Artful attack of 'my predecessor'

Joe Biden reached out to his inner Trump to deliver an uncharacteristically blistering State of the Union address last week. When a politician not known for his oratory puts up a strong, battering ram of a verbal attack, it can be intriguing – like watching a patient, quiet man lash out and deliver a punch. But what was most notable – audible – was Uncle Joe riffing the term ‘my predecessor’ 13 times. His predecessor also happens to be his challenger. But by pitching Uncle Don as his forerunner – without once uttering his name – the prez highlighted how he was the prez-ent and his predecessor the past, the future always being closer to the former than to the latter.

Blaming one’s ‘predecessor’ is not really novel, considering blaming the one who came before is also a nifty way of perking up one’s own image via rhetorical chiaroscuro. Other leaders even go further back in time, where predecessors are B&W historical characters, to underline the big break from the past made by the heroic here-and-now man. But Uncle Joe’s predecessor is gunning to also be his successor. Thus, the machine-gun rat-tat-tating of ‘my predecessor’ emphasising the fact that it’s not worth his while to name and shame him like his opponent – sorry, predecessor – does. Remember, in Harry Potter stories, the arch-villain is referred to as ‘He who shall not be named’.


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