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, Jan. 18-23, 2017

everybody will have insurance

rhetorical claim: everyone will have healthier insurance that is better and cheaper than anything offered in Obamacare. When insurance can be sold avross state borders and deregulated, consumers will have more choice.

rhetorical effect: it all depends on what you mean by “everybody”, “have,” “choice” and “insurance.” The GOP seems to mean “the opportunity to have access” to coverage  rather than a guarantee of coverage; available rather than affordable coverage, and greatly restricted Medicaid coverage with ultra-high deductibles. These hedges and obfuscations only insure that most Americans now covered under the ACA will be pole-axed  by medical bills because their cut-rate “choice”  won’t cover any major medical bills. As a NY Times editorial puts it:

It is hard to argue against choice. But in the ideological world inhabited by Mr. Price, House Speaker Paul Ryan and many other Republicans, choice is often a euphemism for scrapping sensible regulations that protect people.

Some Americans might well be tempted by this far-right approach. They would have to pay less up front for these skeletal policies than they do now for comprehensive coverage. But over time, when people need health care to recover from accidents, treat diabetes, have a baby or battle addiction, they will be hit by overwhelming bills. The Trump administration seems perfectly willing to sell those people down the river with false promises.


free trade

rhetorical claim: trade is a zero-sum game, not an exchange of mutual benefit, and running a trade deficit is a sign of economic failure.

rhetorical effect: tariffs and other trade barriers and protectionist measures; inflation; mercantilism; trade wars with China, Mexico, Japan and others.



rhetorical claim: Republicans offer the facts but not enough examples, whereas the Dems only offer anecdotes because the facts are against them on every single issue. For example, when it comes to the ACA, the Dems are only going to offer anecdotes about people dying if they lose their coverage, whereas the fact is that Obamacare is woefully undersubscribed because it’s a bad deal for young, healthy people. We have to get away from the ttranny of the anecdote.

rhetorical effect: makes all accounts of the effects of Trump-era cutbacks sound disingenuous and misleading. Assumes the GOP has cornered the market on facts, the Dems on colorful, woe-is-me fictions. Turns Trump critics into “outrage mongers.”


high corporate taxes

rhetorical claim: America has the highest corporate tax rate  (39%) in the world, making  it impossible for US businesses to compete globally.

rhetorical effect: obscures that fact that the effective US corporate tax rate–what US businesses actually pay after deductions and amortizing–is only 14%.


conflicts of interest

rhetorical claim: the media’s hysteria over so-called conflicts of interest among Trump and his appointees has reached a fever pitch, mistaking the appearance of an ethical lapse with an actual ethical lapse. It’s all based on sanctimony, jealousy and resentment. The reign of the aphid-like Beltway liberals, lawyers, lobbyists and journalists who make a living telling others how to live their lives is now over.

rhetorical effect: makes it impossible to criticize any Trump policies or people for ethical lapses without appearing to be a jealous scold or hypocrite, Erases the notion of conflict of interest because economic prosperity is now America’s  primary interest, so anyone prospering by definition has no conflict of interest. Ethics are merely an interpretive “gotcha” parlor game.



rhetorical claim: Economic patriotism and ethnonationalism, personified by Trump, seem everywhere ascendant. Transnationalism is yielding to tribalism.

rhetorical effect: privileges “America first” sentiments and white supremacy; tariffs and trade wars; militarism; racial hatred and intolerance; protectionism and isolationism.


social and political preoccupations

rhetorical claim: Obama and the Dems always put social and political preoccupations ahead of economic growth. Trump will restore growth as the lodestone of national progress. Business investment will be unleashed from the dead hand of over-regulation.

rhetorical effect: Economic might makes right, and crowds out or nullifies consideration of most rights. As long as GDP grows at least 3%, no one will care much about civil rights, voting rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, womens’ reproductive health, equal pay for equal work, workplace safety, environmental regulation, minimum wage, police violence, mass incarceration of African-Americans, etc.


up-from-poverty agenda

rhetorical claim: Trump can control the narrative and upend enemy rhetoric by bringing African-Americans up from poverty through economic prosperity, a tough new doctrine of individual responsibility, and the elimination of the social safety net. Responsibility will come to be seen as the most important component of equality.

rhetorical effect: if there is still poverty at the end of Trump’s first term, it will be due to  minority laziness, self-pity, and drug use. Assumes the economic playing field is level, that everyone is getting the same head start, and that inequality is inevitable and shouldn’t be a part of the political-economic discourse, which will no longer even mention dead ideas such as The War on Poverty, the Great Society, affirmative action, or political correctness.


static idealism

rhetorical claim: liberals’ intransigent belief in principles and ideals –“equality” in which injustice is anything less than perfect parity between all people; “diversity” that is color-coded and optically correct; stressless “spaces” of social and moral perfection, etc–that crowd out contingency,  choice, opportunity, innovation, and free markets.

rhetorical effect: masks the unyielding ideology of the right in the name of freedom, choice, and opportunity, and makes idealism seem naive, rigid, and stultifying.


stopgap liberalism

rhetorical claim: The War on Poverty, the Great Society, affirmative action, political correctness—all this failure reveals a stopgap liberalism of expedience that sought only the fastest route back to moral authority and thus to power. Beyond this it was all dreams and self-congratulation.

rhetorical effect: liberalism is equated with expediency, the will to power and self-congratulation. Stripped of its idealism and moral compass, it becomes mere cynicism and opportunism, worthy of contempt. Conservatism thus becomes the only principled approach to public life.


the rule of law

rhetorical claim: Obama’s big government, redistributionist policies favored environmentalist causes over economic growth. He disregarded the rule of law, distrusted markets, disregarded property rights, and was obsessed with economic equality over liberty.

rhetorical effect: opens up the carbon, extraction economy for unfettered development, all in the name of growth. Environmental degradation becomes synonymous with liberty, property rights, the rule of law and free markets