Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, Jan 14-21, 2019

modern slave trade

rhetorical claim: As argued by Chris Buskirk:

President Trump described a humanitarian crisis at the border contrived by Democrats with the active complicity of misguided Republicans who think that attracting a helot class from Latin America to clean their houses, mow their lawns, and drive down wages for low-skill jobs is some sort of capitalist charity scheme that signals their virtue. It isn’t.

In fact, it’s inhumane. How can we describe the human trafficking racket that transports so many of these people here, including many thousands involved in the sex trade or forced into servitude for the cartels,  as anything other than a modern slave trade?

And it comes with all of the violence and degradation you would expect. For example, a 2017 report by Doctors Without Borders says that “1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.” And in 2016 over 20,000 children crossed the border alone and were apprehended by ICE. For what purpose are children being sent without their parents across the desert in the custody of gangsters? There is no good answer. The solution is to stop enticing people north with hopes of off-the-books jobs, fake IDs, access to American welfare programs, and a potential future amnesty.

What these virtue signalers are really engaging in is not charity or mercy; it is the strip mining of Latin America’s most valuable assets—its people—and the break-up of families and traditional cultures and social structures for their own purposes.

To make matters worse, they are creating social and economic crises for their fellow Americans. Not that they see displaced Rust Belt workers, broken working class families, or unemployed and underemployed men across the country as fellow Americans. They’re just anonymous economic inputs who can be replaced by a cheaper model or, worse, just losers who can be ignored and vilified as deplorables and bitter clingers. That’s a violation of the social compact.

rhetorical effect: shifts the blame from the Trump administration–which ordered that migrants be stopped at the border, asylum seekers denied, and children separated from their families–to the Dems. Plus the usual toxic brew of  fearmongering, defensiveness, cherry-picked statistics, dehumanization of asylum seekers (“helots”–slaves in ancient Greece), and outrageous claim–in this case that the Dems want the asylum-seekers into the country to act as their slaves). Outrageous effrontery to use the term “slave” so loosely. Talk about breaking the “social compact”!


Western civilization

rhetorical claim: In a recent interview,  Steve King told the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

rhetorical effect: unvarnished racism, as argued in the Washington Post:

Part of the project of modernity has been to justify itself. During and after the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, citizens of the monarchical European powers attempted to explain how they got to where they were by looking to their roots. They started from the idea that their world was “better” than what had come before. Europe had supposedly crawled out of the “Dark Ages” and into the light. Those familiar terms — dark and light — mirrored the value judgment behind this investigation of the past, one that selectively privileged white skin.

These were, after all, countries ruled by rich white men for other rich white men. So in searching for the history of “the West,” they ignored stories they didn’t recognize — stories of people who didn’t act, think or look like them. That was true even when those stories were central to European and Mediterranean history, as was the case with a history of “the West” told in other languages such as Arabic, Turkish and Hebrew; written by women; or enacted by medieval people of color……

King’s understanding of “Western civilization,” entwined as it is with white supremacy, offers little more than bad, outdated history. To combat this, history teachers are going to have to discuss both the newer voices and the old, those who use the history of the West as cover for racism as well as those both past and present who worked to challenge that narrative. Teaching the real story of the West — one that’s multiethnic, encompasses all genders, and takes account of both its horrors and its triumphs — will ensure that the Kings of the future will no longer be able to fall back on semantics to paper over their bigotry.


coming back now

rhetorical claim: Trump announced that our troops would “be coming back now” from Syria because ISIS was defeated there.

rhetorical effect: Creates a false sense of closure and certainty, belied by the shambolic follow-up to Trump’s initial announcement, as analyzed by the LA Times:

Trump and his national security advisor, John Bolton, sent conflicting messages about how quickly the withdrawal would take place and under what conditions. First, Trump said the troops would be “coming back now.” Then Bolton said that troops wouldn’t leave northeastern Syria until Islamic State was defeated and Kurdish fighters were protected. A few days later, a U.S. military official told the Associated Press that the withdrawal had begun — although that announcement may have been confined to equipment.

Trump later said that “we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!” — whatever that means. The president also has suggested that U.S. commandos based in Iraq could launch missions into Syria.

In other words, almost a month after Trump sprang the idea of a withdrawal on the nation and his own advisors, it remains alarmingly unclear how the administration plans to achieve that objective and fulfill his pledge to eradicate the remnants of Islamic State. The timing remains mysterious too.

Trump campaigned for the presidency as a critic of unnecessary military intervention. He is right to worry about the dangers of mission creep and of unsuccessful military endeavors that lack an exit strategy. But the impulsive announcement of the withdrawal from Syria, followed by contradictory explanations about how it would be implemented, has shown the Trump administration at its amateurish worst.


minority privilege

rhetorical claim: Fox News host Laura Ingraham blasted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, as she complained about “minority privilege.”

In Thursday’s episode of “The Laura Ingraham Show Podcast,” the Fox News primetime host claimed that Ocasio-Cortez was “continuing [an] effort to beat everything into the ground as a racist offense.”

“So, when you can’t debate a point, you throw back, ‘White privilege – you can’t understand. And then there’s nowhere for that person to go. You shut down debate,” she said. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is trying that little trick on Tucker Carlson and me.”

“You don’t know me. Don’t judge me. My authentic self has a right to speak and to make a living just like your authentic self — whatever that is. Progressive, Marxist, socialist — whatever you want to call it,” Ingraham said, in reference to the New York congresswoman.

“But, you see: They are so eager to take away the rights of other people, as they claim to be the most tolerant people on the face of the planet,” she continued.

rhetorical effect: turns the victimizers into the victims, the privileged into the persecuted, and the tolerant into the intolerant. Call it the smug, toxic Midas touch: every thing they touch turns to bitter resentment, vituperation, and racist hate-mongering. Big capital uses racism, sexism and gender bigotry in intricate and extremely imaginative ways to reinforce itself, protect itself, to undermine democracy, and to splinter resistance.



rhetorical claim: Roe vs. Wade continues to be a divisive issue among Americans, with equal parts support and opposition.

rhetorical effect: calling it “divisive” tips the scales rhetorically by creating a false picture of a divided electorate.  In actuality, about two-thirds of Americans agree that abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases. When pollsters press voters on specifics, such as asking whether legislators should pass laws banning certain kinds of abortions, respondents balk. So, for instance, 85 percent of the people who say abortion should not be “allowed” after the first three months of pregnancy then reject potential laws that would ban abortions performed after that point.  All of this reinforces the finding that a strong majority of Americans do not want new abortion restrictions.

Part of what’s going on here is that people are responding to their own preferences and imagining an ideal world when they’re asked vaguely worded questions about whether abortion should be “allowed” in various hypothetical circumstances.

But when follow-up questions ask ‘Do you want a new law?’ or ‘Do you think it’s better if lawmakers stay out?’ many people who may hold stigmatizing views on abortion still strongly believe it should be legal.

The reason so much polling creates the sense that abortion is “divisive” is because pollsters are asking questions that focus on people’s lingering shame over sexuality rather than on clearer issues of laws and right.


limited government

rhetorical claim: the President practices what he preaches: limited government, individual autonomy, freedom of religious practice, free markets, the rule of the people, respect for law and order, etc.

rhetorical effect: rhetorical smokescreen for big government: limiting women’s reproductive rights and options; demonizing religions (Islam); protectionism–telling people what they can buy and how much it should cost; promoting voter suppression; denigrating the FBI as “dirty cops,” etc. The government shutdown is a form of gigantic executive overreach and self-destruction.


pro-life is pro-science

rhetorical claim: The theme of this year’s March For Life is “Unique From Day One.” Perhaps the biggest change in the long, sad debate over abortion is that science, which was once seen as an ally of abortion advocates, is now recognized as being squarely on the side of life. Every few months brings a technological advancement or scientific breakthrough that more fully reveals the unborn child as a living, feeling human being.

In the abortion debate, the science deniers are those who decry the taking of an innocent human life while somehow also celebrating the right to take an innocent unborn human life.

Science isn’t the only consideration in matters that carry profound moral and ethical significance. But on abortion, it can no longer be argued that science and faith are at odds.

In fact, science confirms what the Bible and other sacred texts teach us — that we are uniquely made from the moment we are conceived, and that we have moral status as human beings from that moment on.

rhetorical effect: omits the fact that 90% of doctors and researchers do not believe that the embryo can be considered the same as a newborn. You can’t cherry-pick science by emphasizing only the papers that support your position.



rhetorical claim: most federal workers are actively sabotaging the President’s agenda, and agency heads should use the shutdown to purge them altogether. They are only “essential” for perpetuating the Deep State. As an anonymous essay in The Daily Caller put it:

On an average day, roughly 15 percent of the employees around me are exceptional patriots serving their country.  I wish I could give competitive salaries to them and no one else.  But 80 percent feel no pressure to produce results.  If they don’t feel like doing what they are told, they don’t.

Why would they?  We can’t fire them.  They avoid attention, plan their weekend, schedule vacation, their second job, their next position – some do this in the same position for more than a decade.

They do nothing that warrants punishment and nothing of external value.  That is their workday: errands for the sake of errands – administering, refining, following and collaborating on process.  “Process is your friend” is what delusional civil servants tell themselves.  Even senior officials must gain approval from every rank across their department, other agencies and work units for basic administrative chores.

rhetorical effect: extends the “enemies of the people” list to any anti-Trump federal workers. Soon the majority of Americans will be characterized as “enemies of the people.” Anyone opposing the wall, foe example, is said to advocate open borders, gang violence and rape. Also fulfills the GOP wet dream of shrinking the government enough to, in the immortal words of Grover Norquist, “drown it in a bathtub.”