Dog whistle politics
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
| We control what|
you think with
|Said and done|
|Jargon, buzzwords, slogans|
Dog whistle politics usually refers to the use of certain code words or phrases that are designed to be understood by only a small section of the populace. Generally speaking, these are phrases that have special meaning to that subsection entirely independent of its meaning to others, and represent a particularly insidious use of loaded language.
The term alludes to the sound of a dog whistle, which can only be heard by the intended audience (the dog). In theory at least, dog whistle terms are only noticed and understood by the people they are intended for. In practice, the meaning is often understood by others. For example, negative references to "ghettos" are taken by pretty much everyone to mean "black parts of town."
The best known example of this is the love some older conservatives have for "states' rights." When segregation became socially unacceptable, many old pro-segregationists began instead calling for "states' rights," meaning of course the right of the individual states to segregate and discriminate (or, in the pre-Civil War American South, enforce slavery). Since then, many civil rights leaders have been able to show the connections behind the phrase, but that doesn't stop hard-right Ron/Rand Paul supporters from continuing to use it. These days, it's used by people in red states to justify tighter immigration law (i.e. racial profiling) and toying with Roe v. Wade by restricting abortions. Interestingly enough, even the most fervent states' rights apologists become eerily silent when it comes to Colorado legalizing pot or (in the 1990s and early 2000s) gay marriage. Which of course parallels what the Antebellum South did: As long as they had the political power to do so, the states' rights of the Northern state did not concern them when it came to enforcing "fugitive slave" laws, that often ended up enslaving free black Northerners.
Religious, class, and race-baiting
This is a common way these days of expressing bigotry without appearing to do so.
Backwards caps and hippity-hop
"Thug culture." Just use the n-word, we all know what you're saying anyway. It comes off like saying black people are dumb while trying not to sound like they are saying black people are dumb. ("If only black people were smart enough to realize how dumb they really are.")
Another way to complain about minorities without offense is to complain about ghettos, the bad part of town, etc. Or if one's a politician, "fixing" the impoverished areas of a city will do the trick (alternatively, "cleaning up our streets"). Particularly in the Midwest, it's common for people to mock places like Detroit, Cleveland, and the South Side of Chicago as it sounds innocent to the untrained ear.
In addition, since the civil rights movement rendered open racism in the United States anathema (or, at least, it had), dog-whistle terms such as "community organizers" and "welfare queen" have become widely known as semi-opaque terms referring to people (usually African-American, always underclass) who propagandists want you to believe are stirring up trouble and abusing the system. "Quotas" is a semi-opaque way of signaling opposition to affirmative action or other efforts to achieve gender or racial parity (in areas such as highest educational attainment, proportional political representation, wages, etc.) without coming right out and directly saying it. The conservative obsession with idleness and loafing used to be a dog whistle, but has become so commonplace in the Republican and Libertarian parties that people under age 40 who parrot it don't realize this. They've become tone deaf to the racial overtones to the point that they don't realize it actually is racist, they just think it's a good idea.
Tak'n Ur Jerbs
Recently, talk of abolishing birthright citizenship, along with other rhetoric on illegal immigration, is used to appeal to racists who are mad about brown people being in 'Murica at all – though this is less dog whistle and more tuba, as the paper-thin pretense is almost discarded.
Antisemitic dog whistles
Antisemitism is often expressed in dog whistle terms, which are picked up by those familiar with the main concepts of Antisemitism but not by the populace as a whole. Examples are talk about the "controlled" media (without specifying who controls it, but anti-Semites know "who" that means); "international bankers" (without specifying Jewish international bankers, but anti-Semites know who); etc. "Dual loyalty" is a dog whistle term used by both anti-Semites and anti-Catholics to imply the person's real loyalty is to Israel or the Vatican and not their own country (demands to curtail people with "dual citizenship" are also used as an antisemitic dog whistle in a similar fashion). Another term is anti-Zionism, or criticism of Israel. While people can legitimately criticize Israel for a great many reasons, professed anti-Zionism is very often a thinly-veiled front for Antisemitism. Other antisemitic dog whistles in German language sources include bemoaning the huge influence of ("certain people" on) the "East Coast [of the US]" or an "Israel Lobby" that "stifles debate" or "controls the media". The fact that not all people are able to "decode" dog whistles became evident in a recent court case where the question of whether calling Jürgen Elsässer a "fiery antisemite" ("glühender Antisemit" in the original German) constitutes slander.
More recently, triple parentheses around a person's name has been used as a dog whistle symbol in internet forums and social media in order to single out perceived Jewish individuals for harassment.
For homophobes, pointing out that the opposing political candidate is "single," "never married", "a lifelong bachelor," limp-wristed "has no children" if they are married, or "flounced" from a debate, is a dog whistle term intended to send a signal to homophobes that others will miss. Similarly, candidates who wish to let their voters know that they are against gay rights will often say they support "family values".
This sort of dog-whistle talk used to be a lot more common regarding matters of sexuality in general prior to the sexual revolution, as in for example various euphemisms used in place of openly saying that a single woman was pregnant or had had an abortion.
A less well-known example is when pro-life activists talk about the "Dred Scott Decision." Among them, Roe v. Wade is analogous to Dred Scott v. Sandford, in that it keeps fetuses from having any rights. However, since Roe v. Wade is popular, and Dred Scott is not, a politician (or potential Supreme Court Justice) can talk about Dred Scott when they are really talking about Roe v. Wade.
"Anointed" is a dog whistle term for speaking in tongues, name it and claim it, faith healing, and other fringe practices, intended to be understood by Pentecostals but not by the general public. It is a way of saying "we believe in and practice the Pentecostal beliefs" without openly admitting it.
Many anti-vaccination groups and figures deny that they are "anti-vaccine" and instead hide behind more benign terms such as "pro-vaccine safety", "parents' right to choose", and "health freedom" as well as invoking Big Pharma. These tropes frequently appear when there are laws dealing with nonmedical exemptions from vaccines, as these people fear government takeover and forcing children to vaccinate and giving them autism just as how the Jews are persecuted during the Holocaust.
The anti-GMO movement has notably used rhetoric around "informing" people as dog whistles. "Just label it" and "right to know" are frequent rallying cries used, despite many leaders in the movement admitting that the push for GMO labelling is nothing more than a tactic for the complete elimination of the practice of genetic engineering in the food industry. A more egregious example would be the co-opting of the latter phrase by the organization US Right To Know, which is actually an organic industry front group that has been more focused on harassing scientists than giving the public valuable information.
- Gabrielle Bluestone, [Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org "Just Call Them Niggers"]
- Anthony Cumia Twitter rant
- Thank you so very, very much, Sarah Palin, for letting us know what a sociopath you are.
- Ian Haney López, "Dog Whistle Politics" at TEDxUOregon".
- Courtland Milloy, "Charles Murray and shiftless, lazy whites", Washington Post.
- Gary Anderson, "Peter Schiff: More Racist Economics From A Libertarian", Business Insider. ("It is a scam because fostering racism is racism. If you set up racist policies you are fostering racism. Most normal people understand that, but Libertarians are far from normal.")
- Patrick Howell O'Neill, "Donald Trump is winning over the white supremacist vote"
- This can even be a tad more direct if the names of certain banks are emphasized in an odd way; Lehman for example is a common German name, however, mentioning the name in a certain way is bound to be "understood" by those "in the know"
- Tanya Cariina Hsu, "How the Isreali Lobby Works in the United States", GlobalResearch.
- Benjamin Weinthal (10/17/2014). "German judge sparks outrage, says anti-Semitism was only limited to Nazi period". The Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/landedpages/printarticle.aspx?id=379057.
- Fleishman, Cooper; Smith, Anthony (1 June 2016). "(((Echoes))), Exposed: The Secret Symbol Neo-Nazis Use to Target Jews Online". Mic. https://mic.com/articles/144228/echoes-exposed-the-secret-symbol-neo-nazis-use-to-target-jews-online#.sS1GX29cQ. Retrieved 4 June 2016.