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General News    H3'ed 10/13/19

Fliting Is the Name of the Game: The Philistine Trump and the Biblical Goliath's Boasts and Insults

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 13, 2019: In the Hebrew Bible as it has come down to us, we learn about the Philistines, and in the book 1 Samuel 17, we can read the famous story of the Philistine giant Goliath's one-on-one combat with the young Israelite shepherd David. In the story, David skillfully fells Goliath with a rock shot from his slingshot and then the victorious David proceeds to cut off Goliath's head with the giant's own sword.

Because the word "philistine" (lower-case) is part of the English language, I tend to think of the Republican Party as contemporary American philistines and of President Donald Trump as a contemporary American Goliath in the upcoming 2020 presidential election in which he will face off in one-on-one political combat with the Democratic Party's presidential candidate.

However, because the expression "David versus Goliath" is commonly used in sports commentary to characterize a match-up in which one team is the underdog, I hasten to say that I do not mean to say this far in advance that the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 2020 will be the underdog against the incumbent President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Rather, I want to call attention here to how both Goliath and young David are portrayed in 1 Samuel 17 as exchanging verbal insults and as boasting. This kind of verbal exchange of insulting and boasting is known as fliting (or flyting). Fliting is found in heroic poetry in Western culture such as the Iliad and Beowulf.

For further discussion of fliting in Western cultural history, see the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong's seminal 1967 book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, pages 197, 207-222, and 259), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University.

Perhaps you have noticed that Trump boasted about himself and insulted and belittled his opponents and critics in the 2016 election. But his boasts involved lies and hyperbole. Similarly, his insults involved lies and hyperbole. In this two-fold way of proceeding, he emerged as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party in 2016, and then he emerged as the victor in the Elector College vote, even though he lost the popular vote by a large margin.

In my OEN article dated July 20, 2019, I have cautioned that Trump could once again lose the popular vote but win the elector vote in 2020:

Now, Trump's boasts and insults obviously involve verbalizations. However, in his political rallies, he also uses his body language to communicate non-verbally and project his charisma style the charisma style that Olivia Fox Cabane describes as "authority style" in her 2012 book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism (New York: Portfolio/ Penguin, pages 104-107).

See my OEN article dated September 7, 2019:

Now, former First Lady Michelle Obama famously said, "When they go low, we go high." This is a remarkably idealistic position. After all, the young shepherd David is portrayed in 1 Samuel 17 as matching Goliath's boasting and insulting in his own ways. In short, both David and Goliath engage in fliting. However, in my estimate, using Ong's account of Western cultural history as the touchstone, fliting is culturally regressive in Western culture today.

But if Trump's fliting is culturally regressive, as I claim it is, why does it work so effectively with his most ardent Republican supporters? American philistine birds of a feather flock together, eh?

For further reading in Ong's account of Western cultural history, also see his following five books:

(1) Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1971);

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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