Sunday morning, I give in to my greatest indulgence—the Sunday New York Times, delivered to my mailbox. I rarely buy myself expensive things and pride myself on being a spendthrift (my wife calls me cheap), but this subscription is the one extravagance that I gladly pay $36 a month to receive. It takes me a good 6-7 hours to read the whole paper (10-12 hours if my children don’t go outside to play) which equates to about $1 an hour of reading pleasure. Worth it!
I appreciate good writing, and opinion columnists for the NY Times are amongst the best. Today, I decided to analyze my favorite OpEd articles from this morning to discover the literary devices these writers employed to make their columns resonate with voice. Here’s what I found:
“You mused that a good role model would be Ronald Reagan. As you saw it, Reagan was a big, good-looking guy with a famous pompadour; he had also been a Democrat and an entertainer. But Reagan had one key quality that you don’t have: He knew what he didn’t know.
You both resembled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, floating above the nitty-gritty and focusing on a few big thoughts. But President Reagan was confident enough to accept that he needed experts below, deftly maneuvering the strings.
You’re just careering around on your own, crashing into buildings and losing altitude, growling at the cameras and spewing nasty conspiracy theories, instead of offering a sunny smile, bipartisanship, optimism and professionalism.”
Dowd uses the analogy of two presidents as Macy’s Day balloons. President Reagan floated above the fray, but had smart handlers to helped steer him in controlled, measured ways. President Trump, on the other hand, is a balloon, full of hot air, careening out of control. Dowd’s use of analogy as a rhetorical device paints a clear compare/contrast picture for readers trying to make comparisons between two different presidencies.
2. Simile: An explicit comparison between two things using "like" or "as"
Trump’s Trainwreck by Frank Bruni
“Trump is indeed prophetic. Washington under him doesn’t resemble the same old swamp. It looks like a sandbox. There’s commotion aplenty, noise galore and not much evidence of adult supervision.”
Bruni compares Washington (under Trump) to a sandbox. His comparison connotes the petulance of a child in a sandbox, fighting for toys, throwing tantrums, pouring sand onto the group, and causing general chaos. Because I view Donald Trump as immature and “child-like”, Bruni’s comparison of Trump’s White House to a sandbox is an effective one.
3. Alliteration: A series of words in a row (or close together) that have the same first consonant sound.
Trump’s Triumph of Incompetence by Nicholas Kristoff:
“It’s sometimes said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Trump campaigns in braggadocio and governs in bombast.”
“Poetry” and “prose” and “braddaodocio” and “bombast” come together in an auditory-pleasing way. What a perfect combination of words Kirstoff pulled together to make his writing sing.
Trump continuously claims that the “failing” New York Times has fallen on hard times. However, since Trump’s victory, subscription rates for the newspaper has grown tenfold—adding 132,000 subscribers in just two weeks after his election. Another lie Trump perpetuates and yet, the fourth estate thrives! Opinion writers, often the bane of a politician’s existence, are more important than ever. Their clever wordsmithing, clear thoughts, and ability to create a smart perspective helps me better understand the circus unfolding before my eyes. So, as long as Trump is in office, I’ll continue subscribing—and continue appreciating the good writing I have the privilege to read.
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.