Chris Cillizza’s job isn’t as easy as it seems, although it also isn’t nearly difficult enough to justify the salary he receives for doing it. What that job is even supposed to be is kind of a moving target, to be honest, but much of what Cillizza does in his current position as a political reporter and editor-at-large at CNN comes closer to blogging about celebrity fashion than it does conventional political writing. Fundamentally what he writes about is political style—hot new innovations in institutionalized incompetence; particularly deft or buzzy bits of toxic pettiness; what’s trending in the collapse of everything the country ever pretended to hold dear.
This feels, from one frothy burble to the next, like a very specific type of fashion writing, not of the kind that an astute critic or academic or even competent industry-facing journalist might write, but of the kind that you find on social media in the threaded comments attached to photos of Rihanna. Cillizza does not really appear to follow any policy issue at all, and evinces no real insight into electoral trends or political tactics. He just sort of notices whatever is happening and cheerfully announces that it is very exciting and that he is here for it. The slugline for his blog at CNN—it is, in a typical moment of uncanny poker-faced maybe-trolling, called The Point—is “Politics, Explained.” That is definitely not accurate, but it does look better than the more accurate “Politics, Noticed.”
Anyway, because he is to all appearances an absolute fucking doorknob, Cillizza excels at this work. But while he makes it look easy, even an eager-beaver Politics Noticer like Cillizza must eventually notice that this fun sport that so thrills and delights him is also generally debasing everyone participating in or otherwise subject to it and leading to infinitely more suffering than any sport should. If there is any justification for Cillizza somehow making significantly more money per annum than Noah Syndergaard, it’s the fact that he grinningly lowers himself into this tepid and lustily befouled bathtub every morning, whereas Syndergaard only has to pitch for the Mets every fifth day.
If Cillizza is bothered at all by the fact that he spends all of his days describing the contours of the endless roaring shit-avalanche of American politics in 2018—or, for that matter, that he is routinely subjected to some truly psychedelic ratios in response to his cheery treatises and tweets on it all—he doesn’t really show it. He continues to scoot around the wreckage, grinning to beat the band, not so much straining to find the lighter, brighter side of the dumbest moment in our nation’s history as genuinely seeming not to notice anything but that side. Anyway, that’s how we got this:
This is a pretty confident assertion on Cillizza’s part, although there is as always no reason to believe he meant it anything but the most clichéd and vacuous way. Reading the story—it’s a listicle, really—that Cillizza wrote doesn’t illuminate much about it. To the extent that the Jordan comparison is even made, it’s basically in passing—“Trump is the Michael Jordan of name-calling, seemingly upping the ante of what’s possible in the nickname sphere with each passing week”—and en route to listing those good-ass nicknames. I’m going to go ahead and spoil the list for you. Here, and I promise none of this is made up, is Cillizza’s choice for Trump’s number one political nickname and his explanation for it.
1. “Little Rocket Man”: Put aside the potential for nuclear annihilation inherent in taunting the unstable dictator of a rogue regime and it’s just hard to beat this one. Insulting and fitting all in one.
Fantastic stuff as always, both in the way it takes you “inside the game” and in the way that it reminds you that the most vile men on the planet have, sometimes even via elections, been given the power to exterminate pretty much everyone else.
But if we focus too much on Cillizza’s sociopathy, we risk missing the piquant question he raises. Is Donald Trump really the Michael Jordan of political nicknames? The answer depends in large part on Cillizza’s intent. If he is saying that Donald Trump, a Boston Creme donut that has figured out how to watch television and a person who knows and uses maybe 300 English words, is as brilliant and artful and determined at calling his rivals short as Jordan was at winning basketball games, Cillizza is certainly wrong. If Cillizza is saying that Trump, like Jordan, is a sadistic monomaniac who is obsessed with winning and himself above all things and also enjoys coming up with ways to call his rivals short, then he is perhaps on steadier ground.
But given the fact that almost every nickname Trump comes up with is trash, and further given that he nevertheless comes up with them constantly, Jordan seems too efficient a comparison. Yes, Trump will occasionally run into one—“Low Energy Jeb” is forever, and a real challenge in separating the artist from the art—but for the most part he sucks like crazy at nicknames, and that pretty much rules out the Michael Jordan comp. Maybe he’s the Michael Beasley of Political Nicknames. Maybe he is the Nick Young of Political Nicknames. Put aside the potential for nuclear annihilation and it is indeed a very interesting question.