How they do it, part #3,967

I was all geared up to deconstruct the vicious rhetorical fuppery used by the appallingly incompetent Katie Britt, an actual Senator from Alabama, in her official GOP response to President Biden’s State of the Union address last week, but Gary Legum did a great job over at the inestimable Wonkette, so I’m going to take a different tack.

For those who are not going to click over to Wonkette, Legum’s analysis of Britt’s Big Lie about the 12-year-old girl who was sex-trafficked is spot on: what Britt did was a) mention Biden, b) tell horrific story [that had nothing to do with Biden or his administration], c) punctuate the story by mentioning Biden again, thus tying him in the listener’s mind to this woman’s sex trafficking nightmare.

This is not an anomaly. It is the go-to rhetorical structure for almost all of right-wing discourse, as I’ve covered before here and here. That was brought home to me yesterday when yet another Imprimis[1] from Hillsdale College arrived in my mailbox. For those who are unaware, Hillsdale is a rightwing cesspit, dedicated to keeping the amygdala-based lifeforms fed with fear and anger.

These things come every now and then, addressed to my late mother. I don’t disabuse them of their mistake, because it’s costing them money to mail this thing to someone who skims the main essay, snorts, then throws the thing in the trash (disregarding the mail-in ‘give us your money’ envelope as part of the process), and I’m on board with that. Vive le résistance.

Because I’m in that kind of mood, I red-penciled the thing and flunked Todd Bensman. Let’s see what I found.

First of all, the thing is loaded with panic words, disgust words, and weasel words. Keep those categories in mind.

It is chock full of post hoc, propter hoc fallacies, i.e., putting factoid after another and allowing the reader to infer that the first is the cause of the second.

Finally, the rhetorical trick of elision is a constant issue.

The whole thing is a vector of ooga booga, designed to inject panic and fear directly into the veins of the reader. Check out the front page there: beyond imagining, tsunami, unfathomable, smashed every record, stair-stepping fashion. The rest of the pamphlet sustains that with phrases like public outrage, some may commit acts of terrorism, and the like. Its whole purpose is stir outrage.

To make it easier on both of us, let’s go with bullet points. I’ll quote the essay, then explain the issue with it.

  • “Of the over 7.6 million illegals encountered by the Border Patrol since 2021…” First of all, illegals is a disgust word, a trigger for the amygdala-based lifeforms. Elision: What, exactly, constitutes an “encounter”? Is it an arrest? What? Also, since 2021: that was three years ago. I know, they’re trying to pin it on the Biden administration. I should note here that there are no footnotes, no references, no sources cited.
  • “But with the percentage of those allowed to stay now approaching 100 percent, if current trends hold, the total allowed to remain in the U.S. under the Biden administration will reach ten million by next January.” Weasel words: “approaching” and “if the current trends hold.” This is their get-out-of-lying-free card.
  • At no point does the estimable Todd Bensman dare to explain why so many people are desperate to come to the U.S., probably because the U.S. helped cause the conditions in their homeland that makes them want to get the hell out of there. And you think he’s ever going to acknowledge climate-change as a cause, either now or in the future? Pfft.
  • He does ask “Who are these people?” at one point, but then just gives numbers, not details about who they actually are. Todd Bensman does not give a fupp about the humans whose lives he is so cavalier about.
  • “More than 330 as of November 2023 are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.” Did you catch that? Elision: as of — in other words, in total, ever. Mr. Bensman wants you to think that at least 330 terrorists are admitted to the U.S. every year, when in fact that number is a total number (since when, he does not say) — and clearly, the total number of people on the terrorist watch list who were caught, not admitted.
  • “Many are murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and violent criminals.” Weasel words: “many.” How many, Todd? Are these the ones who are allowed into the country? How do you know?
  • “More than a million have been lawfully ordered deported by judges in the U.S. but remain in our country regardless.” Elision: Possibly because of due process? Also a bit of panic: “regardless” — THEY’RE STILL HERE, KENNETH!
  • “Never before have the Border Patrol’s 19,000 agents been ordered to abandon vast stretches of the border to conduct administrative intake duty. Elision: “administrative intake duty” = what the rest of us call “legal immigration process.” Also, Todd, check with your congressional team to see how they voted on the recent immigration bill, which would have increased funding for border security, exactly like you’ve been screaming for. Panic: “never before”!!!!!1!! KENNETH!
  • “And never has there been anything like the current conveyor-belt policy to distribute millions of illegals through the American interior.” Panic words: OMG, KENNETH, NOT THE AMERICAN INTERIOR!!!!1! (It’s also a lie.)
  • “One can only assume that the reason for this is partisan bias…” Weasel words: Any time you see the words “assume” or “probably” or “may,” the writer is going for plausible deniability of an untruth.
  • “It is probably not coincidental that hospital systems across the nation have fallen deep into the red since the great mass migration crisis began.” Yeah, it’s probably those filthy illegals who did that, not the red states’ refusal to expand Medicaid in their domains. And it couldn’t possibly be the grotesque for-profit healthcare system we continue to inflict on ourselves. It has to be the immigrants, right? Also, panic words: “great mass migration crisis.”
  • “…to care for the hundreds of thousands showing up with hands out.” Disgust words: “hands out,” because those filthy illegals are only coming here for the freebies, right?
  • “Some percentage will commit crimes…” Weasel words: “Some percentage.” What percentage, Todd? At this point in time, data shows that the crime rate for non-citizens in this country, “illegal” or not, is far below the crime rate of actual citizens. (See Alabama, to pick one state at almost random.)
  • “One prays not, but some may also commit acts of terrorism.” Panic words: Honey, please.
  • “…this great influx will increase joblessness and put immense downward pressure on wages for American workers.” We now await Mr. Bensman’s call to rigorously prosecute companies that illegally hire undocumented workers at less than minimum wage, resulting in stiff criminal and financial penalties.
  • In a paragraph about determining whether a political action will increase or decrease the chances of immigrants taking the risk to try to come here, we get “… in the ongoing standoff in Texas, placing razor wire at the border as the Texas Governor ordered done will clearly decrease the odds…” Since this is a family blog, I cannot transcribe what I scrawled over that, but suffice it to say that this one sentence encapsulates the rightwing’s attitude towards the lives of the less fortunate, and my reaction was righteous if obscene.
  • Finally, he lists five steps that we could take to reduce all this illegal immigration. None of them do anything to fund and improve the immigration process itself, but rather are all punitive and destructive, i.e., rightwing values.
  • He concludes with “Too many of our elected leaders have selfish reasons to let the border crisis continue…” Panic words: “selfish reasons” — If, as Todd is bluntly stating, we are faced with a tsunami of immigrants, most of whom are terrorists and rapists, what “reasons” could any politician have for wanting this to continue?? This is just a dog whistle to those who want to believe in conspiracy theories among the powerful.

That was a lot, and I haven’t begun to do any kind of deep dive on the actual problems with our immigration policy, which are many, and this post is already too long. I will just say that a major solution to the problem is to go big on actual immigration: make it clear, make it easy, make it fair. You want to keep terrorists and rapists out? Great! Show me how you would do that without just shutting the door and stringing razor wire across our back yard.

Here’s the deal: If the rightwing — Katie Britt, Todd Bensman, et al. — could construct a rigorously logical argument to support their ideas, they would. But they can’t. All they can do is scare the amygdala-based lifeforms into supporting their agenda with rhetorical fuppery. Stay alert and count the silver.


[1] Imprimis translates from the Latin as “first of all,” which is what rightwingers see their rightful place in society as.

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