CSotD: In Pursuit of the Orange Whale

As is often said here, the “bland restatement” technique of cartoons like This Modern World is often a problem, since the absurd things the characters say are not far off from things actually being said.

That’s true of this piece, but the hyperbole of Trump being in possession of an actual nuclear weapon, rather than highly classified information about nuclear weapons, boosts it enough to make it a good parody of what Trump loyalists are putting forward as a defense.

We’re caught in a sort of absurdity loop in which it’s important to doublecheck whatever you hear, no matter how illogical, unlikely or downright insane it appears to be.

This brings up two points, the first being that there are a lot of people on social media who think they are Andy Borowitz or writers for the Onion, but aren’t. Their inept attempts at satire are simply another form of disinformation and hardly constructive.

The other point is more problematic, at least in this forum: I’m seeing cartoons that either assume that Judge Aileen Cannon is actually, actively corrupt, or that assume Trump has already sold classified information to foreign governments. I don’t think we know enough to make credible accusations along either line, nor do I think it advances the conversation.

Granted, the other day, I featured a Tom the Dancing Bug piece based on Trump selling secrets, but noted then that it was clearly a joke rather than a serious accusation. By contrast, I don’t think you can base a cartoon on an unsupported accusation and have it carry any heft.

Several cartoonists, however, have threaded the needle successfully.


In this New Yorker cartoon, Ivan Ehlers certainly dances on the border of speculation, with an attorney outlining a clear strategy of dishonesty for a client with yellow hair, practicing before a judge who looks a great deal like Judge Cannon.

However, like Ruben Bolling’s piece on selling secrets, Ehlers is justified by the absurdity of his caption. In this case, it’s not that the premise is ridiculous except that he is unabashedly frank about it.

One of the current cliches floating around is “saying the silent part out loud,” and it’s always amusing and a little frightening when someone lets slip an intention that should be disqualifying, particularly when it isn’t. What makes Ehlers’ gag work is that we aren’t all that far from being this honest, but even the most inartful loyalist would avoid saying it out loud.

By comparison, Ann Telnaes dispenses — as she generally does — with a caption at all, couching her absurd exaggeration purely in the visual. She has long ago established the personas of Trump and Giuliani as incompetent cartoon mobsters, but you don’t have to be a long-time Telnaes reader to pick up on that notion, while she dismisses Cannon as one more object to be piled up against the door, more of a tool than an active co-conspirator.

That’s not an analysis snatched out of thin air. Former Solicitor General Neal Katyal posted his take on Judge Cannon’s order establishing the special master, not so much accusing her of pro-Trump prejudice as of basic incompetence. He tears apart several major points as either unjustified or irrelevant before concluding “That’s just a few of many more problems. Frankly, any of my first year law students would have written a better opinion.”

It seems, BTW, ironic that Trump, who once insisted an Indiana-born judge of Mexican parentage was not neutral enough to hear charges against him, went judge-shopping for a Colombian-born judge now. It is unfair to assume that the fact that he appointed her puts her in his back pocket, but it’s not unfair to point out that she had never sat on the bench prior to her appointment, nor is it unfair to point out that she is a member of the far-right Federalist Society.


It’s also fair game to note that Trump’s own attorney general has gone on public record as agreeing that her decision was thin at best and seems ripe for an appeal.


And then Andy Marlette (Creators) drags in the increasingly hapless Rudy for a guest appearance. This, again, is clearly a joke, but there’s an interesting element behind the ridiculous prospect, and not simply that Judge Cannon, if she is a loyalist, might let this poor old fellow, whose law license in his home state has been suspended, assume the role.

Rather, it’s that the disclosure by the feds that actual nuclear secrets about another country were among the documents seized, which suggests that few people have a high enough clearance to review the documents at all.

No matter what her ethical neutrality, Cannon may find it hard to find a legally qualified special master.


Adam Zyglis seems on firm ground in noting the growing desperation of the Trump team. We don’t know what was in those classified folders, but it’s increasingly clear that he’s running out of defense strategies, if only because he’s resorted to hiring OAN anchors and TV lawyers, given that more credible attorneys are either afraid of going unpaid or, worse, of losing their licenses if they sign on with him.

As others have noted, the call for a special master should have been made immediately following the search-and-seizure, not two weeks later, after DOJ had been able to review the materials. Cannon has specifically declared that the bell must be unrung, but, however difficult that task, the content of the materials is secondary to the simple fact that the former president was not authorized to have them in his possession.

It might be nice, as Ed Hall suggests, to know where the contents of those folders has gone. Did Trump return the contents and keep the folders? Are the original contents among the other materials the FBI recovered? Have they been distributed elsewhere?

Enquiring minds want to know, but I’m not sure the law needs to.


Jeff Stahler (AMS) presents the whole thing as a stalling device, and I’d agree, with this tip: As a wee lad, I learned that, if you can trace a line from one border of a maze to the opposite side, the puzzle cannot be solved.

Let’s hope Stahler’s maze is wrong.


One thought on “CSotD: In Pursuit of the Orange Whale

  1. One of the memes that seems apropriate starts off with the statement : “Trump already has a special master” followed by a photo of Putin.

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