As inflation continues to eat away at household budgets and fears of a major economic downturn continue to mount, the Biden administration is attempting to redefine the term “recession” in an apparent public relations push to mitigate backlash for the current state of the economy.
This effort to obscure what has long been a simple, specific, and uncontroversial definition is part of an ongoing pattern of President Biden and his team redefining and weaponizing specific terms to further their political agenda and stigmatize forms of dissent they deem threatening.
Here are six terms the administration has sought to redefine:
For decades, experts have defined a recession as two straight quarters of negative economic growth, meaning a decline in gross domestic product.
This definition has become especially relevant with the latest GDP numbers for the second quarter of this year due to be released on Thursday, following the release of official figures in April showing the economy shrank 1.6% in the first quarter.
If Thursday’s numbers show the economy contracted in the second quarter, confirming a decline in economic activity over a six-month period, January through June, the U.S. would, according to the generally accepted definition, be in a recession.
In recent days, however, several Biden administration officials have attempted to obscure the definition of a recession to argue the U.S. isn’t facing a recession, regardless of what the second quarter figures show, by.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, for example, said on CNN it’s up to the National Bureau of Economic Research — a nonprofit group of economists — to determine whether the U.S. is in a recession, adding the bureau does so “in hindsight because data comes in with a bit of a lag.”
Such a process could take up to a year, according to observers.
Bernstein pointed to a blog post on the White House website claiming that “official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data” factoring in a wide array of variables beyond negative growth rates.
However, the Republican National Committee flagged a clip of Bernstein in 2019 defining a recession as GDP simply “crossing zero.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen echoed Bernstein’s points over the weekend, adding that she would be “amazed” if the National Bureau of Economic Research declares a recession in the near future.
“This is not an economy that’s in recession, but we’re in a period of transition in which growth is slowing,” said Yellen.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre went even further on Monday, saying that “economic indicators … do not show that we are in a recession or even a pre-recession.”
President Biden himself similarly insisted the U.S. is “not going to be in a recession.”
Meanwhile, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has been warning “there’s a very high likelihood of recession,” dismissing the Biden administration’s comments as “a kind of triumph of hope over experience.”
One of the more controversial terms the Biden administration has seemed to contort for political purposes is “disinformation,” using the term to target views with which the administration disagrees — especially concerning COVID-19 and the 2020 election.
In April, the Department of Homeland Security announced the formation of the Disinformation Governance Board to monitor and combat speech it deems “disinformation.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas defended the initiative as important in tackling the “threat” of disinformation, especially when it targets migrants or comes from the Russian government.
However, critics lambasted the board as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” established to silence people with certain political views. Such criticism led DHS to “pause” the DGB amid widespread outcry.
Whistleblower documents released last month by Republican Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) appeared to confirm such concerns. One internal memo showed DHS officials writing that disinformation threatens homeland security, especially “conspiracy theories about the validity and security of elections” and “disinformation related to the origins and effects of COVID-19 vaccines or the efficacy of masks.”
The documents obtained by Hawley and Grassley also showed an effort by DHS to recruit Twitter and other Big Tech firms to aid in its mission to stamp out “disinformation.”
In February, DHS put out a “National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin” discussing how “conspiracy theories,” “misleading narratives,” and “and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information” can fuel foreign and domestic terrorism. It cited “false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19” online as “key factors contributing to the current heightened threat environment.”
3. Domestic terrorist
The administration appeared to redefine what a domestic terrorist is last year, when the National School Boards Association sent a letter to Biden asking his administration to investigate threats against public school officials. In the letter, the NSBA specifically referred to parents who protested the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom, suggesting such actions should be classified as “domestic terrorism.”
The NSBA requested that the Justice and Homeland Security departments probe and prosecute these “crimes” under “the Patriot Act in regards to domestic terrorism.”
Less than a week later, Attorney General Merrick Garland sent out a memo warning that the Justice Department is “committed to using its authority and resources to discourage” the “threats” described by the NSBA, “identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.”
The memo directed the FBI to work with each U.S. Attorney to convene meetings nationwide to discuss strategies for addressing these threats. Garland also mentioned his intent to “launch a series of additional efforts in the coming days” which, according to the Justice Department, would “determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes.”
The NSBA later apologized for the letter after receiving backlash for comparing parent protests to domestic terrorism. However, subsequent reports indicated coordination between the NSBA and the Biden administration on the former’s letter and Garland’s subsequent memo.
“Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims,” Robyn Gritz, a retired FBI special agent who worked in counterterrorism for years, previously told Just the News.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism specifically as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
It’s unclear how the administration thinks protesting vaccine mandates or the teaching of critical race theory could meet this definition.
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the Biden administration has redefined the term “insurrectionist.”
In total, more than 750 people have been imprisoned for Jan. 6-related crimes without a trial.
Several of them have said the FBI, Justice Department, and federal prison officials under the Biden administration violated their civil and constitutional rights. The vast majority weren’t accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting law enforcement, or destroying property — let alone trying to “overthrow our government.” Many didn’t even enter the Capitol building.
Yet Biden, fellow Democrats, some Republicans, and federal prosecutors have labeled those who were involved in the Capitol riot, support the Jan. 6 prisoners, or question the results of the 2020 presidential election as insurrectionists.
The FBI was unable to find evidence that the Jan. 6 riot was a coordinated insurrection, despite months of investigating the matter.
Nonetheless, in recent months, Democrats have launched a campaign to label and disqualify Republicans who supported efforts to question the 2020 presidential election results as insurrectionists who tried to subvert American democracy.
5. Voter suppression
Following the controversy of the 2020 election, Republicans in some states such as Georgia have pushed a series of election reforms with the stated purpose of combating voter fraud and protecting election integrity
These measures include requiring voters to provide identification to receive an absentee ballot and prohibiting ballot harvesting, a tactic, outlawed in most states, in which third-party activists gather and deliver voters’ ballots.
Biden has consistently described these efforts as “voter suppression” meant to make it harder for people, especially minorities, to cast their ballots. Biden has even called such efforts “Jim Crow 2.0,” a reference to the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.
Since entering office, Biden and some of his most prominent supporters have invoked the specter of “voter suppression,” framed as an existential threat to democracy posed by their political opponents, to justify a host of ambitious policies.
The Democrats’ election overhaul agenda includes proposals such as implementing universal mail-in voting and weakening voter ID requirements. Supporters say the legislation is meant to expand access to voting. Critics counter the bills create more opportunities for fraud and would federalize election rules, forcing states to implement mandates from Congress.
The Constitution primarily gives state legislatures, not the federal government, the power to determine and enforce their own election procedures.
Last year, the Biden administration ended use of the phrase “illegal alien” to describe migrants who entered the country illegally, although “alien” has long been common in U.S. law. The administration ordered immigration enforcement authorities to use the term “non-citizen” instead.
Those supportive of the change described the new language as “inclusive” and less “dehumanizing.” Critics countered the new term would have the effect of normalizing illegal immigration.
Since Biden entered office, the U.S. has experienced a historically high surge in illegal border crossings from Mexico.