But Trump does rely heavily on other, less obvious poetic tropes. For instance, he makes a lot of use of aposiopesis—breaking off a sentence before it’s finished. He is a fan of anaphora, or repetition: he never says anything once when he can say it three times. He is a master of hyperbole (exaggeration): Everything about him, from his hands to his fence at our border with Mexico, is the best, the most, or the greatest.

At the same time, Trump conscientiously avoids the soaring figures of speech that signal “poetry” to us, like metaphor and metonymy. His aversion to these kinds of devices aims to convey that he is a man who is truly down to earth. He does, however, sneak important poetic stratagems in when we’re not paying attention.

The traditional poet, like Palin, replaces prosaic reason with poetic rhyme. The poet is thereby freed from the requirement to make sense. Trump replaces prosaic reason with poetic diction of another kind, but the effect is the same. He doesn’t need to make sense. The thrill of his language carries his audiences along with him. He tells it like it is, even if no one is sure what “it” is.

Even more telling than Trump’s use of poetic tropes is the way that he positions his rhetoric as poetry. A speaker of prose would be held to our normal expectations that a politician make sense. Trump is doing something very different on the 2016 campaign stump.

Think of ways of speaking (or writing) as arranged on a continuum based on who bears responsibility for determining the meaning of the author’s words. On one end, we could put poetry. On the other end, we could put instruction manuals.

When we encounter what we believe to be poetry, we expect ambiguity and uncertainty. We are comfortable with the idea that a Shakespearean sonnet may mean different things to different people, and that we will have to play an active role in deciphering it.

On the other hand, at the other end of the scale, we expect our computer’s instruction manual to be crystal-clear and free of ambiguity. If the writing is not straightforward, we have the right to be confused (and testy).

Trump’s ingenuity lies in marrying these genres: the bulk of his speech could be said to constitute prosaic poetry, or perhaps poetic prose. Because he swears and skirts high-flying language, he sounds prosaic and therefore trustworthy. But much like poetry, his remarks are highly opaque and without a clearly discernible single meaning. Because of his use of aposiopesis, hyperbole, and other forms of de-clarification, he leaves the meaning-making up to his audiences. Thus, he avoids taking responsibility for his words.

Moreover, Trump’s fondness for anaphora (repetition) encourages the public to remember his words and quote them to others. Eventually, this repetition may effectively convince people that his words represent not the effusions of one particular politician, but received truth. As Lewis Carroll said, in The Hunting of the Snark:

Just the place for a Snark! the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.

By the third time we repeat any idea, it begins to take on the aura of received wisdom. Trump knows this well. So many of his speeches reiterate themes: Obama’s Kenyan birth, the criminality of Mexicans, Trump’s history as a supporter of women’s issues—just for starters. Of course some of this reiteration might be due to the fact that Trump has only a few ideas, so they have to do a lot of work; but another reason, I think, is that he knows the power of the “Snark Rule.” And because repetition offers poets a means to signal to their audiences, “This is what you believe. This is what you know is true,” many of us find Trump’s repetitive pattern very persuasive.

So I call Donald Trump a poet. While that doesn’t mean that I like his poetry, I don’t object to the idea of campaigning with it. What concerns me more is that if he somehow manages to win, he would also govern in poetry. And here I am with Plato: that’s dangerous.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.