Rhetorical manipulation remains a commanding tool for the far right. For that, the far right likes to invent an enemy. This illusive enemy, in turn, is never clearly defined. Instead, it remains rather nebulous like the idea that it is a “global elite” that runs everything. 

Equally, the far-right often also resents the rather vague “state”. Behind this can be virtually “any” national state, the EU, and the UN – any form of a state-like institution. Meanwhile, state-sanctioned human rights are defamed as being instigated by a so-called “gay lobby”. 

Important for far-right rhetoric is to claim that right-wing populists are the outsider. This is the status of not being part of the despised establishment. And it is the far-right’s rather common rhetorical device. Just like provocations, this too, helps to appear as the “stand out”, the “rebellious outcast”, etc. From this imaginary position, the elite and the state are attacked.  

Simultaneously, far-right rhetoric means claiming to be “the” advocates of “the” people – the little people. In some cases, this is successfully carried through even when the right-wing populist themselves are part of the elite like the billionaires Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and many others.

In other cases, it boils down to the balancing act of being simultaneously an outsider on the one hand, and, being the oppositional populist on the other hand, while also being the longtime boss of a ruling party like Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Right-wing propaganda assures that this works – even after years of leading an authoritarian government. Surprisingly, some right-wing populists still manage to present themselves as popular fighters against the elites, of which they, themselves, are part of. 

Yet, there are three basics and rather common traits of right-wing rhetoric: 

  1. it is generally easier to be against something than being for something; 
  2. populist rhetoric ties in with a widespread feeling of powerlessness and being short-changed; and, 
  3. the deliberate vagueness of key terms like “people” and “elite” provides great political and ideological flexibility. 

These three rhetorical strategies are spiced up with frequent warnings about the discrimination of one’s “own people” or the “selling out of our values”, and of something called “the natural gender order”. 

This can be linked to the constant hammering of the hallucination that society is overrun by conflicts and that there is even an impending civil war. Far-right rhetoric assures that virtually all the world’s problems is insoluble – an overwhelming force with which only a strong leader can deal with.

One of the most important elements to understand is that right-wing populist rhetoric is not oriented towards negotiable differences, seeking common agreements, and working within the framework of democracy. Instead, right-wing rhetoric focuses on maximum dividing lines where it seeks friction and discord. 

In addition, right-wing rhetoric not just seeks to create divisions, it also seeks to destroy any institutional arrangement that seeks compromises, and that eventually seeks outcomes based on a commonly agreed form of negotiations – like democracy.

Since right-wing rhetoric sets the insider against the outsider, a special term is used – ethnopluralism. Ethnopluralism not only seeks to camouflage its extremely racist ideology, but it also defines people as “cultural-ethnic units”. It sets one against the other, against the outsider, the foreigner, and the stranger. 

Based on its deep racism, ethnopluralism advocates that people have “unalterable” properties. The preservation of which is framed as a value in-itself. 

At its core, ethnopluralism is a form of racism. Ethnopluralists also advocate that each person has a specific, fixed, cultural, and ethnic identity. This is done to avoid the word “racism” – an ideology that always lurks in the background. 

Ethnopluralists, wrongly assume that whenever people with different identities meet, conflicts, fights and confrontations “inevitably” arise. This too, leads ethnopluralists to conjure up images of an impending civil (read: racial) war. The key is to arouse fear. Once people are fearful, they can be manipulated, misguided, used, and abused. 

In the world of right-wing rhetoric, ethnopluralism features as a kind of “neo-racism” that is – in terms of manipulative right-wing rhetoric – much more suitable than traditional biologistic racism

This is done to satisfy the made-believe “need” of a certain social strata for orientation, identity, protection and, ultimately, far-right leadership. This works even better when linked to a so-called metaphor of “time of rapid upheavals”.

One of the most imperative ideas behind far-right rhetoric is that it does not rely on arguments, but rather on indignation, hatred, fear, and resentment. This is the trap laid out into which democratic focus fall. They – wrongly – believe:

  • that right-wing populists are like us,
  • that they seek democratic engagement, 
  • that they too, follow a problem-solving approach,
  • that they seek common grounds, and 
  • that they are willing to discuss important issues.

In reality, right-wing populists do none of this – or, worse, simply pretend to be doing it. Instead, their rhetoric is about something completely different.

Essentially, right-wing rhetoric is about two things: 

  1. to destroy the enemy and that includes all democratic forces and democracy itself; and 
  2. to steer up their followers using manipulative rhetoric. 

Right-wing populists are also not people who “just don’t know any better”. Rather, democratic forces need to understand that they are dealing with people who have decided to use, amplify and make socially acceptable xenophobic, racist, feelings of fear, and the resentment of democracy. 

In fact, corporate media often – for their own monetary benefits (e.g. advertising revenue) – have become amplifiers of right-wing rhetoric. They, too, participate in the stirring up of fearmongering. 

Worse, they also use far-right vocabulary when talking and writing about “mass immigration”, “asylum tourism”, “Mexican rapists”, and “floods of refugees”. 

By taking on the manipulative far-right rhetoric, they, too, fall into the trap laid out by right-wing populist for using their words, their vocabulary, their agenda, and their ideologies. 

Once others have been drawn into the ideological orbit of the far-right, an important goal of right-wing populists has been achieved.

In far-right rhetoric, floods and migration are framed into a single all-powerful threat scenario. This, in turn, makes it possible for right-wing populist rhetoric to hold up “fears” that “must be taken seriously”. 

Simultaneously, right-wing populists can present themselves as “the” savior in times of need. This is Donald Trump’s only I can save America.

To achieve its goal, right-wing rhetoric uses provocations, taboo-reaking strategies, scandalisation, sensationalism, offensive phrases, and demagogic aggravation. 

All of this is justified as free speech using the liberalism of democracy against democracy. A recent right-wing populist strategy paper on an election campaign once noted, 

“hard and provocative slogans are more important than

long sentences that strive for differentiation and want to please everyone”.

With this, the rhetorical function of breaking taboos becomes clear. It is about grossly distorting reality, sowing hatred and resentment towards civilized standards and democratic engagement. 

The well-crafted far-right rhetoric of “breaking taboos” is often accompanied by self-presentation. This self-presentation claims to be “the victim”. Donald Trump, for example, is a master of this particularly after, yet another, court case he has lost.

These claims are accompanied by allegedly no longer being allowed to have a “free opinion” and not to be heard by anyone – this is claimed even by the media-domineering Donald Trump. 

In the right-wing populist re-interpretation of reality, free expression, and free speech are merely formulas for being allowed to say everything, to insult minorities, to find racism okay, to hurt the feelings of others, to dehumanize others, to denigrate the basic laws of democracy, to begrudge a constitutional order, and to defame human rights. Worse, all this is done without being allowed to be criticized for it. 

Yet, the key trap of far-right rhetoric remains this: through wrongful assertions, wild and often unsubstantiated claims, hallucinations and generalizations, others are forced to constantly work within the pre-set and deeply ideological framework and agenda setting by right-wing populism – as defined by the far-right. 

Democratic politicians and others are forced to work themselves up on far-right ideologies put forward by right-wing populists even though far-right issues are often rather irrelevant. 

For example, as long as the issue of “migration” is debated, nobody talks about global warming, inequality, and worse: the general pathologies of capitalism

The second trap laid out by right-wing populist is to make democratic forces to only ever react to the rhetoric of right-wing populists. Instead of being pro-acting and of being energetic, they are – once asphyxiated in the far-right orbit – required to reply to far-right ideologies

Slowly, silently, and often unnoticed, progressives become a kind of “reactionaries” by being constantly forced to re-act to unsubstantiated and often obscured claims made by right-wing populists.

In other words, they are forced to adopt the ideological framework of far-right discourses, the given topics and to think and move within those – permanently. 

And they are forced to do that no matter how abstruse and misanthropic the claims of right-wing populists are. With drawing people into the far-right way of thinking, right-wing rhetoric has succeeded. 

To achieve all that, right-wing populists exploit democratic norms, free speech, and pluralism. Worse, right-wing rhetoric even declares their authoritarian and inflammatory positions as an expression of diversity. With that, democracy forces fall into the next trap: they agree to the demand of being “balanced and fair”. 

As a consequence, right-wing populists are constantly allowed to have their say and to present and broadcast their dehumanizing ideology. This is made worse by the – often rather implicit – demand for objectivity and “journalistic neutrality”. 

This becomes yet another gateway for right-wing rhetoric and the self-promotion of right-wing populists. In other words, seemingly upholding “free speech” allows right-wing populists to air their inhumane, anti-democratic, and anti-free speech ideologies. 

Most interestingly, right-wing populists – as soon as they have enough power – actually take control of the media, silence critics, damage free speech, and abolish diversity. Examples of this are Fidesz in Hungary, PiS in Poland, and – most recently – Slovakia’s Fico

Part of the well-planned strategy of right-wing populists is their reliance on corporate media to do their bidding, to make them publicly visible, to be invited to interviews, talk-shows and other events. 

This is often done with the rather honest intention of being able to debase, disenchant and to challenge them argumentatively. Yet, what all this does is to provide right-wing populists with a platform to present their inhuman and anti-democratic ideologies.

Worse, right-wing populists also know that the effect on the audience desired by their good-hearted, democratic and liberal-minded opponents rarely occurs. Put simply, right-wing populists win sympathies because they use far-right rhetoric. They do NOT win because they have formulated better arguments

Having better arguments has never been the goal of far-right rhetoric. Right-wing populists win because others have fallen into the far-right rhetoric trap.

The ongoing inclusion of right-wing populists in open and public debates means that they can determine which topics are being discussed (foreigners, migration, etc.) – and most importantly – which issues are not discussed (inequality, global warming, environmental vandalism, neo-liberalism, capitalism, etc.). 

Perhaps even more important is that right-wing populists can expect that their hate speeches will be positively received by parts of an audience – despite the better counter arguments of the other side. 

This far-right rhetorical strategy includes, of course, dog-whistling – the sending of secret signals to their followers.

Far-right rhetoric is not about party politics, democracy and a political majority, but about shifting democratic discourse and consensus of a society to the far-right. This also means using “anti- politically correct rhetoric”. 

Moreover, far-right rhetoric insinuates that there is something it calls the “terror by a minority” – instigated by a politically correct minority. 

In the orbit of right-wing populism, racial discrimination, sexism, inhumanity, and other relations of domination are not seen as social and political problems. Instead, these are framed as something that the so-called “politically correct” have invented. 

Having others asphyxiated in their rhetorical trap, right-wing populists have succeeded in delegitimizing constitutional-democratic mandates, basic laws, and human rights. These are defamed as “politically correct”, as a “left-wing dictatorship”, “mind-set terror”, and “totalitarian”. 

This is the classical Orwellian reversal. It is a rather well-known rhetorical strategy: love is hate, good is bad, democracy is totalitarian.

Virtually the same goes for science. Since science is mostly financed from public funds, right-wing rhetoric represents it as being part of the – always rather illusive – establishment. 

This leads to the right-wing populist accusation that climate research, for example, is ideological. Once real science is defamed as “science = ideology”, far-right rhetoric positions can – rhetorically – be presented as the supposedly objective one. 

Worse, it presents right-wing populists as those who judge what is “neutral” and what is not, what is “true” and what is “false”, which knowledge production is acceptable and which is not.

In virtually all of this, far-right rhetoric is used by populists to attack democracy – not just rhetorically but also ideologically and structurally. Far-right rhetoric counteracts the political principle of plurality. 

They use slander instead of arguments. They represent the right of the strongest. Far-right rhetoric seeks to legitimize xenophobic, nationalistic, anti-social, inhuman, and other dangerous ideologies. 

Finally, it remains important to re-emphasize – again and again – what right-wing rhetoric sets out to achieve: it is essentially intolerant while accusing others of being intolerant. Far-right rhetoric is discriminatory, authoritarian, and harmful to pluralism and democracy. The final goal of far-right rhetoric is not just to undermine but to destroy democracy

The traps laid out by far-right rhetoric seek to draw others into the far-right agenda. By engaging with right-wing populists, others fall into the trap of supporting the ideological program of the far-right. 

This contributes to making far-right’s extreme ideas and adjacent ideologies legitimate in society. Once this is achieved, the rhetorical trap of the far-right has worked.

Cover photo: Donald Trump fighting for votes in the upcoming US presidential elections. Source.

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