Frank Bruni is one of the best political writers going. Too many of us are wowed by clever turns of phrase and pointed humor almost always at the expense of some deeply flawed public figure.
Style matters, but without substance, it’s like eating two pieces of Wonder Bread. By “substance” I mean an original insight; an idea that few, if any, have considered; at least not as thoughtfully.
Exhibit A, Bruni’s current commentary titled “When You Don’t Have Trump to Hide Behind”. Bruni’s insight is this:
“. . . the Lincoln Project is unraveling. . . because Trump is out of office, and that not only deprives the organization of its fiercest mission and tight focus. His departure also opens the political actors there — and political actors everywhere — to more scrutiny and more reproach than they received when he was still around.”
“If the Trump of today were the Trump of yore — which is to say, if he had won the election, hadn’t been kicked off social media and was still tweeting to his spleen’s content — he would have fired off such excessively cruel, overwrought nastiness about the Lincoln Project that these attacks would have competed with the organization’s sins for notice and censure. But Trump is off Twitter, which puts others on the spit.”
Bruni drives home the point:
“That dynamic may be having an impact on Andrew Cuomo. Would his concealment of Covid-19 deaths among New York’s nursing home residents be sparking as much outrage if Trump were still in the White House to mismanage the pandemic and lie more extravagantly about it than anyone else — and to deflect criticism of his own failings with hyperbolic rants about Cuomo’s? Recall that Cuomo won acclaim during the first chapter of the pandemic in part by specifically styling himself as Trump’s public-relations antonym and holding news conferences that were (supposedly) as factual as Trump’s were fantastical. He no longer has that counterpoint and counterpart to burnish him.”
Aspiring Bruni’s spend too much time trying to wordsmith in similarly clever ways when they should be trying to figure out how he anchors his pieces in original insights that makes readers say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” How to generate original insights, that is the question.