The Sorensen Monologues

Ballcap Semiotics

There’s been a flood of upsetting news stories lately, but — perhaps partly because of this — I felt like doing something more fun for a change. I recently purchased a Trucker Hat “Lite” at a thrift store after sifting through a massive bin of ball caps (rejecting ones with camouflage or golf clubs), which got me thinking about the powerful symbolism of headwear. Of course everything is political, even hats, so we end up back at Trump.

Doing a little research for this cartoon, I found out that the standard ballcap is actually referred to as a “Dad hat” in industry parlance. I did not know this.



Bourgeois Bubbas

One of the biggest intellectual scams perpetrated by the right is the idea that supporting an inclusive, pluralistic vision of America somehow makes one an “elite.” As a public school-educated daughter of teachers who grew up in a rural area, I especially resent hearing this from blue-blood multimillionaire frat boy types like Tucker Carlson. I mean, check out the Orwellian absurdity of this screenshot (from Media Matters):

TuckerCarlsonScreenshot

 

Unfortunately, many progressives have internalized the “elite” label which is foundational to conservatives’ victimization narrative. Think of the language they’ve popularized over the years. There’s David Brooks’ “Bobos in Paradise,” which mocked “bourgeois bohemians.” There’s the vapid insult “limousine liberal.” Both terms imply a kind of hypocrisy; yet I would argue that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with progressives having money so long as they put that money towards addressing inequality and vote accordingly. Meanwhile, no such term exists to describe these wealthy posers on the right who fight policies that might actually help ordinary workers at every step.



Victim Mentality 2018

I’m a day late posting this here, as I was in Portland, OR over the weekend for my cartoonist pal Matt Bors’ wedding. This week’s comic addresses a longstanding trope of the right, that “liberals” wallow in a “victim mentality” that makes them weak and whiny, unlike conservatives, who obviously never complain about anything. Of course, we have seen right-wing assertions of of victimhood on full display recently, from the White House Correspondents Dinner controversy to the strangely sympathetic tone some have taken towards so-called “incels” in the wake of the Toronto massacre. Indeed, one might say contemporary American conservativism has become an unparalleled culture of grievance.



‘Dragon Energy’ Explained

I find Kanye’s use of the term “dragon energy” endlessly fascinating. I think it gets at the heart of the Trump phenomenon more than a billion words spilled by all the nation’s pundits. Many have remarked on Trump’s misogyny and macho posturing, but the symbolism goes deeper than that. It’s masculinity as a mystical power, a spiritual essence that imbues the entire country, reclaiming it from the “feminizing” forces of “political correctness” and perceived weakness of the Obama administration. The entire alt-right movement has its roots in an anti-feminist backlash. Of course, there’s a lot more going on here with regard to race, and the idea of Trump — a man disinclined to walk very far without a golf cart — as a source of strength is ridiculous on its face.

In case you’re curious, the quote in the second panel comes from this NYT article.



Introducing the Sorensen Subscription Service

At long last, I’m launching the Sorensen Subscription Service. Many readers have inquired about this over the years, with some going so far as to set up their own “service” through recurring donations (thanks!). While I’m still fortunate to have paying clients who make the strip possible each week, it seems clear that reader subscriptions will be a necessary part of my business model going forward. Especially if the GOP destroys the Affordable Care Act and my health insurance premiums approach the cost of porn star hush money.

Those who join the S.S.S. (which may eventually take on a more novel name — The Eagle’s Clutch, anyone?) will, at an absolute minimum, receive the cartoon via email each week as soon as it is ready for consumption. I have big plans to include bonus material, such as behind-the-scenes glimpses of the creative process and photos of what I’m up to. You’ll also stay in the loop regarding public appearances, side projects, and forthcoming books.

So sign up today! It’s cheap and easy and will give you a warm, gentle glow of satisfaction.


Dog Whistles of Our Times: “Identity Politics”

This paragraph from Linda Burnham in the Guardian last year spells out the problem nicely:

It’s never a good idea to enter willingly into a frame your opponent has constructed to entrap you. The term “identity politics” is part of a whole vocabulary including “thought police,” “politically correct,” and “liberal elites”, whose main intention is to undermine the legitimacy of liberal and left politics. Uncritically adopting the “identity politics” language of the right is the equivalent of dropping our guard and waltzing on to their terrain. Master’s tools, master’s house, anyone? We need to recognise a toxic frame when we see one and refuse to be a party to its proliferation.

Once upon a time, “identity politics” was a phrase heard occasionally in the halls of academia (at least, for those of us who were social science majors), typically in discussion of nationalist movements or other phenomena outside of day-to-day US political debate. Now, thanks largely to right-wing media, it has become a noxious catchphrase that lumps together all social justice movements — the fight for civil rights, equality for women, same-sex marriage, immigrant rights, to name just a few — into a belittling abstraction that makes these great historical movements sound frivolous. The phrase has become so normalized, many progressives use it uncritically. We need to wake up and recognize it for what it has become: a sanitized shorthand for “those people” — a dog whistle. You want to talk about these issues? Be specific. Spell out what you mean. Are you referring to Black Lives Matter? Don’t hide behind a sterile, human being-erasing euphemism.



In Trump They Trust

It seems no amount of shady business partners, porn star payoffs, mafia-esque fixers, blatant nepotism, fraud lawsuits, looney tunes campaign advisers, secret contacts with Russians, or income tax secrecy will ever convince some of Trump’s devout followers that he’s a con man. Indeed, some of them would probably cheer Oregon being sold off to the House of Saud; I really just felt like drawing some Portland hipsters.



Fueling Our Demise

When it comes to fuel efficiency and climate change, automakers have been brazenly talking out of both sides of their mouths. To quote from the NY Times:

At auto shows and on dealership floors, automakers are quick to talk about the latest green technology — electric vehicles, hybrids, even hydrogen cars.

But in Washington, the industry is sending a different message. Last month, one of the largest lobbying groups argued in a regulatory filing that the basic science behind climate change is not to be trusted.

In the same filing, the lobbying group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, also cast doubt on the negative effects of tailpipe pollution on human health.

As the article goes on to explain, they’re actually using the same doubt-sowing tactics that were infamously used by the cigarette industry. A 2013 MIT study found 200,000 premature deaths in the US every year due to air pollution, with “emissions from road transportation” being the most significant contributor. If anything, I lowballed the estimate in the third panel of this cartoon.

EPA chief and beady-eyed corruption sponge Scott Pruitt rightly gets much of the blame for cutting Obama’s CAFE standards, but let’s not forget that the automakers began lobbying for this immediately after Trump took office. As much as they might not want to be publicly linked to Pruitt, they are more than complicit. (And yes, we’ll see what happens with California’s challenge to all of this.)

Other recommended reading: this Greenbiz column on the automakers’ hypocrisy, and one of my perennial faves, Mr. Money Mustache on the folly of gargantuan luxury pickups.



Cartoon: Parkland Potshots

Over the past couple weeks, the right has been grasping at ever more ridiculous krazy straws in its efforts to smear the Parkland school shooting survivors calling for modest gun control reform. Rick Santorum laughably suggested that the students stop looking to others to solve their problem and do something useful like take CPR classes. Laura Ingraham gratuitously mocked student David Hogg for “whining” about not getting into the colleges he applied to. Frank Stallone tweeted that Hogg was, among other things, a “rich little bitch” deserving a “sucker punch” and a “bitch slap.” He also called him “Hogg (breath)” (yes, he went there). Ted Nugent called them “mushy-brained children” who have no soul, which is actually a mild-mannered statement as far as Nuge-speak goes. A recent widely-shared RedState article begged the students’ parents to step in and put a stop to their “bloated sense of entitlement.” The list goes on, but all these bile spewers have accomplished is demonstrating how ludicrous and extreme the right has become.



Post-Facebook Privacy Breakthrough

Print journalism has of course never been perfect, and social media can be enlightening (see: #BlackLivesMatter). But sometimes I fantasize about what would happen if everyone turned off cable news and unplugged from Facebook and Twitter, and simply subscribed to a print newspaper. And read their local altweekly, if they’re lucky enough to have one. I suspect America would be a lot less crazy.



Assault on Reason

As we see some news outlets try to portray “both sides” of the school shooting protests, let us remember that “the students don’t understand gun owners or gun culture” is not an argument. It’s just a tired, vacuous insult that does not contribute in any way to the discussion at hand.



Troubled Times

As a longtime loyal New York Times reader, it saddens me to have to critique the paper like this. The Times has always been a mixed bag, but some of their investigative reporting is very good. And really, the country needs a fully functioning New York Times — so we should all be trying to make it better, not destroy it.

That said, they have recently gone down a rabbit hole on their editorial pages. In their hiring decisions and topical obsessions, they have doubled down on a misguided attempt to not appear to have “liberal bias.” For example, they (or whoever specifically makes these decisions) have apparently bought into the hyperbolic, highly-distorting, and relentless Fox News obsession with a small number of overzealous college students as an attempt to smear all progressives. Fox’s game is straight from an authoritarian playbook, attacking academia and academics as the “real threat” to a free society, even as we are in the middle of an actual attempted fascist takeover of the country. (Meanwhile, Trump cozies up to people like Erdogan of Turkey, who literally throw academics in prison and fill populations with a sense of victimization at the hands of intellectuals, teachers, etc.) It’s worth noting that the Times actually hired as an editorial page editor a woman who, as a college student, was known for attacking professors who criticize Israeli state policies toward Palestinians.

Indeed, the Times’ self-righteous condescension towards, and stereotyping of, its own readership seems an awful lot like the attitude it chides “liberals” for displaying towards Trump voters — those saintly, salt-of-the-earth people who are definitely not racist (perish the thought!), and are above reproach.

Here are some suggestions for columnists they could have picked if they valued actual diversity of perspectives, and elevating underheard voices instead of dominant ones:

  • • An environmental expert commenting on climate change and the rampant gutting of environmental protections
  • • A Muslim, or Palestinian-American, who might talk about the criminally-neglected topic of Palestinian rights
  • • A woman of color
  • • An immigrant
  • • A critic of late capitalism, talking about how to innovate away from its worst excesses and power structures towards a more sustainable system of commerce

The country desperately needs the Times to rise to the occasion and help good people preserve democracy in America. Some readers have canceled their subscriptions, and this may or may not be an effective form of protest. I’m not sure about the best tactics here, but I hope the Times sees the light soon.




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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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