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, Mar 17-23, 2018

business harassment

trial-lawyer enrichment

rhetorical claim: Dodd-Frank and every Elizabeth Warren idea and agency are parodies of true consumer protection, amounting instead to business harassment and trial-lawyer enrichment.

rhetorical effect: backwards logic: the best way to protect consumers is to end all protective regulation and let Mr. Market look after consumers’ best interests. Overall effect: letting the wolf guard he chicken coop. Also of course note the telltale slur “trial lawyer,” denoting hypocritical liberal lawyers using altruism and “the public interest” to line their own pockets.


law and order

rhetorical claim: Donald Trump has restored law and order in America. Drug dealers now face execution; violent immigrants face certain deportation; Black Lives Matter protestors no longer can break the law with impunity, and the police no longer have their hands tied behind their backs.

rhetorical effect: A “Law and Order” rhetorical regime has replaced the rule of law, making justice subservient to power. “Law and order” has nothing to do with law and everything to do with order. The evocation of law is no longer rooted in fact or evidence, but is instead a weapon to be used. Public discourse is no longer rooted in objective truth. The only “order” is the arbitrary imposition of political will. Being “strong on crime” now means being loyal to white people, and immigration is conflated with criminality.  As Chris Hayes argues:

In this view, crime is not defined by a specific offense. Crime is defined by who commits it. If a young black man grabs a white woman by the crotch, he’s a thug and deserves to be roughed up by police officers. But if Donald Trump grabs a white woman by the crotch in a nightclub (as he’s accused of doing, and denies), it’s locker-room high jinks….

If all that matters when it comes to “law and order” is who is a friend and who is an enemy, and if friends are white and enemies are black or Latino or in the wrong party, then the rhetoric around crime and punishment stops being about justice and is merely about power and corruption.

And this is what “law and order” means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law. It shouldn’t have taken this long to see what has always been staring us in the face. After all, the last president to focus so intensely on law and order, Richard Nixon, the man who helped usher in mass incarceration, was also the most infamous criminal to occupy the Oval Office. The history of the United States is the story of a struggle between the desire to establish certain universal rights and the countervailing desire to preserve a particular social order.

We are now witnessing a president who wholly embraces the latter. America can have that kind of social order, or it can have justice for all. But it can’t have both.


wait for all the facts to come out

rhetorical claim: we need to wait for all the facts to come out–including FBI and Justice anti-Trump vendettas–before we rush to judgement about collusion with the Russians.

rhetorical effect: will be played as a hole card when and if Mueller indicts or even subpoenas Trump: “Mueller’s WITCH HUNT based on FAKE EVIDENCE.” This notion of a Mueller investigation coverup as part of an anti-Trump conspiracy will linger as a permanent stain on the rule of law, reducing a nation based on laws and evidence to a nation based on suspicion, paranoia, and cynicism. To the extent that the noose tightens around Trump, these claims will only increase, so the more actual facts that come out, the more fake, bye-and-bye conspiratorial fake facts will emerge.


cultural relevance vs. personal responsibility

rhetorical claim: As argued on the National Review website, recent Aspen Institute calls for education reform in the form of more social and emotional learning:

are strewn with the buzzwords of education-school progressivism. While there’s little more than a solitary late-report nod toward personal responsibility, self-discipline, or delayed gratification, the report is rife with references to “cultural identities,” “culturally relevant materials,” “affirming diverse cultures,” “inclusive classrooms engender[ing] respect for diverse cultural identities,” and so on. While there’s nothing wrong with “cultural relevance” in the abstract, what’s offered here is a familiar shorthand for identity-driven, ideological agendas.

Meanwhile, behind the boilerplate talk of caring classrooms and safe school climates, Aspen calls for schools to reject traditional school discipline in favor of Obama-era enthusiasms such as “restorative practices” and “developmental discipline.” Anyone who raises concerns about the unintended consequences of “restorative justice” is presumably opposed to “caring classrooms” — and on the wrong side of the new “consensus.”

rhetorical effect: makes a mockery of any attempts to make education culturally relevant, collective, and developmental, rather than asocial, individualistic, Darwinian,  and instrumental. Tries to demonize notions of justice, empathy and diversity.


denial as political speech

rhetorical claim: Trump’s denial of extra-marital affairs or anything doing with the Russians is a form of political speech, protected by the First Amendment.

rhetorical effect: turns a denial from being both an act itself and, in these cases, a lie, into a speech act. No one should be “protected” by the law when lying, so this argument is absurd on its face. Calling lying protected speech is a non-sequitur.


the Trump-Russia collusion narrative

deep state revenge

rhetorical claim: If you wish to see the deep state at work, this is it: anti-Trump journalists using First Amendment immunities to collude with and cover up the identities of bureaucratic snakes out to damage or destroy a president they despise. No wonder democracy is a declining stock worldwide. The goal is to break Trump’s presidency, remove him, discredit his election as contaminated by Kremlin collusion, upend the democratic verdict of 2016, and ash-can Trump’s agenda of populist conservatism. Then, return America to the open borders, free trade, democracy-crusading Bushite globalism beloved by our Beltway elites.  As soon as Trump was elected, the Dems unleashed the phony Trump-Russia collusion narrative as a virus or a Trump antibody. In reality, the Dem’s fantasies of Trump-Russia collusion are nothing but a revenge drama. Trump’s only crime was to win the election.

rhetorical effect: labeling it a mere “narrative” or revenge drama automatically makes it out to be more fiction than fact, so the mere labeling itself is an attempt at persuading. This attempt, however, is never persuasive because stubborn facts keep emerging. Calling it a virus or an antibody, on the other hand,  makes it sound sinister, threatening, and posing a direct threat to democracy.



rhetorical claim: New National Security Advisor John Bolton is uncompromising on U.S. national security interests. For him, the sine qua non of U.S. security is for us to be prosperous and well-armed in order to stave off aggressors and guarantee an international system we built and that serves us.

rhetorical effect: “uncompromising” really means inflexible, vengeful, rash, and rabidly ideological. Rhetorically, though, calling someone “uncompromising” is intended to ennoble them as principled, measured, and consistent. Good luck trying to sell John Bolton as any of those things!


gun control propaganda

rhetorical claim: According to The Federalist website, :

The gun control lobby is borrowing the playbook from one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in history: anthropogenic global warming.

From engaging celebrity activists to bullying private industry to portraying opponents as murderers, the well-funded and highly-orchestrated gun control lobby is copying the same approach that has been successfully deployed by the international climate change movement to sell the dubious claim that humans are causing global warming. Textbooks are filled with bogus scientific “studies” about global warming and dire warnings about its consequences.

Schools commemorate environmental holidays like Earth Day, so they can push climate dogma. Teachers are encouraged to tag climate change in every subject area from science to health to history. And whoever disagrees, or even mildly objects, is portrayed as a child-hating monster. After all, who wants to deny a safe future for our kids? Climate crusaders are even using children as litigants in lawsuits to sue the federal government for violating “the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as fail[ing] to protect essential public trust resources.”

If you oppose either gun control or climate change, you are a killer. Republican lawmakers, NRA members, and regular citizens who oppose stringent gun control laws are accused of having “blood on their hands.”

The end-game of both the climate change and gun control movements are the same: subverting individual rights and choices while empowering the state. It has nothing to do with “the children,” no matter how many phony marches and scripted interviews they organize.

rhetorical effect: rebrands gun control advocates as conspiratorial fanatics creating fables and using children to get their way. Implies they are child molesters.



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 30-Feb. 6, 2018

red tape



rhetorical claim: the President’s infrastructure plan will eliminate obstructionist bureaucratic red tape. It’s past time for the government to get out of the way so the private sector can get projects done faster and cheaper. We need to streamline the regulatory process so government can partner with the private sector to make progress.

rhetorical effect: assumes that government regulation only exists to cause problems for noble job creators. Will justify the basic dismantling of the regulatory state. The Center for American Progress explains what kind of “red tape” the administration wants to cast aside:

As detailed in the leaked proposal, the Trump administration’s plan would require fundamental changes to no fewer than 10 bedrock environmental laws that protect the nation’s clean air, clean water, wildlife, and national parks. The plan would hollow out the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that requires federal project sponsors to consult with stakeholders who would be affected by new projects and identify ways to reduce their impact on the environment, public health, and cultural resources. The Endangered Species Act is also in the crosshairs, as several provisions would prioritize new development over the protection of wildlife that is on the brink of extinction. The Trump administration proposes significant changes to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to make it easier for corporations to break ground and avoid inconvenient air and water quality protections. The proposal even includes some mystifying provisions, such as one to give Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unilateral authority to site natural gas pipelines in national parks.

“Streamlining” seems to mean “ignore the health and safety of the communities where these projects are placed.” And “partnering” means privatizing. As Paul Waldman sums it up in the Washington Post:

So we need a federal infrastructure bill. The problem with this one is that it’s being sold as something it isn’t, it makes it harder for states and localities to afford infrastructure projects, it prioritizes private profits over public needs, and in the end if it passes we’d wind up paying more and getting less. In other words, it’s just about what you’d expect from this president.


restoring confidence in law enforcement

rhetorical claim: The House memo is not about “attacking the FBI” or “our law enforcement professionals,” as Democrat Adam Schiff insists. This is about restoring confidence in a law enforcement agency that played an unprecedented role in a U.S. presidential election regarding both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

rhetorical effect: Assumes the very thing they proclaim: that “confidence” in the FBI needs to be “restored.” Significantly, they refer to “confidence” in the FBI–a state of mind subject to shifting political winds–not the actual workings of the FBI.  The only reason “confidence” is purported to need restoration is that the  GOP has launched a year-long effort to undercut the FBI’s reputation. So now they use the success of their undermining as a rationale for further undermining. They’ve learned some lessons from the Russians about how to concoct and carry out disinformation campaigns.


the global rules-based order

rhetorical claim: In the global rules-based order all countries in the world, bar a few rogue states, deal with each other according to an agreed set of legal, economic and military rules.  However, clever foreigners have manipulated the international system, so that America now trades at a massive disadvantage and is forced to accept hostile rulings by international tribunals. When it comes to security, Mr Trump complains that America spends billions giving cheap protection to ungrateful allies. He is demanding change.

rhetorical effect: as Gordon Rachman argues in the Financial Times,

“You break it, you own it,” runs the pottery shop slogan. But when it comes to the global rules-based order, the Trump administration’s view seems to be, “We no longer own it, so we are going to break it.” America is turning against the world it made — and the consequences are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

The coming year will be a big test of how far the Trump administration is willing to go with the US potentially launching a multi-pronged assault on the international trading system: demanding radical changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, hobbling the World Trade Organization and slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. Tension between the US and South Korea, or within the Nato alliance, could easily surface this year — raising questions about America’s commitment to the rules that govern world security.

Probable effects include increasing US isolation, a revolt of the US business community if NAFTA is overturned but not replaced, a lack of allies when the US tries to organize stepped-up boycotts against Iran or North Korea, and a more or less permanent state of chaos and uncertainty in the international order–in other words, exactly the way Trump plays it domestically.  The only “rule” that Trump plays by is to refuse to play by any “rule” that he hasn’t himself created.


unmatched power

rhetorical claim: America will no longer be taken advantage of, and will use its umatched power to again dominate the world.

rhetorical effect: purposely confuses moral authority with might, persuasion with bullying, and inspiration with intimidation. We used to have “unmatched” influence because we were seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Now we are educed to just having unmatched military power.


we the people

rhetorical claim: as Trump said in the SOTU “It is we the people who are making America great again.”

rhetorical effect: excludes half the nation from any presidential praise. Apparently immigrants, government workers, anyone advocating consumer or environmental protection etc. do not count as part of the “we.” Fortifies divisiveness and undermines any hopes of bipartisanship. Note also that it’s not at all clear what “we the people” are actually doing to make America great again, since all they seem to be getting is a tax cut. In other words, the rhetorical effect is to praise people for doing nothing but supporting Trump: another self-fulfilling prophecy. By rhetorically claiming itself to be a stunning success, the Trump administration obscures the fact that it has created no new social programs, gutted environmental protections, choked off voting and civil rights, cost millions their health coverage, given huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, and destabilized the entire world. All it has done to date is destroy, nullify and negate, making it the most reactionary administration ever. was the pursuit of “unmatched power” against an ungrateful or hostile world of “unfair trade deals” and would-be migrants destined for murderous gangs.


the liberal FBI

rhetorical claim: the FBI is corrupted with an ant-Trump virus, and must be purged of holdover Clintonistas and careerist liberals.

rhetorical effect: Obscures the fact that Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, saw fit to apply for this warrant’s renewal. This suggests that one of the most senior figures in Trump’s own Justice Department thought it was credible that Trump had someone compromised by Russia on his campaign. Only in a crazy alternate universe does that exculpate the president.

Unless, that is, you believe that it is illegitimate for intelligence agencies to be watching Trump associates. And to believe that, you have to start with the premise that Trump is innocent and the agencies are corrupt. The controversy around the Nunes memo works to insinuate these assumptions into the public debate. It may also give Trump the very thinnest of pretexts to fire Rosenstein, which would be a first step toward attempting to shut down the Russia investigation.


that’s politics

rhetorical claim: “that’s politics,” says the President about his son’s meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary.

rhetorical effect: opposition research is suddenly put on the same moral plane as collusion with a foreign power, just as when Trump equated obstruction of justice with “fighting back.” Classical inversion and undermining of words, so that they become synonyms for something they aren’t.

Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages and obsessions in the Wall Street Journal and other GOP language factories, Sept. 10-17, 2016

American exceptionalism: goodness through strength. Never apologize. Never use ideals to justify dominance in the zero-sum game of international diplomacy. With Trump, it’s aggressive US nationalism vs. the world, as explained by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

He poses as a barbarian chieftain, promising spoils of war from zero-sum conflicts pitting tribes against one another, both domestically and abroad. He has lamented the Bush administration’s failure to steal Iraq’s oil after the invasion, insists NATO allies should pay more for protection by the U.S., and maintains that he can force Mexico to pay for a border wall it does not want. Trump’s veneration of strength not only fails to rely upon American ideals as justification but also treats those ideals with contempt, which is why the leaders he lavishes with the most fulsome praise are ruling from places like Moscow and Beijing. Trump’s America is like Russia, but bigger and stronger and richer.

backing down: what a US President should never do. Always dominate, never apologize.

bullying: what Hillary does when she attacks the “deplorables”.

ending wars: losing wars, under Obama/Clinton

equality of outcome: the holy grail to liberals, who are economic levelers.  Tea Party/GOPers prefer equality of opportunity, and figure that outcomes will take their natural course as the winners separate themselves from the losers.

love of country: justification for violence at Trump rallies.

Obama: money launderer-in-chief for ISIS.

people: The voice of the people (aka, “the deplorables”) will prevail in overcoming political correctness and electing Donald Trump. “People” are also,Trump’s information sources–almost always unnamed. aka, “some say”.  They almost always traffic in innuendoes and rumors.

cultural condescension: Hillary’s attacks on “the deplorables”. Part of her relentless moral superciliousness and Obama’s political narcissism.

political carve-outs: any Dem patronage.

politics: to Hillary, a market to be conquered.

reducing war. Under Obama, making war more likely. A key Tea Party/GOP meme: peace leads to war.

retreat: Obama/Clinton’s foreign policy. Aka defeat, failure, hobbled, etc. (see “American exceptionalism,” above.)

rules of engagement: onerous shackles making it impossible to win wars any more. Total war a more viable concept.

slush fund: any Dem foundation or political cause.

the truth: what the mainstream media never tells you, so the whole notion of “truth” doesn’t matter any more.