'Communism!' 'Socialism'! Right Wing Rhetorical Warfare

'Communism!' 'Socialism'! Right Wing Rhetorical Warfare

I saw this Twitter thread a little while ago:

A guest at the bar tonight asked, “so how long have you been in this lockdown” and confused I was like “what lockdown?” to which she responded “you know, the masks [gesturing that I was wearing a mask]” and something really clicked for me in that moment

— Hemry, Local Bartender (@BartenderHemry) November 29, 2021

It seems obvious now in retrospect but it really is just purely binary to these people; taking the barest minimum precautions (e.g. an “indoor mask mandate” where guests can remove their masks to eat and drink”) is tantamount to unfettered totalitarianism in their minds

— Hemry, Local Bartender (@BartenderHemry) November 29, 2021

I was immediately reminded of this:

The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) March 15, 2021

Rufo’s plan, near the outset of the moral panic over teaching about racism in schools, asserted that he and his fellow culture warriors had “decodified” the term “critical race theory” and would “recodify” it to mean “anything about race in school curricula that right-wingers don’t like.” Rufo and friends have been quite successful at this.

But clearly this isn’t the only time right-wingers have changed the perceived meaning of a word or phrase. As @BartenderHemry says, “lockdown,” for many people, now means “any annoying pandemic-related inconvenience.” So now things that are a minor nuisance feel like totalitarianism to these folks, in part because their brains are conditioned to think “lockdown,” which really does sound like a totalitarian restriction on freedom of movement. So right-wingers can move around freely in a mask, but they feel as if you can’t. Word recodified; rage successfully induced.

“Critical race theory” doesn’t seem like an inherently sinister phrase, but Rufo always saw its potential, as he explained to The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

“…‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain,” Rufo wrote.

… “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.”

Rufo and his pals have made “critical race theory” a pejorative, and now it’s applied to even plain statements of fact about race that make their way into school curricula, as a mark of shame.

But the right has been identifying scare words and broadening their meanings as a tactic of rhetorical warfare for a long time. The classic right-wing scare words are “socialism” and “communism,” which mean “anything right-wingers don’t like.” Marjorie Taylor Greene is particularly fond of using “communism” this way:

These are the 13 “Republicans” who handed over their voting cards to Nancy Pelosi to pass Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America via so-called infrastructure:

Van Drew
Gonzalez (OH)

— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) November 6, 2021

Vaccine mandates causing Americans to be fired is communism in America today.

Republicans should vote NO to the CR Dec 3 to fund the government.

I won’t vote to fund communism.

I won’t vote to fund climate scams or socialist programs.

Shut down the government.#ShutItDown

— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) November 9, 2021

2. Steve Bannon is a Patriot and informs Americans daily about the communist revolution in America.

Commies always go after the strongest first.

The J6 committee is a fake committee full of liars, traitors, and communist.

— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) November 12, 2021

I suppose the right would argue that our side has done something similar with the word “racist,” but we can make a reasonable case for nearly all uses of the term, whereas Greene just uses “communism” to refer to anything that annoys her and Rufo boasts of cynically misapplying the term “critical race theory” as a tactic of war. I don’t know how you beat the right at this, but calling the tactic out might be a start.

Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog

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