CSotD: Swift thinking

Michael de Adder (Lincoln Project) provides a ridiculous look at a ridiculous effort, and he’s not the first cartoonist to invoke the “clown car” analogy in the current storm of preposterous appeals against mathematics, logic and law.

But I like his use of state flags, because, while the drawing itself is silly, what isn’t funny is that these attorneys general had, at least for the most part, acted without authority to declare their states aligned with an attempted coup.

That is, they must have talked to somebody before signing on, but I didn’t see any news stories about votes to authorize, and I saw at least a couple in which the person who should have made the call spoke out against it.

Which is funny but not laughable, in that their argument before the Court — an argument that was too foolish to actually get before the Court — was that the state legislatures had acted beyond their powers.

Geez Louise, look who’s talking!

People who don’t understand political cartooning often complain that a particular piece was “not funny,” sometimes because it doesn’t include a punchline and a cream pie, sometimes because it addresses a serious topic that they feel should be treated only with utmost gravity.

Such that, when Jonathan Swift suggested eating the children of the poor, there were outraged voices raised against the proposal, and today the works of Andy Borowitz and the Onion are often passed along as news.

Sometimes in horror, sometimes approvingly.

But even those who understand dark humor sometimes have to be reminded that clowns and fools can be very dark indeed.

Case in point:


Juxtaposition of the Day


(Steve Sack – Times Tribune)

(Ann Telnaes – WashPost)

The topic here is the Republican Party’s willingness to undermine the basis of our government in order to retain power, and specifically the election of the President, though, in fairness, I should note that both cartoons were drawn before yesterday’s demonstrations.

Not that I think either cartoonist would retreat a millimeter.

Sack makes a pun out of the GOP’s efforts to subvert the electoral process, pointing out how their actions are in direct contradiction to their oaths of office. The cartoon is silly, the topic is not, and he doesn’t offer much opportunity for the reader to misinterpret his intent.

By contrast, Telnaes is less directive, counting on the reader’s ability to figure it out. She offers a hint, however, by playing on the popular Internet metaphor of “eating popcorn,” meaning to not simply stand by and fail to prevent a disaster but to enjoy watching it happen.

While Sack’s elephants are funny-looking, her rat is evil, and, having given the popcorn hint, there’s no need for her to add a caption to further explain her intent — in fact, she doesn’t even specify what Trump is destroying, which makes her cartoon not just a comment on the election but on the past four years.

And, after all, we’d have never gotten to last night’s point, or the point in Sack’s cartoon, if the rat hadn’t stood by, watching with pleasure while the standards and mores under which our nation operates were obliterated, piece by piece, blow by blow.

If you can find laughs in that, you may also be one of those tone-deaf people who think that “Gulliver’s Travels” is a children’s book.

Those who read the book recognize a major shift in satiric tone: When, in his first voyage, Gulliver describes Lilliputian politicians dancing on a highwire to gain office, it’s funny, even though a few of them are seriously injured in falls.

But by his final trip, to the land of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver is repulsed by the yahoos, ashamed to be seen as one of them and depressed by the prospect of returning to a world in which they are the dominant animal.

Literature majors call this “character development,” but, from an author/reader POV, it simply means that Swift has made his point and thus it’s been quite a while since the reader has laughed.

The book is deemed a classic because its central themes never go out of style.


Pat Bagley (SLC Trib) lays out a similar journey, from 2016, when politicians capitalized on the undertone of cruelty and lack of compassion among the Deplorables, to the current day, when the yahoos’ appetite for tyranny and authoritarianism has not only risen to the top but is now being welcomed, encouraged and exploited by their puppet masters.

Or, at least, it has been up to now.

Again, this was drawn prior to yesterday’s astonishing and frightening displays of overt racism, vulgarity and explicit desire to overturn the democratic process, but Bagley simply read what was in the air a few days before it appeared in the streets.

There was an alleged quote going around the Intertubes some months ago — which turned out to be phony but still made sense — in which a survivor of Germany in the 30s said it was a case of a third of the country being willing to kill another third of the country while the remaining third stood by and did nothing.

There were some stabbings in DC last night and a shooting at a rally in Olympia, but we haven’t begun putting people into cattle cars.

Still, is that the breaking point?

Is it okay to hatch a plot to kidnap, try and execute a governor, as long as you screw it up and fail? And as long as you don’t put people into cattle cars?

I guess the violence in the street is better than no violence in the street, since it indicates that not everybody is willing to stand by and let it happen.

But it seems wrong that the Republican Party is willing, though, if they heard the chants of “Destroy the GOP” yesterday, they may wonder whether their beast is truly under control.

For my part, I suspect the falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Or no longer wants to listen.


9 thoughts on “CSotD: Swift thinking

  1. It’s no longer a political party, but the Cult of Trump. I wouldn’t put it past him to launch his own party.

  2. I had no idea that popcorn was so politically loaded. Thanks for the warning. I’ll be careful if I ever get to go to the movies again.

  3. @ #1 William Ramwell

    Oh, please!
    If Trump were to launch his own political party, one of two things would happen.
    Either he would fail miserably and completely, and we would never see him again.
    Or, he would split the GOP for a decade or more, hamstringing them on the national level. I don’t think that it would really change the local and state level gerrymandering, but for national elections, who would be the winner in a 3 way race between Democrat, Republican, and Trumpist?

  4. H. L. Mencken said a lot about politics: this is the best-known quote, from 1926.
    ‘No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.’

  5. To Mr. Ramwell — you’ve outlined why it would be a bad idea for Trump to start his own party, but not why he wouldn’t do it anyway.

  6. Trump doesn’t need to start his own party, he already has one. What I’m wondering is, what will become of the 10% of Republicans who still think it’s their party?

  7. Kathleen : Thank you for the quote and its source – I’ve been attributing a shorter version to PT Barnum, so I am grateful for the correction !

  8. If Fascism were trying to rise in the U.S ,they couldn’t have picked a more inept fool. In the other hand perhaps their pick was purposeful.

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