Donald As Metaphor

Trump habitually turns literal words used to describe him, like "toxic" and "fraud," or phrases he uses himself, like "grab 'em by the pussy." Can political rhetoric recover?

Susan Sontag on Writing – Brain Pickings

Political rhetoric, like all rhetoric, relies on the reader to know the difference between literal and metaphorical truth. This is best illustrated by considering the trade’s most exuberant rhetorician. When Dr. Hunter S. Thompson called John Dean a “crafty little ferret,” he didn’t mean that Dean was a bewhiskered furry creature with scent glands near his anus; he meant that Dean was shrewdly and rapidly engaging in self-preservation by cooperating with the Watergate investigation. Thompson’s writing these words didn’t prompt Dean’s nose to twitch or his extremities to grow claws.

It’s different with President Donald Trump. He has a magical ability to take any metaphor you hurl at him and render it disturbingly literal. Call him toxic and he becomes toxic in the literal, get-too-close-and-you’ll-get-sick sense. We can only be grateful Thompson didn’t live to see Trump become president, because were Trump to metamorphose into some of the good doctor’s more outlandish metaphorical conceits political life would be even more intolerable than it already is.

My latest, for the New Republic, is on Trump’s magical ability to make the word flesh, so to speak, and not in a good way. To read it, click here.

(The photograph above, incidentally, is not of Hunter S. Thompson but of Susan Sontag, author of the essay “Illness As Metaphor,” on which the New Republic piece draws.)