Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, Jan 1-8, 2018

china trade war

rhetorical claim: China has cheated us on foreign trade for too long. They will no longer get away with trade barriers, steep tariffs, and currency manipulation.

rhetorical effect: as Martin Wolf argues:

It is a violation of the principles of non-discrimination, multilateralism and market-conformity that underpin the trading system the US created. It should be ashamed of itself. It ignores the overwhelming probability that this will not reduce overall US deficits, particularly given US fiscal irresponsibility. It ignores the inevitable adverse effects on third countries…

The notion that the US may insist on unrestricted access for investment in China while reserving the right to restrict Chinese investment, as it wishes, must also be unacceptable. Finally, the idea that the US will be judge, jury and executioner, while China will be deprived of the rights to retaliate or seek recourse to the WTO is crazy. No great sovereign power could accept such a humiliation. For China, it would be a modern version of the “unequal treaties” of the 19th century.



rhetorical claim: America is not being played for a sucker any more in international politics. Governments are now paying their fair share for US support, the US flag is respected once again, and complacent, arrogant institutions such as NATO, THE UN, and the EU, are on notice that “America First” can do without them.

rhetorical effect: the real sucker of course is Trump. Like all con men, in the end he is the one conned most of all. As the world economy teeters, trade becomes a zero-sum game, America’s reputation as a defender of democracy fades, America’s reliability quotient sinks, our diplomacy is in tatters. This forfeiting of our future in the world is the greatest tragedy of all. As Anthony Blinken and Robert Kagan argue in the Washington Post:

Most Americans do not know the role our diplomats have played over the decades in preventing wars between nuclear-armed nations such as India and Pakistan; between Israel and the Arab states; and between China and Japan in the East China Sea. U.S. diplomacy helped end the Cold War, reunify Germany and build peace in the Balkans. The United States led others to begin addressing climate change, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to fight the Ebola epidemic, to confront the Islamic State and to level economic playing fields. Properly empowered, U.S. diplomacy can save trillions of dollars and many thousands of lives that would otherwise be spent responding to crises that explode because we ignored problems while they were still manageable.


build that wall

rhetorical claim: Most federal workers, even those with rent owed and bills due, would gladly forgo their paycheck as a measure of support for his $5.6 billion border wall, President Trump said on Friday.

He also noted that Mexico would actually be paying for the wall through a new trade agreement, which at the very least raised the question of why the government had to be shut down over a funding dispute involving American tax dollars if the funding was coming from another country. And then there was a Plan C: He said he could use “emergency powers” to build the wall.

The wall was needed for many reasons, Mr. Trump said. Stopping drug and human trafficking, and a nonspecific reference to a torrent of terrorists and coyotes easily flowing in over the southern border. “They drive right in, and they make a left,” he said.

rhetorical effect: Trump’s disingenuous mendacity is revealed in his non-stop lying, deviousness, making up or twisting statistics, blaming the Dems, bragging about his electoral college “landslide” etc.  If there is an emergency, it is one caused entirely by Trump’s ignorance, hysteria and vanity. His big lie at the moment is that the Dems (which include a vast majority of laid-off federal employees) actually support the building of a wall. Meanwhile, Democrats argue that a wall is an expensive and ineffective means of curbing illegal immigration. The majority of undocumented immigrants are people who overstay visas, not people who sneak across the border. A report released in March by Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee found that Border Patrol agents on the front lines said they needed more technology and additional personnel to curb illegal immigration and drug traffic, with less than one half of one percent mentioning a wall.

As for Mexico paying for the wall, Congress has yet to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and it does not compel Mexico to pay for the wall. Whatever federal revenue it generates would come from American taxpayers, not Mexico.)

And, Mr. Trump said, why shouldn’t Mexico pay for the wall through

Trump argues that the new US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement will ensure that, in effect, Mexico is paying for it. (Congress has yet to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and it does not compel Mexico to pay for the wall. Whatever federal revenue it generates would come from American taxpayers, not Mexico.)

When pressed anout what money was coming from Mexico to pay for the wall, he  listed all the taxes newly-wealthy American would be paying thanks to the booming econmy that would ensue from the trade pact. Astonishingly enough, he seems unaware that taxes paid by Americans are not the equivalent of Mexican funds.

Or, as Masha Gessen argues:

Trump loves the Wall and hates the government: these were the cornerstones of his election campaign and form the foundation of his world view. (The Times on Saturday reported that Trump’s campaign advisers used the Wall as “a mnemonic device” to help him remember to talk tough on immigration.) Shutting down the government in perpetuity is one way to “drain the swamp.” Wall becomes a lid that covers the swamp and suffocates it.

Declaring a national emergency would be another way to use Wall to choke America. Trump apparently imagines that such a move would allow him to govern the way he thinks he wants to: by barking commands rather than by throwing tantrums. Technically, he probably wouldn’t need to declare a national emergency—there are thirty states of emergency effective in the U.S. right now, many of them in effect for many years. (Presidents renew states of emergency annually, and though Congress is legally required to meet every six months to reassess a state of emergency, this has not happened since the relevant law was passed, in 1976.) States of emergency have already been used to enable grievous violations of people’s rights—as, for example, when the state of emergency declared after 9/11 (and renewed every year since) was used to make it possible to torture people captured in a war that had nothing to do with the attacks. In other words, Trump may not even need a new state of emergency to claim extraordinary Wall-related powers, but in his imagination he can create a national emergency that’s all Wall all the time.

Like all things imagined by Trump, Wall sets a trap. People who think of themselves as reasonable relentlessly point out that much of the Wall already exists, that building more Wall would not be an effective barrier against people trying to enter the country. This argument sets aside the fundamental immorality of the effort. The more thoughtful commentators note that people who have been trying to enter the country recently are asylum seekers, who wish to present themselves to American authorities rather than try to live in the U.S. without official status. Sometimes these commentators even remember that the right to seek asylum is guaranteed by international law with no requirement that asylum seekers enter at so-called ports of entry—the holes in the Wall that Trump and his D.H.S. want to plug up. But all of these arguments miss the point, because they address the issue of a physical wall rather than the immeasurable substance of Wall, which envelops all of us now.


the Russians were right to be there

rhetorical claim: The first cabinet meeting of the new year found the president claiming that “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan” — i.e., the reason the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 — “was because terrorists were going into Russia…They were right to be there.”

rhetorical effect: makes the argument that any attempt to fight terrorism is justified, thus laying the basis for any attacks he may launch under this pretext. As Andrew McCarthy argues:

These are such shocking assertions for an American president to make, it is difficult to know where to begin. The invasion was a familiar episode of totalitarian Communist aggression. There was nothing defensive about it. Moscow swarmed Afghanistan to prop up a deeply unpopular pro-Soviet regime that had seized power and was under insurgent attack for attempting to impose Communist “reforms” on a fundamentalist Islamic population. Terrorists did not provoke the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; as I outlined in Willful Blindness, the global jihadist movement is an outgrowth of the response to that invasion: specifically, the summons to Muslims worldwide to join the battle, and the aid provided by the United States and its Sunni allies (mainly Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) to the mujahideen — in particular, to the so-called “Arab Afghans” who forged al-Qaeda. The president’s statements indicate that he grasps neither (a) the geopolitical challenge posed to the West by the Soviet Union and, derivatively, Putin’s revanchist regime nor (b) the roots of militant Islam in the modern era.

For a guy under investigation for colluding with the Kremlin, the president’s remarks are also noteworthy because they are exactly what Putin would want Trump to say….Trump, as president of the United States, has offered a revisionist history of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — pure fiction that not only contradicts American policy and actions taken to counter Moscow’s aggression, but is indistinguishable from the propaganda that Putin himself would peddle.


pro-immigrant expenditures

rhetorical claim: The Wall isn’t anti-immigrant; in fact, it might be the most pro-immigrant expenditure in American history – a ubiquitous reminder that America is the most generous nation in the history of the world – which admits two legal immigrants every minute of every day and will welcome with open arms those who adhere to our rule of law.  Nationalism is the glue that holds this whole American experiment together.

Some presidents wants freeways, hospitals, and airports named after them.  Not our president.  The Donald J. Trump Great Wall of America is what he wants, and it’s what the majority of people in the majority of states want.  Time to get this “elections have consequences” party started.

rhetorical effect: the reverse-spin continues. Among the lies in the above statement:

  1. the Wall is not by an stretch pro-immigant. Its sole purpose is to keep immigrants out.
  2. It will not remind people about American generosity, but, rather,  intimidate them and remind people of American arrogance, indifference and brutality
  3. Immigrants–legal or not–overwhelmingly obey the laws and are productive citizens.
  4. The most recent election showed that the will of the people was against the wall.
  5. Throw in the other big lie that there is a dire terrorist threat along the Southern Border and you get the full recipe for demagoguery and Presidential overreach.


equal speech

rhetorical claim: Like their leftist counterparts, Muslims in the Islamic world are “interested in transforming free speech into what they call equal speech.”  Thus, they favor the “narrowing of the First Amendment for the sake of redistribution of speech rights from the rich to the poor.”  The Muslim world has already shown that any criticism about Islam is tantamount to a crime, and punishment will ensue.  Why would things be different in America as Islam gains ascendancy? Once again, the left partners with the Islamic world to effectively criminalize the most cherished of American freedoms: the freedom of speech and press, the silencing of critics.

rhetorical effect: makes equality a pejorative term; justifies the suppression of free speech; equates the Left with radical Islam.


Trump’s character

rhetorical claim: Trump was elected by the people, character and all.  He set out a clear agenda for America, attempting to reverse decades of mismanagement, foreign and domestic, pulling the country back from the brink of “radical transformation” into something most Americans don’t want.

It’s a testament to his strength of character that he is able to persevere, advancing his agenda, despite opposition from so many quarters.  Lesser men would fold to the establishment, seeking compromise with the uni-party and accolades from the media for doing so.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  In Trump’s case, the tree is what he is doing and accomplishing.  The shadow is everything else – the tweets and “character” that the NeverTrumps are in a lather over.

rhetorical effect: overlooks Trump’s lies, proven crimes, self-dealing flim-flam, and abuses of power on the basis that he has delivered on tax cuts and narrow-minded judges. The ultimate case of the ends justifying the means.


they’ll learn to adjust

rhetorical claim: “Mr. President, can you relate to the pain of federal workers who can’t pay their bills?” a reporter asked Trump outside the White House on Sunday.“I can relate,” the president responded. “And I’m sure that the people that are toward the receiving end will make adjustments, they always do. And they’ll make adjustments. People understand exactly what’s going on.“Many of those people that won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I’m doing,” he added.

rhetorical effect: it’s absurd that a billionaire can “relate” to government workers; it’s a real “let them eat cake” response–indifference at best, cynicism at worst (Trump, of course, has never “adjusted” to any setback), and the same workers he called “Democrats” last week are now said to support his spiteful insistence on building a wall. Trump swims in an ocean of lies.