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, Sept. 3-8, 2017

race ploy

rhetorical claim: the Dems still play the race card whenever they need to blame the dirty masses for racism, fascism, etc. Their constant moral bullying and stigmatizing is one of the main reasons Trump was elected. The Dems have gone from being the party of tax and spend to the party of hate and racism, and they somehow have managed to come out against an orderly, legal immigration system, against good jobs for all American citizens, against defending America first, and against allowing individuals to have the opportunity to build better lives for themselves without government telling them what to do and how to do it.

rhetorical effect: strengthens narratives of white victimology and treats historical racism as “fake news.”

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the highest taxed nation in the world

rhetorical claim: the US is the highest taxed nation in the world, and these taxes are a major drag on economic expansion.

rhetorical effect: like all Big Lies, this one runs counter to known facts and yet creates its own momentum and veracity. As Paul Krugman argues,

The day after announcing that he would rescind DACA, Trump gave a speech on tax reform in which he claimed, as he has on multiple occasions, that America is the “highest-taxed nation in the world.” As fact-checkers have pointed out every time he says this, this isn’t just false, it’s almost the opposite of the truth — the U.S. collects less in taxes, as a share of national income, than almost any other advanced economy. But Trump just keeps repeating the lie.

 

Green Party ideology

rhetorical claim: according to The WSJ’s George Melloan,

Underlying the Green philosophy is a distrust of economic growth. That’s what distinguishes Greens from garden-variety environmentalists who simply want a safe and clean environment, as everyone does. Although the Greens operate under the flag of environmentalism, they have greater ambitions. They are a modern manifestation of a back-to-nature movement, feeding on the guilt and anxiety that accompany scientific advance.

Greens adopted the Democratic Party precisely because it is the party of government. They see government power as the way to suppress the animal spirits of private enterprise that produce innovation and new wealth.

rhetorical effect: reinforces the false dichotomy of no growth vs. no regulation; valorizes the “animal spirits,” which is conservative shorthand for corporate greed and social Darwinism.

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the Reagan supply side boom

rhetorical claim: The Reagan tax cuts and deregulation created a boom in the US which extended through the Clinton Presidency. Supply-side economics are the only long-term way to create enough prosperity to end the immigration controversies because all boats float on a rising tide.

rhetorical effect: this fairy tale about the Reagan economic boom ignores the scandals, recession, tax increases and economic chaos that plagued his entire second term, and undercuts any credit due to the Clinton administration. As argued by Paul Krugman, Bill Clinton knew in 1991 that

“The Reagan-Bush years have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.” The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen…I understand why conservatives want to rewrite history and pretend that these good things happened while a Republican was in office — or claim, implausibly, that the 1981 Reagan tax cut somehow deserves credit for positive economic developments that didn’t happen until 14 or more years had passed. (Does Richard Nixon get credit for “Morning in America”?)

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due process

rhetorical claim: Betsy DeVos has restored due process to the way Obama allowed US colleges and universities to run roughshod over human rights in sexual assault investigations. Campus rape hysteria justified these academic star chambers allowed political correctness to trample on due process, and prejudged all of the accused of guilt.

rhetorical effect: a rolling back of civil rights for rape victims. the Trump “grab them by the pussy” administration is hardly in a position to weaken sexual assault misconduct cases. What’s worse, though, as The New Yorker described it, among DeVos’s supporters of watering down sexual assault cases are

advocates for accused students and a men’s-rights group that has been accused of harassing and intimidating sexual-assault victims. At a rally outside the Education Department, assault survivors urged DeVos not to abandon the commitment to Title IX enforcement seen during the Obama years. Deepening the provocation, her acting head of the Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson—a sexual-assault survivor who supported the alleged victims of Bill Clinton and called alleged victims of Donald Trump “fake victims”—had to apologize for telling the Times, on the eve of the event, that “90 percent” of campus accusations amount to drunk or regretted breakup sex. She was in the meetings with DeVos. At a news conference immediately after the closed-door meetings, DeVos said that it was “a really emotionally draining day.”

…..“due process” can be a code for rape denial or upholding rape culture. Concern for fairness for the accused is often mistakenly conflated with implying that many rape accusations are false. Fairness is important regardless of the truth or the falsehood of allegations. It is unclear whether DeVos is equipped to make nuance stick in this debate, and to make fair treatment of all parties compatible with the responsibility of schools and government to address sexual assault.

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the Resistance

rhetorical claim: leftist “Resistance” malcontents are skulking around Washington like would-be usurpers, like Caesar’s assassins. They call it resistance, but it is really a putsch, abetted all the while by the mainstream media. The underpublicized fact is that Donald Trump ran against a complacent, biased, flabby, leftist media that had whitewashed the failures of the U.S. political class for decades. He won, they lost, they have been poor sports, and now the public is tired of their lies and their malice. Public approval of the media is under 20 per cent and polls now show Trump edging over 40 per cent. As argued by Victor David Hanson:

The Resistance has gone from melodramatic charges of Trump’s collusion with the Russians, to amateur diagnoses of his mental incapacity, to fear-mongering about his supposed wild desire for a Strangelovian nuclear war with North Korea, to castigating him for his apparently callous and uncaring reactions to Hurricane Harvey victims…

There is a populist and growing resistance to the Orwellian idea that free speech is hate speech, that equality of opportunity is defined only by equality of result, and that identity politics determines the degree of government-mandated penance and reparations.

rhetorical effect: makes resisting Trump seem like a treasonous act; transforms the press into an enemy of the people; brands all criticism of Trump as malicious, with no factual basis.

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market-driven wages

rhetorical claim: liberals complain that right-to-work labor laws suppress wages and give the US an unfair foreign trade advantage.  Market-driven wages used to be called old fashioned competition.

rhetorical effect: this is the very claim that the US makes about China and Mexico–that low-wage workers are stealing jobs. “Competition” becomes an unassailable  virtue word justifying low wages, the end of workplace safety rules  and environmental degradation.

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diplomacy

rhetorical claim: Trump’s America First foreign policy has led to tougher trade terms, more reciprocity in making allies pay for mutual defense, renewed respect for America’s military might, and a new realism not focused on “nation building.”

rhetorical effect: diplomacy via bombastic tweets; the end of multilateral trade agreements; increasing isolation and alienation from allies, China’s increasing influence, etc–these actual effects have been masked in a rhetoric of bluster, justification, victimhood, jingoism, and entirely unwarranted triumphalism. The overall, decidedly undiplomatic, rhetorical effect has been to make US foreign policy synonymous with US economic prosperity and worldwide domination.

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virtue signalling

rhetorical claim: liberals, in their smug sense of moral superiority, are always virtue signalling. Their holier-than-thou attitude alienates voters, who care about jobs, security, family, retirement. Not bathrooms, gay marriage, climate and transgender. Those who purport to care about the latter set of issues — including, apparently, gay or transgender people — must be doing so for attention.

rhetorical effect: almost any public utterance of concern becomes easy to write off as false — as mere performance.  As argued in a recent New York Times Magazine “First Words” column:

Caring is not a crime; it is an argument, about what people should value in the first place. And accusations of ‘‘virtue signaling’’ are, more than anything, a way of walking out on that argument and dismissing it altogether — a quick and easy solution for those moments when engaging and listening, agreeing or disagreeing, seem too hard, too challenging, too personal, too dangerous.

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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 18-31, 2017

Fifth Column

rhetorical claim: Every day brings new evidence that today’s media are engaged in clandestine fifth column activities involving journalistic acts of sabotage, media malfeasance, blatant disinformation or media espionage conducted by secret sympathizers. President Trump is engaged in a vicious counter-terrorism war with the media and the Democratic Party.  Yes, terrorism, for what is terrorism but violence or intimidation to achieve some political mean?  The Democrat Party, aided and abetted by their army of fifth column “journalists,” are waging a clandestine war against the heart and soul of America. They are fake Americans producing fake news.

rhetorical effect: discredits any mainstream media reporting; turns them into “the enemy of the people,” and Obama collaborators, and could eventually lead to relaxed libel laws that will muzzle the press and consolidate government power. Turns the Trump Administration into the true resistance movement.

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virtue signalling

rhetorical claim: feel-good policies such as allowing men to use girls’ bathrooms and ruinous $15/hr. minimum wages are progressives’ way of signalling their virtue and political correctness.

rhetorical effect: reduces idealism, social justice, and equality to self-serving attempts at cynically holding power. Renders any claim of morality sound sanctimonious and hypocritical.

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the Obama-Clinton pushover axis

rhetorical claim: why would the Russians hack our election when they had the feckless, incompetent Clinton/Obama apparatchiks doing their very bidding. Obama was recorded on a hot mic telling “Vladimir” he would have more flexibility after the 2012 election (and boy did he).   Obama/Clinton let them take Crimea and Georgia without a peep.  Obama/Clinton apparently (allegedly) signed over 20% of America’s uranium for some huge donations (said to be over 100 million dollars) to the Clinton Foundation plus mega dollars for Clinton speeches that were of no value.  The botched Russian reset button, the drawdown of our military, the total feckless weakened foreign policy of Obama/Clinton, and more; the list of reasons for Vladimir to love Clinton are legion.

Given all those facts, why in the world would Putin want to change from the easy marks he had to a bulldog, a fighter, a man of accomplishment who ran on toughness, a man who wanted to reassert America’s greatness, a man who promised to build the strongest military in the world, a man who wanted to vie, compete and beat Russia as a player in the energy markets?

rhetorical effect: this incredible string of lies and half-truths shifts the narrative away from Trump and back onto the Clintons and Obama.

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reverse monitoring

rhetorical claim: In its final stages, the Obama administration ordered wiretaps on targets they knew that the Trump transition team would be speaking with. This subterfuge and deception was a backdoor way of mining the incoming administration for dirt

rhetorical effect: deflects attention away from the Russian election hack story; distorts events into a hurricane-strength dose of fake news; makes Obama sound like a traitor and a felon for authorizing these taps. Their claim that anyone who reveals names and details of this surveillance should go to prison also has a chilling effect on public disclosure and journalism.

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hard power

rhetorical claim: the strong-power administration needs a strong military to overcome Obama’s perpetual “apology tour”and make America respected and feared again. Makes sure that no one “messes with us” (see below) ever again.

rhetorical effect: justifies enormous defense budget increase at the expense of domestic programs; makes our allies less likely to build up their military spending;  purity and patriotism carry the day over compassion and alliance-building; an increased likelihood of  state-based aggression in the form of American bellicosity , coercion, and military intervention, and, as Nina Burleigh explained in Newsweek,:

What Trump’s budget ensures is that the nation continues down the road that got him elected in the first place—poorly informed and sickly people, ill-served by unfunded public education, lacking decent health care, poisoned by pollution, eating food and using machinery whose safety is not ensured by public agencies, and slipping behind other countries in science and innovation

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originalism and textualism

rhetorical claim: When interpreting the Constitution, judges should confine themselves to the words of the Constitution. Originalism says that if the words are at all unclear, then judges need to consult historical sources to determine their meaning at the time of ratification, and the correct application of these words to new cases should clearly  limit judicial discretion. As Justice Scalia argued, if judges are not bound by words and history, they will inevitably exceed the limits of their judicial authority and, like “activists” or “super-legislators,” make the Constitution say whatever they want.

rhetorical effect: guarantees conservative SCOTUS decisions because it does not take into account the modern meaning of terms such as “right,” “unreasonable,” “probable cause,” “due process,” “excessive,” “cruel and unusual” and “equal protection.”  Does not allow justices to consider context, the intent of the Constitution, contemporary circumstances, and the political and social effect of opinions. Also naively assumes that 250-year-old language is transparent, when clearly anyone attempting to channel the minds of the framers is herself interpreting. Interpretation is a speech act, and anyone reading anything is thus an “activist.”

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governance

rhetorical claim: Congress should do everything it can to dismantle government and eliminate regulation.Its mandate is not to use government to solve problems, but instead to treat government as the problem.

rhetorical effect: lets the private sector do whatever it wants, in effect making profit the sole government principle. Replaces a socially-oriented government–a public sphere– with a military-police operation.

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fashionable political statements

rhetorical claim: federal appeals judges blocking the travel ban are using fashionable political statements to undermine national security.and weaken America They should have no jurisdiction over national security judgement calls.

rhetorical effect: turns two of America’s greatest strengths–judicial review and the separation of powers–into a traitorous-sounding weakness.The GOP calls favorable judicial rulings “Constitutional originalism,” while unfavorable ones are demoted to being “political statements.” In what ways is the theory of original construction not a political statement in itself, since it is based on speculation, ideology and interpretation?

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messing with us

rhetorical claim: Trump has promised to make the U.S. armed forces “so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody — absolutely nobody — is gonna mess with us.” Purity and patriotism carry the day.

rhetorical effect: Purity and patriotism carry the day. As Katrina vanden Huevel put it in the Washington Post:

The question is whether we will continue to mess with them. A military that can go anywhere and do anything is called on constantly to go somewhere and do something. The problem with endless wars without victory is that they must be ended without victory. The challenge for a true America First policy is to reduce the lives and resources squandered across the globe in order to rebuild at home. Trump’s budget submission omitted plans for his promised rebuilding of U.S. infrastructure. Clearly the military buildup took priority. And that buildup — along with the doubling down on current policies in Europe, the Middle East, Korea and the South China Sea — suggests that once more the bipartisan consensus of the United States as the “indispensable nation” on duty across the world will betray the promise to rebuild our country.