A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to something as being the same as another thing for rhetorical effect.
Think of William Shakespeare’s line:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances …
That’s a metaphor, since the world isn’t literally a stage.
Metaphors typically use something tangible to represent something intangible. Someone might want to alert political journalists because I don’t think they understand this.
How else to explain the very literal response they had to a Donald Trump fundraising letter that used a metaphor?
A Time political reporter tweeted yesterday:
He later “clarified”:
He wasn’t alone. There was this NBC News reporter:
And even a full CNN story claiming Trump “promises to indict”:
The story has this groan-inducing paragraph that sounds like it was dictated from the White House or Clinton campaign:
The FBI and its investigations are designed to be independent of the presidential administration, and FBI Director James Comey has insisted that politics will not influence any decision on whether to bring charges in the probe. The White House has also insisted President Barack Obama, despite endorsing Clinton, is committed to the investigation’s independence.
Listen, I’d vote for Trump if he had the power to indict Hillary Clinton and trusted him to keep his word. And at this point, I’d be halfway fine if the “American People” had the power to indict Clinton since there’s no way we can trust Obama’s Justice Department to follow the law and indict her for mishandling classified information.
But it’s quite obvious that the fundraising letter is speaking metaphorically. Here’s what it says, again:
Every Election Day, politicians stand trial before the people.
The voters are the jury. Their ballots are the verdict.
And, on November 8th, the American people will finally have the chance to do what the authorities have been too afraid to do over these last 2 decades: INDICT HILLARY CLINTON AND FIND HER GUILTY OF ALL CHARGES.
You know it’s a metaphor because it’s not literally true that every election day is a trial where politicians can be found guilty of their crimes. I mean, I’m open to the idea. I like it. But it’s not how we run things here in the United States. And voters aren’t literally a jury. Ballots aren’t literally a verdict. The Trumpian wordsmiths doing direct mail are making a comparison using a literary device.
The reader of the direct mail understands this, however much he or she may wish someone would indict a Clinton for never-ending, above-the-law behavior. Shouldn’t our journalists? And if they overreact to a rather obvious metaphor, it makes it easier for readers and viewers to dismiss their high-pitched freak-outs about everything else Trump says.