The Collapse of Retro Trends

The Collapse of Retro Trends

I needed a break from politics this week. I’ve been toying with this idea for a while — that the 2010s will be difficult to define aesthetically, since they’ve pretty much been a postmodern hodgepodge of previous decades. I’ve been particularly struck by the resurgence of large-ish, round wire-rimmed glasses that resemble my very first pair that I wore in the ’90s. Between this and the tackier excesses of the mid-to-late ’80s, it seems like some of the very worst style statements are now ironically in vogue. And yet, I am a fan of the high fade and Sabbathy stoner metal. And as I listened to some Steely Dan to get in the spirit of the yacht rock panel, I found myself wishing I was sipping champagne on a sailboat in Southern California in the late ’70s, forty years removed from this ghastly political moment. (You know things are bad when the ’70s malaise looks like paradise!)

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The Sorensen Monologues

Impeachment Riddles

Running behind with posting this week, as I’ve been in Austin getting a bunch of stuff out of storage. This cartoon was mostly inspired by the fact that Trump’s support is holding steady even after a week of scorching impeachment testimony from some very brave public servants, which is not a good sign. 



A Brief History of Facebook

Facebook recently sponsored a Federalist Society event at which Brett Kavanaugh was the keynote speaker, despite objections from its own employees and public protests. The speech was understood by many to be an attempt to rehabilitate Kavanaugh’s image in the wake of credible sexual assault allegations. This comes on the heels of Facebook saying it would not vet political ads for accuracy and making white nationalist propaganda outlet Breitbart a “trusted” news source. Indeed, Facebook clearly seems to have chosen to cozy up to the authoritarian right rather than use its influence to defend democratic norms (or sexual assault survivors, for that matter).

Steve Jobs and internet developers of the early computing era came out of a sixties counterculture that saw decentralized communication and individual expression as a bulwark against totalitarianism. There is perhaps no clearer example of this than the famous MacIntosh “1984” ad that appeared during the Super Bowl. In the commercial, Big Brother gets smashed by the power of personal computing. In real life, we can see how Jobs’ utopian vision ultimately failed (with some exceptions in the area of social media activism). Increasingly, as massive technology companies like Facebook partner with the present-day, Russia-corrupted, disinformation-sowing GOP, they’ve become the very Orwellian entities that the Cold War-era developers thought they were rebelling against.

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Those Woke Kids Today

Stories about bad behavior by “today’s coddled youth” have been so cherry-picked, massively blown out of proportion and weaponized by Fox News, you’d think it was the biggest crisis the country faced instead of, you know, fascism and the end of democracy and destruction of the planet via climate catastrophe. So when someone supposedly on our side speaks in generalities like “woke culture,” they’re tapping into a frame that’s used to demonize the entire progressive movement.

The “plastic finger” line in the second panel is of course taken from the Jimi Hendrix song “If 6 was 9”, which contains the immortal lyrics:

White collared conservative flashing down the street
Pointing their plastic finger at me, huh
They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die
But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high

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Secular Assault

A few weeks ago, Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Notre Dame that appalled even many devout Catholics. The full quote in the first panel, which I had to paraphrase slightly for brevity, is “Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

Sometimes I can’t believe it’s 2019 and we are still having to relitigate the Enlightenment. This idea that morality can only come from Biblical teachings (and yes, I believe he is only talking about his own preferred holy book and not the Koran or the writings of the Buddha) is absurd and certainly not borne out in practice. Look no further than Barr’s own disgusting hypocrisy, telling lies in the service of a wildly corrupt would-be dictator, enabling the destruction of the planet, the brutal treatment of refugees, cruelty toward the poor under a system of predatory greed and ever-widening inequality. Not to mention his disregard for the First Amendment’s prohibition of a state religion. And yet progressives are constantly scolded these days as “intolerant” while smug theocrats like Barr get a pass.

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A Few Hurdles

There’s been a lot of cheering about Trump getting booed at the World Series (a good thing, to be sure), and how the administration’s bizarre admissions of guilt are going to lead to the end of this demented clown show once and for all. It could be the case that justice is right around the corner, or at least the 2020 elections will turn things around. But I do think overconfidence can backfire — it did in 2016! — and that many people are underestimating the obstacles.

The Trump administration’s behavior doesn’t seem all that strange if you realize authoritarianism isn’t something we risk facing in the future — it’s already here. Opponents of democracy have captured large amounts of institutional power and reality itself. The fact that Facebook is bending the knee and promoting Breitbart as a legitimate news source should send chills down everyone’s spine. And, right on cue, Georgia is purging another 330,000 voters, although Stacey Abrams is on the case. Some readers will undoubtedly see this cartoon as defeatist, but to achieve victory, we need an accurate view of what we’re up against.

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There is No Ukraine

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Right Wing Punk

This was inspired partly by various accounts of conservatives describing themselves as the true punks of today, as well as the recent fiasco of SNL hiring and firing comedian Shane Gillis, who described his hackneyed racist and misogynist comedy as “pushing boundaries.” Apparently the word “transgressive” now applies to the culture of a 1950s segregationist backwater. (For truly weird, envelope-pushing comedy, I’d recommend A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO.) 

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Fear of a Female Wonk

Let me say up front that I’d be fine with Warren or Sanders as the Democratic nominee, or even some of the other candidates who are polling behind them. As American democracy collapses, I’m not that into splitting hairs beyond wanting a leader who understands what’s happening and is willing to make some bold moves to stop it. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking critical questions of presidential contenders, it does strike me as absurd how Warren is spun as some kind of scary “radical leftist” by mainstream wags, and “mainstream corporate lady” by some leftist wags. I don’t have the energy to elaborate on all the things Warren has done for working people. Perhaps America is too anti-intellectual and sexist to vote for someone like her. But it depresses me to hear this stuff.

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The Court of Public Opinion

I get that many Americans still aren’t fully on board with impeachment, although those numbers seem to be changing. But there comes a time when the illegality and corruption are so eye-poppingly egregious, to do nothing isn’t really an option. At this point, the talking heads still fixated on the partisan horse race are focused on the wrong question. There will be no turning back if we don’t at least try to stop this assault on what remains of our democracy.
 
Though I couldn’t fit this into the cartoon, I realize that changes in law such as those during the Civil Rights Movement did in fact depend on changing public opinion. Simple enforcement of the law, though, is not in principle a matter of partisan politics.
 
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Cartoon: Calling for Impeachment

I decided to make this a very straightforward narrative about Trump and Ukraine, as I get the sense that some people might not be up on all the details. There is, in fact, no scandal involving Joe Biden’s son, but the Trump administration has been extremely successful at laundering such stories into mainstream media outlets prone to parroting the words of Very Important Officials, and eager to report “both sides” even when one side is the equivalent of a hot, steaming democracy-crushing cowpie.

As this TPM article notes, we’re in uncharted territory here. A former Obama staffer noted:

“When you withhold military assistance to a country at war with Russia because you want to compel the country to launch a political investigation into your opponent, that’s outside the bounds of anything that’s happened in U.S. political history,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the GOP has paralyzed the Federal Election Commission and Mitch McConnell is blocking anti-corruption measures. Just FYI.

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Honest Democratic debate questions

I have trouble watching the debates these days because they feel like a gigantic farce. They’re like a holdover from another era, normalizing events that gloss over Republicans’ breathtaking attacks on democratic norms. Here we are, gathering the candidates to discuss the nuances of their policy proposals so Americans can make a rational, informed decision about whom to vote for. Never mind the GOP’s scorched-earth obstructionism, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, Trump’s packed judiciary, absurd gerrymandering that favors Republicans, the Electoral College, and massive voter suppression efforts (more than 1,000 polling places have closed since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act). I realize this can sound a little cynical and defeatist, which isn’t my point. Hearing good ideas and having a vision for the Democratic party is important. But there’s a big authoritarian elephant in the room.

As I was finishing up this comic, I saw that Paul Krugman had some similar thoughts in his latest column.

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Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

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