Glossary: Key memes, counterfactuals, dog whistles, canards, euphemisms, innuendoes, insinuations, fake outrages, and obsessions in GOP language factories and fever swamps, Jan 8-12, 2019

urgent humanitarian needs

rhetorical claim: the White House laid out its latest proposal for addressing the border tumult. The administration called for more immigration and Border Patrol agents, more detention beds and, of course, $5.7 billion to build 234 new miles of border wall. The White House also demanded an additional $800 million for “urgent humanitarian needs,” such as medical support, transportation and temporary facilities for processing and housing detainees.

translation: More hyperbole and fear-mongering. As editorialized by the New York Times:

Trump’s mass incarceration of migrant families is overwhelming an already burdened system that, without a giant injection of taxpayer dollars, will continue to collapse, leading to ever more human suffering.

The situation is an especially rich example of the Trump Doctrine: Break something, then demand credit — and in this case a lot of money — for promising to fix it. Late last week, frustrated by his standoff with Democrats, Mr. Trump even threatened to declare a national emergency in order to get his wall built without Congress’s approval — a move guaranteed to prompt a ferocious legal challenge.

Any attempt to sell Mr. Trump’s cruel immigration agenda with a veneer of humanitarian measures should be viewed with skepticism. This administration has long held that the best way to deal with asylum seekers fleeing the horrors of their home countries is to increase their suffering upon reaching the United States to discourage others from even trying.

The Trump administration is asking Congress and the American public to embrace warped logic, that its policies are going to continue and that the only question is whether any money should be spent on measures to ease the suffering caused by those policies. After two years of watching this administration run amok, surely Democratic lawmakers can come up with a better approach.


American blood

rhetorical claim: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” Trump asked from the White House.

rhetorical effect: 
as the NYT editorializes:

Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other “alternative facts” about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border. He seems to hope he can paint a dystopian landscape of security threats and human suffering so dire that the American people will rally to his side and pressure congressional Democrats to succumb to his demands for a towering wall — preferably concrete, but at this point, it seems, steel will suffice.

Moreover, as argued by Jorge Ramos:

The president, once again, has created his own reality, manufactured a crisis, invented an invasion, criminalized immigrants, made up facts and, in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, argued for a new wall at the United States-Mexico border. “Mr. Trump’s wall is a symbol of hate and racism, it would be completely useless, and it does not address any national emergency

The chant “Build that wall, build that wall” became his hymn — and an insult not just to Latinos but also to all people who do not share his xenophobic ideals. The wall went from a campaign promise to a monument built on bigoted ideas. That is why most Americans cannot say yes to it. Every country has a right to protect its borders. But not to a wall that represents hate, discrimination and fear.

No, Mexico will not pay for the wall. And it seems Congress won’t either. But the concept of America as an unwelcoming country to immigrants and uncomfortable for minorities is already here.

In a way, Mr. Trump already got what he wanted. He is the wall.


humanitarian crisis

rhetorical claim: there is a real humanitarian crisis at our southern border that must be addressed by building a wall.

rhetorical effect: as usual, has done to himself what he blames others for doing. He has created the humanitarian crisis with his cruel border enforcement policies and his negation of the spirit and letter of US asylum law. His self-immolation is boundless.


gross mismanagement of forests

rhetorical claim: Trump threatens to cut off federal aid to Californians for fire disaster relief due to “the gross mismanagement of forests.”

rhetorical effect: Using the vast powers of the Presidency to punish people instead of helping them; creating divisions between Californians and “real” Americans; using “mismanagement” as all-purpose attack on anyone who opposes him.


walking away

rhetorical claim: Trump’s deal-making magic, he claims, rests on the maxim that “you’ve got to be able to walk away.”

rhetorical effect: justifies his walking away from his own government. As usual, this move is both unprecedented and horrifying. How could indifference toward the duties of his office not be an impeachable offense? Instead of stiffing his contractors, he is now stiffing the American people, using lies, fear-mongering and histrionic, hyperactive fakery and manipulative delusions.


China’s honorability

rhetorical claim: “I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honorable than Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy. I really do,” Trump said. “I think that China is actually much easier to deal with than the opposition party.”

translation: your opponents are your enemies — and your actual enemies are your friends.


the buck stops with everybody

rhetorical claim: “The buck stops with everybody,” President Trump told reporters on the White House lawn on day 20 of the government shutdown crisis.

rhetorical effect: as argued by Dana Milbank:

With Trump, the buck stops with everyone, everywhere. Responsibility for the shutdown is like an electron in a probability cloud, with no fixed location, impossible to pin down.

This has been happening for a while now — the unstoppable slippage of familiar expressions into Trumpian absurdities. Maybe it’s just a verbal tic. Or maybe it’s a way of constructing a new reality, using catchy images to warp the way we speak and think.

In the classic 1980 book “Metaphors We Live By,” George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argued that thought and language really are linked on a fundamental level. “Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person’s conceptual system,” the authors wrote.

The passage of a buck, in other words, is not just an old saying but a concept of responsibility, which can be accepted or passed on from one official to another, but must ultimately land somewhere.

What then does it mean when Trump says the buck is everywhere?Nothing good, says Lakoff, a cognitive scientist and linguist who, nearly 40 years after his book was published, argues that Trump literally tries to “change your brain” by twisting language.“This is not mangling anything; this is taking ordinary linguistic uses and changing them,” Lakoff told The Washington Post. “What he’s saying is it’s up to you to pay for the border wall. The shutdown is your responsibility”.

“And what’s most scary is he’s very, very clever,” he continues. “People think he’s just a 5-year-old, and he’s not. That’s his strength. They don’t understand what he’s doing is changing the way a lot of people think.”



rhetorical claim: “You know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo? Because walls work,” Donald Trump Jr wrote in a post on Instagram. Trump’s father has doubled down on his pledge to build a wall on the border with Mexico, leading to a partial shutdown of the US government. The president himself has described some migrants in similar terms, saying in May last year that: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are, these aren’t people, these are animals.”

translation: it’s OK to keep migrants in cages and separate the young from their parents because that’s how you have to treat animals sometimes. They aren’t really full-fledged human beings, but only look like them.