The Art of the Political Insult



In her recent column, Gail Collins reminds us that Trump’s crude political discourse is not unprecedented in this hard-to-govern, rambunctious nation that consists essentially of cast-offs from other continents:

People, [she writes] this is the point at which I’m supposed to make you feel better by pointing to all the terrible presidential campaigns of the past. I could remind you that the first Republican presidential candidate, John Charles Frémont, was accused of being a cannibal. Or that poor Grover Cleveland was tortured by newspaper stories claiming he was “a boon companion to Buffalo harlots, a drunken, fighting, roistering roué.”

What great phrasing — “a boon companion to Buffalo harlots, a drunken, fighting, roistering roué” — it rolls off your tongue like an ee cummings poem, topping even the great HL Mencken’s depiction of Cleveland: He sailed through American history like a steel ship loaded with monoliths of granite.

Slightly less musical but imagistically more powerful is Samantha Bee’s (or one of her writer’s) description of Donald Trump as “a tangerine tinted trash can fire.”

Or dig this dig from a true master, James Wolcott:

An orange Elvis squirted from a can of Cheez Whiz, the Trump of The Apprentice bent the distortion field of Reality TV until it fit him like a girdle.

As far as exuberant insulting prose goes, it’s difficult to top Cintra Wilson:

If Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana were “candles in the wind,” and Anna Nicole Smith was a bonfire in a hailstorm, and Lindsay Lohan is an electric toaster thrown intentionally into a Jacuzzi, then Paris Hilton s a strobe light in an epilepsy ward.

Compare those well-crafted quips to Trump’s insults culled from The Hill:

“[George W] Bush didn’t have the IQ [to be president].”

On Lindsay Graham: A total lightweight. In the private sector, he couldn’t get a job. Believe me. Couldn’t get a job. He couldn’t do what you people did. You’re retired as hell and rich. He wouldn’t be rich; he’d be poor.”

On former Texas Governor Rick Perry: He should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate.”

“I hear that sleepy eyes [Chuck Todd] will be fired like a dog from ratings starved Meet The Press?

It reminds me of that scene from Cyrano de Bergerac when the Viscount De Valvert insults Cyrano by saying, “ir, your nose is. . .hmm. . .it is. . .very big!”

And Cyrano responds

Ah no! young blade! That was a trifle short!

You might have said at least a hundred things

By varying the tone. . .like this, . .

Truculent: ‘When you smoke your pipe. . .[I] suppose

That the tobacco-smoke spouts from your nose–

Do not the neighbors, as the fumes rise higher,

Cry terror-struck: “The chimney is afire”?’

So come on, Donald, you can do better. Hire someone like PJ O’Rourke to come up with something a bit more barbed like “George W Bush has more belly button lint than brains” or “Rick Perry makes George from Of Mice and Men sound like Cicero” or “Hillary is as crooked as Lombard Street.”

We, as a nation, deserve better.

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