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Matt Taibbi, master of metaphor, vivisects Trump in Rolling Stone

Photo: Rolling Stone

In the hands of a master, metaphor makes prose vivid and memorable. That’s what Matt Taibbi just did with his deconstruction of Donald Trump in Rolling Stone.

I’ve written about how inadvertent metaphor overload destroys the lazily edited 500-word article. But metaphors — even lots of them — can make a longer narration dance in a lively and unforgettable way. That’s what I saw in Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece “How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable.” The key is creativity: metaphors that are inventive, not cliche, and carry connotations that remind us our fears about Trump. Read this piece — you’ll learn a lot about politics, America, and writing.

Here’s a sampling:

He steps to the lectern and does his Mussolini routine, which he’s perfected over the past months. It’s a nodding wave, a grin, a half-sneer, and a little U.S. Open-style applause back in the direction of the audience, his face the whole time a mask of pure self-satisfaction. [Not just a vivid visual metaphor, but a clever way to tap into our fears of Trump the fascist.]

What’s he got to be insecure about? The American electoral system is opening before him like a flower.

In person, you can’t miss it: The same way Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, Donald on the stump can see his future. The pundits don’t want to admit it, but it’s sitting there in plain view, 12 moves ahead, like a chess game already won:

President Donald Trump. [Yup, that’s three metaphors in three sentences. But all three — the opening flower, the Palin-tinged vision, the chess game — reinforce what Taibbi wants us to see: the air of inevitability.]

Interestingly, a lot of Trump’s political act seems lifted from bully-wrestlers. A clear influence is “Ravishing” Rick Rude, an Eighties champ whose shtick was to insult the audience. He would tell ticket holders they were “fat, ugly sweat hogs,” . . . [Now we know where Trump’s insults come from — his experience with the entertaining sham that is WWE professional wrestling.]

The candidates sent forth to take on Trump have been so incompetent they can’t even lose properly. [Can’t even lose properly? Classic.]

No one should be surprised that he’s tearing through the Republican primaries, because everything he’s saying about his GOP opponents is true. They really are all stooges on the take, unable to stand up to Trump because they’re not even people, but are, like Jeb and Rubio, just robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors. [Robo-babbling? Is that what Rubio was doing?]

This is part of a gigantic subplot to the Trump story, which is that many of his critiques of the process are the same ones being made by Bernie Sanders. The two men, of course, are polar opposites in just about every way – Sanders worries about the poor, while Trump would eat a child in a lifeboat – but both are laser-focused on the corrupting role of money in politics. [Could there be a more succinct and illuminating way to describe what Sanders and Trump share — and what they don’t?]

[Trump] is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can’t resist a car wreck. The more he insults the press, the more they cover him . . . [Explains a lot.]

And as bad as our media is, Trump is trying to replace it with a worse model. He excommunicates every reporter who so much as raises an eyebrow at his insanity, leaving him with a small-but-dependable crowd of groveling supplicants who in a Trump presidency would be the royal media. He even waves at them during his speeches.

You think the media sucks now? Just wait until reporters have to kiss a brass Trump-sphinx before they enter the White House press room. [A terrifyingly believable prediction.]

Look. I know you can’t write this way. None of us can. But we can certainly learn from it.

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  1. I was blown away by the craftsmanship of this article, thanks for the dissection. As a GenX’er, my favorite metaphor: “And when Rubio gets exposed in the debate as a talking haircut, a political Speak n’ Spell..” Perfect.

  2. I’ve also noticed that great communicators load their speech with metaphors. Sam Harris is one example off the top of my head (see what I did there? 🙂

  3. Whether he can speak well or not, let’s hope that Americans ultimately see through his bullshit and not elect this dangerous, lying psychopath. John Oliver’s takedown was priceless.