CSotD: Good research makes good cartooning

Steve Sack gets the lead-off today because he nailed the target amid a forest of lukewarm rainbows.

It’s all well and good to draw a rainbow flag or show the Supreme Court building or the nation or whatever swathed in rainbows, but Sack makes two critical points:

First, by using Justice hugging that rainbow flag, he emphasizes the 6-3 count of the decision and the fact that it was a decision, not simply a confirmation.

Second, by riffing on Dear Leader’s goofy, infatuated flag-hugging smile, Sack emphasizes the fact that the Court’s decision flies in the face of Trump’s kissing up to the forces of intolerance.

This is a major cause of hope for the LGBT community, but it should be a good sign for everyone, because, beyond that particular cause, it shows an independence of spirit on the Court that suggests perhaps Balance of Powers is not yet dead.

For a deeper analysis of the decision, check out SCOTUSblog, where Tennessee’s chief deputy attorney general notes that the Justices relied on examining the language of the law itself:

Open the code, read the statute, rule. Absent linguistic ambiguity or evidence that the meaning of terms in the statute have changed over time, statutory interpretation is purely a matter of parsing the statute and analyzing its semantics and grammar. Where statutory interpretation is concerned … a judge should effectively set aside his or her law school education and retreat to the lessons of high school English class.

In an age of warring values, it’s nice to see someone putting their own views aside and simply examining the facts.


Facts being, as Matt Wuerker notes in this cartoon and the short, incisive National Press Club interview that goes with it, too often absent from the debate these days.

Wuerker calls for tolerance of opposing viewpoints and decries “Twitter mobs out to hunt down the heretics and burn them at the stake,” longing for a time when we could debate across ideological lines.

A type of debate that forms this

Juxtaposition of the Day

(Signe Wilkinson)


(Steve Benson)

At the core of the Twitter mobs is a kind of iconoclastic fad, and I use “iconoclastic” in its pure historic context, that of smashing statues and images.

Both cartoons raise the issue of who possesses the moral purity to cast the first stone, but Jesus must have been preaching to a particularly self-aware mob, because, in today’s atmosphere, an invitation for the sinless to cast the first stone would result in a hailstorm.

My knowledge of Philadelphia is a little sketchy and my first response to Wilkinson’s cartoon was to wonder what in the hell the Vikings had done to merit being torn down.

Turns out the statue had become a gathering spot for white supremacists, which is incredibly stupid, but so are they. Fair enough.

And I only learned a few days ago, when it was torn down, that Philly had erected a statue of Frank Rizzo, who made Mayor Daley look like Fred Rogers, and my other surprise was learning that he was actually out of office when the MOVE building was bombed, because I always assumed he gave the order.

But Columbus, as noted the other day, I get, which leaves us with William Penn, who, it turns out, did own slaves. Or enslaved people. Whoever.

As this piece suggests, it’s a complicated story, particularly since Quakers were at the forefront of the abolition movement. But, obviously, not all of them.

And it gets more complicated as you ponder the connection between enslaved people and indentured people, which some white supremacy jackasses tried to exploit a few years ago.

But, while indentured servants were frequently ill-treated, there’s no comparison between paying for your passage by agreeing to spending a few years as an exploited worker and being kidnapped and sold into permanent, chattal servitude.

However, while we use careful language to describe the victims of the peculiar institution, we don’t seem to feel any need to be careful in describing those at the other end of the chain.

Dividing everyone into Black Hats and White Hats may have been a good technique for distinguishing them in the days of muddy cinema but — racial color implications aside — real people in the real past were very rarely all evil or all good.

Lincoln didn’t really say “If you look for the evil in mankind, you will surely find it,” but he said other things that sometimes conflicted with each other because he was a real person, not just a statue.

Ditto with TR, ditto with Washington, ditto with Jefferson, and if you’re going to judge them only by their worst moments rather than in context, bear in mind that there are people currently judging George Floyd the same way.

It’s a slope as slippery as the ramps at West Point.

And it means that you can never sing “Amazing Grace” again because its composer, John Newton, was a slave trader. It’s true, he changed his position on the topic, but we don’t recognize context or change in this lynch mob.


I’m kidding about “Amazing Grace” but chocolate is a much more fraught issue, as this Antonio Rodriguez cartoon, drawn in support of World Day Against Child Labor, suggests. Most chocolate comes from places that exploit child labor.

The role of children in the coffee industry was also attacked by some of the cartoonists, and not all “Fair Trade” coffee is truly fair, but there are traders who work directly with the growers and monitor their practices from a human rights perspective.

Again, you need to do some research.

This coffee guy even sources chocolate that doesn’t come from exploitive child labor, but that’s a small percentage of the world supply.

In other words, you can’t just grab a candy bar at the grocery store and still call yourself righteous.

Look: Nobody’s perfect. Not your opponents and not you.

That doesn’t mean you have to stop caring.

Just try to do it without stones in your hands.




7 thoughts on “CSotD: Good research makes good cartooning

  1. Truth aside for Mr. Benson’s cartoon to be logical:
    All history would have to be judged by today’s culture. Meaning these white guys not only had slaves they were also watching sports on flat screens, driving jacked up trucks and getting hot wings and pizza delivered to their door.

  2. When Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House, Mark Twain remarked (in a manuscript marked for posthumous publication) that Washington was “a man worth a hundred Roosevelts, a man whose shoe-latchets Mr. Roosevelt is not worthy to untie.” My impression on first reading it was that Twain was outraged that Washington lowered himself to meet with TR, but now that I review the passage in Mark Twain In Eruption, his criticism of Teddy seems more muted: sort of patronizing.

  3. Oh, Twain hated Teddy Roosevelt, partly because TR generated a lot of noise and press going after the captains of Gilded Age industry who’d become Twain’s dear friends, including Rockefeller. He also just seemed to rub Twain the wrong way personally. I find it very interesting that such visceral face-punching revulsion of a president’s very being wasn’t invented in 2016.

    “[Roosevelt] is naively indifferent to the restraints of duty and even unaware of them; ready to kick the Constitution into the back yard whenever it gets in the way; and whenever he smells a vote, not only is he willing but eager to buy it, give extravagant rates for it and pay the bill not out of his own pocket or the party’s, but out of the nations, by cold pillage.” (1905)

    “We have never had a President before who was destitute of self-respect and of respect for his high office; we have had no President before who was not a gentleman; we have had no President before who was intended for a butcher, a dive-keeper or a bully, and missed his mission.” (1909)

  4. Phil Ochs “Powers and Glory”

    I once heard a version that by him that starts with a fife and drum and has backing vocals.

    Completely moving rendition. Wish I could find it again.

    Still one of my favorite songs. Perhaps a new National Anthem…

  5. It’s interesting that Twain was a friend to oil Barron’s, given he more or less coined the term “guilded age” which was not intended to be a compliment, and was derogatory toward high society’s conspicuous consumption.

  6. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary Mike Peterson.
    Just a couple of historical notes to add further nuance to our understandings:
    Twain was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, which fought against US takeover of Spanish possessions after the Spanish-American war (which resulted in the US “owning” the Phillipines and Puerto Rico up to and past WWII) and generally resisted the idea of Manifest Destiny and the notion that the US military should protect the foreign interests of US companies, even to the point of overthrowing governments and enforcing virtual enslavement. His friendships with industrial magnates I can’t speak to, but it underscores the problem of trying to categorize anyone within strict boundaries.
    Regarding the statement “paying for your passage by agreeing to spending a few years as an exploited worker” – this may have been true of some immigrants, especially by the 18th century, but in the 15th and 16th centuries a lot of people who arrived as servants had been given a choice of staying in prison or boarding a ship in debt to the developers of the colonies. Most of them were in prison because they had been forced off the commons in the British isles by the enclosure acts, and had resorted to petty crime in the cities simply to keep from starving. These were the people who drained the swamps and cleared the land for Jamesburg, plantations in Jamaica and Bermuda, and other colonial settlements. Until an act of parliament ca. 1660 there was no legal distinction in England or its colonies between slaves of one skin color or another, and in fact prior to that date many of the people conquered in wars or imprisoned for whatever crime were sold into slavery, most often ending up as sailors in the burgeoning shipping industry or laborers in the colonies. The racialization of slavery did not get encoded into law until ca. 1660, and took a while to become what it became by the 1700s. By the way, investors in the commerce of the colonies included virtually every affluent friend of the crown, including such luminaries as William Shakespeare.
    It has been argued by some historians that the primary reason for encoding skin color into the laws governing slavery and indentured servitude was to “divide and conquer” the growing united resistance to the dominance of mercantilism and prevent more rebellions from happening, which were happening quite frequently in the 1600s. The rebellion in New York City in 1642 is a case in point, where black, white (of multiple ethnicities), and American Indian laborers, sailors, and farmers tried to stage a revolution that probably lost because of spies in their midst that betrayed their plans in advance.
    The superficiality and class bias of most history education in the US is a detriment to democracy.
    While I sympathize with the sentiment to tear down a statue of someone portrayed as a hero who clearly was something other, I’d rather see such individuals memorialized as an object lesson, perhaps with new statues added adjacent that help to fill in the voids in the picture. We would be served well to know, understand, and remember what has come before, including the exaltation of those who made fame or fortune from the misery of others.

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