John Truby: This Presidential Election can best be understood as a Story


Guest writer: John Truby (

The classic story is a contest between a hero and an opponent as each chases after a goal. Both bring weaknesses to the fight, and both execute a plan that involves relentlessly attacking the other’s flaws. The plot builds when reveals and surprises come out that show the fighters’ deeper vulnerabilities, until they meet in a big final battle that determines who wins.





The story structure of this election has been that of a tournament, a vortex that gradually funnels down from the many to the two to the one. This is the same story structure as Game of Thrones, and while this presidential tournament has not been as violent as Game of Thrones (at least not yet), it uses the same narrative strategy.

Think of a vortex story as a tornado. As you get closer to the final battle between the last two contestants, the conflict, pressure and speed of the story becomes almost unbearable. And that’s just what happened in this race.




With a slew of candidates on both sides, but especially in the Republican primaries, the story started slowly, and was a bit of a farce. But as one after another of the candidates was knocked out, the conflict intensified and the story picked up speed.

The Characters Have Flaws


The Democrats’ presumed champion, Hillary Clinton, seemed like a shoo-in, but her primary battles with Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed “old, Jewish socialist” exposed some serious flaws. Many people just didn’t like her, she had a blundered with her emails while Secretary of State, and the general perception of her, even among some of her own supporters, was that she lies.




But wait, it gets worse. Sitting under the surface in the minds of the American public was Hillary Clinton’s greatest flaw: she’s a woman. I believe it is impossible to underestimate the deep-seated opposition in American culture to a woman being President. This is the Chief Executive, the “Daddy” office, the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world.

Sure women have been elected leader of other powerful democracies, like Great Britain, India, Israel and Germany. But those countries have a parliamentary system. In the American system, the President has more power than a prime minister. And Americans have never come close to giving that power to a woman.

Donald Trump, hero of the Republican side, was Clinton’s opposite. He started with so many obvious weaknesses that many of his early opponents thought the reality TV star was nothing but a joke. Big mistake.





Trump soared to the top of the Republican ranks with a powerful narrative of his own: the crusading outsider against a corrupt system, a man too rich to be bought, who would build a wall to keep out all those “aliens” stealing the jobs of working class Americans who haven’t seen a real wage increase in 40 years.

Preliminary Victories Hide a Fatal Weakness

This seductive narrative knocked out all the other Republicans, including the more centrist ones like John Kasich and Jeb Bush who could have played to the many inherent Republican advantages in this election cycle, and Marco Rubio, who, though more right wing, represents the crucial swing state of Florida. As good family men, these candidates could have hammered Clinton’s perceived character flaws and let the latent American opposition to a woman being president remain under the surface doing their work for them.





But those guys were no longer in the race. The Republican who was still in the race was making serious mistakes, calling Mexicans rapists, trying to ban Muslims from the country, and criticizing the parents of an American soldier who died in combat. In the past, any one of these blunders would have knocked that candidate out. But the anger toward the system, the Republican structural advantages and Clinton’s own weakness as a candidate were so powerful that not only was Trump still in the race, he was razor close to dead even.

How was this even possible? It was possible because Trump’s fatal weakness against this opponent, the first female candidate, hadn’t yet been exposed. Trump’s most vulnerable flaw isn’t his racism or religious bigotry. Trump is the most blatantly macho presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt. But Roosevelt was a real cowboy and soldier. Trump’s machismo is all bluster and bravado, like a 12-year-old boy sneaking a peak at a Playboy centerfold and thinking he’s gotten away with something. He’s the rich guy who loves beautiful women, a lot of them. So what’s wrong with that, and how could that possibly be his biggest flaw, especially against a 68-year-old grandmother?

John Truby

The Big Battle


What’s wrong with that started to become clear at the first head-to-head battle between the two combatants. In a story, the big battle is the moment of truth, the conflict that tests each contestant’s deepest capabilities, and weaknesses, and determines the winner.

Until the first debate, each fighter could say what they wanted about their opponent, and shape the story to make the other look worse, without verifying it with reality. But now, each was on the stage with the other, face to face on a split screen, and the reality of the fight between the super-male and the woman was shocking to both sides.

Clinton was the seasoned fighter, throwing stinging jabs at her opponent’s weaknesses on taxes and foreign policy whenever the moderator’s questions gave her the opening. And then just before the debate ended Clinton got her big break. The final question of the night – about Trump’s claim that Clinton didn’t “look” presidential – allowed her to deliver a devastating one-two combination punch at Trump’s lifelong attitude toward and actions against women.

She flipped Trump’s claim about her lack of stamina as a woman, until now her biggest “flaw,” and showed she was the stronger of the two. She followed that up by mentioning that Trump had attacked a Latina beauty queen as a fat housekeeper, a double blow that hurt him both with women and with Hispanics. And then the debate was over.

Trump was reeling, but he wasn’t out. He and his soldiers claimed the beauty queen was only one woman, and she was out to get him. And besides, it was something he said, not something he did. Trump has always had a big mouth, so what.


The Big Reveal


And then came the story’s big reveal – about what Trump did – that made it clear, even to many in his own party, that his approach to women was indeed his fatal flaw. A tape came out of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. It was fatal because it was the one flaw that took Clinton’s womanhood and turned it into an unbeatable strength.

It was now undeniable that Trump was the ideal Republican for a woman to run against. The Republican Party had given Clinton the greatest gift of her life. Instead of facing a strong, confident man who could play to voters’ fears of a woman becoming the most powerful chief executive in the world just by quietly being male, Clinton got a woman-demeaning, woman-assaulting macho braggart that any woman in the country could strike back at simply by casting a vote.

And cast them they will. Hillary Clinton may be the most qualified person in American history ever to run for President. She is unquestionably the luckiest.

By John Truby