the Oval are better explained by David Friend in The New York Times:

America has received what much of the nation had been asking for since the 1990s. In the electoral reckoning, civility had been trumped by hostility, respect by chauvinism, tolerance by bigotry, truth by fabrication and deceit, privacy by exposure, modesty by exhibitionism, achievement by fame, shame by shamelessness, and bridges by walls.