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, June 13-18, 2017


rhetorical claim: progressives have triumphed over faith. Now they’re targeting conscience itself. Their bleak vision of civic life does not allow any religious liberty in the public square.

rhetorical effect: makes progressives out to be godless bigots fighting a tyrannical war against religious freedom. By arguing that progressives lack any respect for conscience, this meme equates liberalism with nihilism.


preposterous Russian fantasies

rhetorical claim: the Dems’ witch hunt is nothing more than a vendetta against Trump for winning the election, and is merely based on innuendo and partisan distaste with Trump. A presidential election is being overturned by an elite consensus across the vast ideological and cultural divide running all the way from the New York Times to the Washington Post. 

rhetorical effect: dusts off the old argument about liberal elites dominating the mainstream media; relegates all adverse Russia-Trump stories to being “fake news” and liberal fantasies. Their logic seems to be that if you say something isn’t there enough times, maybe it will just go away.


informed choice

rhetorical claim: consumer protections should help people make informed choices instead of trying to dictate choices with prohibitive rules.

rhetorical effect: often used in defense of stripping away most Dodd-Frank provisions, this inside-out logic argues that fewer government regulations mean more consumer protection–that people are more informed when the government doesn’t mandate any transparency or information.



rhetorical claim: Speaking of obstruction of justice, what about Loretta Lynch blocking the Clinton e-mail investigation?

rhetorical effect: proves effective at changing the subject or creating false equivalencies. Acts as if any question, inconsistency or factual error invalidates an entire claim.


freedom from

rhetorical claim: The GOP plan to eliminate health coverage for millions of Americans and do away with such essential health benefits as maternity care for millions more is just a matter of good old free-market consumerism. As explained by Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Tea Party Republican, “Americans have choices. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” As Paul Ryan put it,  “Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Trumpcare, Mike Pence tell us, is all about “bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”

rhetorical effect: Trumpcare offers “freedom” from health care. As Jim Hightower puts it,  you are as free as you can afford to be:

right-wing, corporate-funded ideologues have fabricated a new negative notion of “freedoms” derived from individual choice. You’re free to be poor, free to be politically powerless or free to be ill and uncared for; it’s all a matter of decisions you freely make in life, and our larger society has no business interfering with your free will.


sexual risk avoidance

rhetorical claim: marriage is the best context for sexual activity, and we need to normalize sexual delay for teenagers. So a holistic policy of  virginity until marriage is the best solution, and also in line with biblical reaching. Premarital sex makes people dirty and incapable of falling in love.

rhetorical effect: makes it sound as if abstinence-only education is a public health initiative instead of religion-tinged sexual shaming. Demonizes contraception.


multicultural indemnity

rhetorical claim: President Obama was able to do whatever he wanted because , according to Victor David Hanson, he was protected by “the thin exculpatory veneer of Ivy League pretension, multicultural indemnity, and studied smoothness.”

rhetorical effect: implies that any expressed belief in the benefits of multiculturalism amounts to a hypocritical excuse to abuse power. Multiculturalism is thus framed as essentially a con game  based on the quest for power, not on principle.


defending my honor

rhetorical claim: Jeff Sessions defended himself against “false and scurrilous attacks” because his honor was at stake. Despite Dem attempts to defame him as a liar, prevaricator and co-conspirator, Sessions defended his honor.

rhetorical effect: playing the honor card in this case is a threat, designed to make questioners back off in order to avoid a personal confrontation. The honor card allowed him to either lie or refuse to answer key questions. The only thing he seems to have remembered is that he did nothing wrong.

However, Sessions did plenty wrong, especially in refusing, on several occasions, to act, and thus revealing an either gross incompetence or a bewildering lack of curiosity:

  1. Sessions says that he discussed getting rid of Comey after the election but before the inauguration. If Comey was doing such damage to the FBI, why did Sessions wait six months to recommend his removal? Also, in all that time why didn’t he discuss Comey’s job performance with Comey?
  2. Sally Yates warned the new administration about not trusting Michael Flynn because he was under an investigative cloud, but apparently this admonition never spread to the FBI Director or else he was blase about it.
  3. Sessions never discussed Russian hacking with Comey, Trump  or the Russians. How is it possible that he has still not been briefed on it, and only knows about from media reports?
  4. Sessions never asked Comey what Trump said when he cleared the room to be alone with Comey.
  5. Sessions couldn’t cite any law or policy preventing him from reporting conversations with the President. How could he not have been prepped to answer this most fundamental question?
  6. Sessions testified that he “in effect” recused himself his second day in office, but didn’t actually do so for another two or three weeks. Why not?


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, May 11-13, 2017


rhetorical claim: Trump had every right to fire Comey, though the optics and timing of the firing were bad. In draining the swamp, Trump inadvertently created the appearance of a conflict of interest. There is no conflict of course because the entire Trump-Russia narrative is fake news.

rhetorical effect: as Timothy Egan argues in the NYT:,

Donald Trump is the first president in history whose campaign has come under federal investigation for collusion with a hostile foreign power. And now the person heading that investigation, the F.B.I. director, has been fired.

We’re looking for a few good men and women in Congress to understand the gravity of this debasement. We don’t need more parsing about the bad “optics” or “timing” of Trump firing the man who could have ended his presidency. We need a Republican in power to call it what it is: a bungled attempt to obstruct justice.

And the tragic part is that Trump is likely to succeed, at least in the short term. The person he chooses for F.B.I. director will never assemble a prosecutable case of treason that leads to the doorstep of this White House.

calm down

rhetorical claim: when people calm down about the Comey firing, Americans will see that trump was right.

rhetorical effect: authoritarian talk that makes any criticism of Trump seem like hysteria; makes the Comey firing seem logical and inevitable; positions Trump as being ahead of the country in terms of political insights and judgement.


constitutional crisis

rhetorical claim: In another instance of fake news, the Comey firing is being likened to Watergate and called a constitutional crisis. However, a real constitutional crisis is a trust and subservience to an entrenched, seemingly permanent, bureaucratic government that distances its citizens from ownership of their republic by elevating employees to a status higher than that of elected officials.

rhetorical effect: this “deep state” paranoia gives the right a permanent boogie man, much like The Trilateral Commission in days of yore.


strands and crumbs

rhetorical claim: the Trump-Russia false narrative is being help together by disparate and unproven strands and crumbs. Every chance meeting, offhand remark, and six-degree connection is exploited and treated as a smoking gun, whereas in actuality there was no conspiracy and there is no cover-up because there hasn’t been proven that there was anything to conspire for and so nothing to cover up.

rhetorical effect: trivializes the investigation by dismissing (though not disputing) every detail and denies its very existence by calling it a false narrative. Thus this is a false narrative about an alleged false narrative.


slow-growth welfarist malaise

rhetorical claim: the Obama years can be characterized as a slow-growth, welfarist malaise that redistributed money from the makers to the takers and discouraged American innovation and productivity.

rhetorical effect: reinforces class warfare; covers over the record profits of US corporations at the same time wage growth has stagnated. Blames the slow-growth economy on Obama, when it really is a reaction to the crash that happened under Bushie.


lost in the process

rhetorical claim: Critics of Trump’s firing of Comey get lost in the process when the main story is actually that Trump lost confidence in Comey.

rhetorical effect: justifies lying about how and why Comey got fired; deflects attention away from Trump’s obvious obstruction of justice by normalizing it as just another executive act.



rhetorical claim: Trump-Russia conspiracy theorists are peddling a false narrative.

rhetorical effect: likens Trump’s critics into traveling rag dealers or otherwise shady merchants whose goods are defective. GOP claims are never said to be peddled, but instead, are said to be revealed or uncovered.



rhetorical claim: used as an intensifier when making a claim or statement, especially at a crucial juncture of that statement. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Sarah Sanders’ recent Daily Presidential Briefing:

MS. SANDERS:  I think it’s been an erosion of confidence.  I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months and, frankly, the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes.  And certainly I think that, as you’ve seen from many of the comments from Democrat members, including Senator Schumer, they didn’t think he should be there, they thought he should be gone.  Frankly, I think it’s startling that Democrats aren’t celebrating this since they’ve been calling for it for so long.

rhetorical effect: whenever the GOP is about to lie, they try to soften the blow by saying “frankly” as an aside to the listener or reader, as if they are really being truthful and confiding in the listener or reader.



rhetorical claim: sure the GOP health care bill may affect the insurance coverage of millions, but what about Obamacare?

rhetorical effect: by always countering any criticisms of Trump with negatives about liberals, makes everything an ad hominem argument against the Dems. This constant attack mode forms a protective rhetorical ring around Trump.


 corporate taxes

rhetorical claim: the burden of corporate taxes actually falls on the workers, not the corporation, in the form of lower wages and benefits, fewer jobs, etc. Thus a corporate tax cut is really populist.

rhetorical effect: turns language on its head by transforming corporations into populist enterprises whose main aim is purportedly employee welfare, not profits.