The Sorensen Monologues
While I still believe there’s not much to say about the Mueller Report until we actually know what’s in the Mueller Report, the response to the Barr letter has been disturbing. Barr was specifically hired to defend Trump at all costs. The man is a partisan toad with a long track record of partisan toadery; it’s what he does. The Trump administration is defined by disinformation; it’s what they do. To take anything said by a Trump official at face value, ignoring this vast context of corruption and disinformation, is simply bad journalism and poor critical thinking.
Mueller found many crimes and charged many people. We are only talking about his inability to bring indictments against top officials — which is a genuine mystery, and one that will only be resolved by the report itself. To quote TPM:
It is undisputed that the Russian government brazenly interfered in the 2016 election to support Donald Trump. In so doing, the Russians and those acting on their behalf committed a variety of federal crimes including computer hacking and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Those crimes were committed to benefit (a) Vladimir Putin and the interests of the Russian government; and (b) Donald J. Trump. It is also undisputed that Trump and his campaign joyfully used and weaponized the information the Russians stole against Hillary Clinton. Trump personally trumpeted the Wikileaks disclosures 141 times during the campaign, and his surrogates countless more times. While Mueller’s team apparently “did not establish” (i.e., did not find enough evidence to charge criminally) that Trump personally conspired with the Russian government to commit the underlying crimes, there is no question that he was (along with Putin) the single biggest beneficiary of those criminal efforts.
Now, pro-Trump conspiracy theorists are feeling extra-emboldened to call those who have actually followed this story the real conspiracy theorists. It’s all rather depressingly Orwellian.
I suppose everyone is talking about the Mueller Report now, but I don’t really have much to say until we learn what’s actually in the report. We know from public records that the Trump campaign had all sorts of dealings with Russia that any reasonable person would interpret as coordination; we do not know why Mueller was unable to bring charges. Anyone making sweeping conclusions based on the wording of the Barr letter is engaging in uninformed spin and premature bloviation. Unfortunately, this seems to be most of the media.
Speaking of which, a far more important issue we face is the crisis in journalism. I’ve had the idea for a while now that if Fox News were an individual reporter, he or she would have been denounced as an unethical fraud and exiled from the profession. But when this same lack of ethics applies to an entire network, many media insiders can’t bring themselves to apply the same standards. Anyone remember Jayson Blair, the fabulist reporter who caused a major scandal for the New York Times? You might say Fox is like that, but with a plutocratic agenda.
Fox covers for itself by sprinkling in very small amounts of real reporting alongside wackadoo disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories, and hate speech. This leads other media professionals to erroneously defend the network in the name of “press freedom.” It creates an opening for holier-than-thou pundits to call the Dems “closed-minded” for not having a debate on the channel, when a more apt comparison would be having a debate on InfoWars. Well-meaning progressive groups play into this strategy when they celebrate the occasional Fox anchor who criticizes Trump or says something sane. Recently, former Democratic strategist Donna Brazile made the decision to join Fox as a contributor, further lending them the veneer of legitimacy. (I was going to include her at the end of the cartoon, but decided it made things too complicated.)
I had a bit of an internal debate over the title of this cartoon, because I felt using the first name of a female politician while using the last name of a male one could be seen as tapping into gender preconceptions about authority figures. But in my personal experience, New Zealanders often refer to Jacinda Ardern as “Jacinda” much like Beto O’Rourke is referred to as “Beto.” I had to identify her as being from New Zealand, since many Americans don’t know her name, and “Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand” was getting a bit unwieldy.
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I’m declaring it a rule that every cartoonist gets to do one cartoon with made-up Latin names every five years. They are too much fun.
This cartoon is, of course, inspired by recent events surrounding Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who said a couple critical things about U.S.-Israel foreign policy using language that mildly, and possibly inadvertently, evokes anti-Semitic tropes. In a spectacular display of hypocrisy, the GOP has seized on Omar after remaining silent about, and often encouraging, the very real rise of anti-Semitism within their own ranks, most notoriously among the alt-right. (You will recall they literally chanted “Jews will not replace us” at the hate rally in Charlottesville.) So the grandstanding from the likes of Liz Cheney and Jeanine Pirro, who in a stunning display of Islamophobia linked Omar’s hijab to Sharia law, which she declared antithetical to the US Constitution, should not be taken seriously by anyone. These are bad-faith political opportunists, and the media should treat them as such.
I read a depressing Dave Eggers article in the Guardian over the weekend about the recent Trump rally in El Paso, where multiple people are quoted as liking Trump because he’s “strong.” This would be the ultimate triumph of form over content, of personality cult over policy, of perceived “masculinity” over “feminine weakness,” of unhinged belligerent bluster over anything real. So, with this in mind, I tried placing progressive policy ideas in the voice of someone hypermasculine and dumb. Some may think this is similar to the Liberal Redneck, who I’m a fan of, but the Liberal Redneck spouts wisdom in a lovely southern drawl. The character in my cartoon is intended to be more like George W. Bush or Trump, someone who simply acts dumb (or is dumb) to advance a political agenda.
So Trump is starting up a Presidential Committee on Climate Security as a counterpoint to various agencies (including the Pentagon) that view climate change as a national security threat. Chairing this committee would be one William Happer, a physicist and climate skeptic who said on CNBC in 2014: “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.” Later, he said “Demonization of CO2 and people like me who come to its defense is nothing to be proud of. It really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.” Sometimes when the fruit is hanging this low, it’s hard to resist drawing a cartoon about it.
After writing a bunch of gags around Happer’s ridiculous analogy, it felt to me that the situation is far too dark to end the cartoon on a light, jokey note. Climate journalist David Wallace-Wells has been citing a study showing that we are at risk of 150 million premature deaths, or 25 Holocausts, from air pollution by the end of the century if we do not limit global warming to an extent that seems unlikely right now. Given Happer’s comments, it felt fitting to end with this more sobering comparison.
This cartoon was inspired by Trump’s recent Twitter explosion over Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him on SNL. Among other things, Trump called for “retribution” and added “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Garry Kasparov noted that this was reminiscent of Putin’s attack on the Russian satire show Kukly. Per Newsweek:
In Kukly’s most infamous episode, broadcast in January 2000, Putin was depicted as an evil, infant gnome muttering the kind of earthy expressions that had built up his tough-guy persona. Putin was reportedly furious, and the removal of his puppet was one of the conditions required by Kremlin aides for the TV channel’s survival. NTV refused to comply, and within months, the channel was under state control. Putin jokes quickly vanished from Russia’s television screens.
While we aren’t quite there yet, we seem to be on an authoritarian slide.
In the SNL skit, Alec Baldwin (as Trump) refers to his “personal hell of playing president” and I thought I’d riff on that. I’m sure some will argue it’s incorrect to call Trump a pretend president, but when you’ve lost the popular vote and are only in office because of foreign interference, and are probably compromised by said foreign nation, then I think it is fair to say this is an illegitimate president.
I’m in the process of updating the site, so if you see some broken bits here and there, that’s why. Of course, when you become a subscriber, the cartoon and commentary are luxuriously delivered to your very own inbox, thus allowing you to avoid the website altogether!
With all this talk of immigrants assimilating (or not assimilating) into “our culture,” it’s often implied that said culture is white and Christian. But if you consider that America is, in fact, a highly-diverse nation of immigrants — E pluribus unum, anyone? — the true outliers seem to be those who view the nation as a monolithic body resembling themselves. If anything, it is these folks who have not fully integrated, and who reject American values.
In the second panel, I originally drew “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting out of the pickup truck, but that particular lyric complicated the message I was trying to convey with the Confederate flag, since Alabama actually is a part of the United States thanks to the outcome of the Civil War. So I opted for some fitting lyrics from “Free Bird” instead.
Plutocratic putz Howard Schultz is often referred to as a “centrist” who is outraged at the “leftward” shift of the Democratic party, with special animus towards those Democrats calling for higher taxes on the super-wealthy. I am troubled by the rightward shift of our conception of the political “center” — the product of the right growing ever more extreme while the Dems have, over the years, tended to compromise in the name of bipartisanship. Defining the center as the halfway point between two parties without regard to policy specifics is both meaningless and insane. Even calling Schultz “socially liberal and economically conservative” makes no sense. The two are interrelated, with the latter undermining the former.
I suspect many of my fellow lefties will recoil at the thought of being “centrist” in any way. But we need to buck the both-sidesism that creates false equivalence between progressive Democrats and the lunatics of the Trump administration.
Just as the Dems have been putting forward some popular and economically-sound ideas about helping working people, along comes ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to dump on everything. Among Schultz’s many inane statements: “We haven’t had a balanced budget since President [Bill] Clinton. Think about that.”
Yeah, because the George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have all been equally fiscally irresponsible, right? And it’s not like one of those presidents inherited a devastating recession and grossly-mismanaged budget himself, and did a pretty good job of fixing things. Republicans can blow up the budget until the cows come home, but Dems will always get the finger wag no matter how many times they clean up a mess.
I wrote the penthouse joke in the third panel before I checked to see whether Howard Schultz actually had one, and sure enough, he bought a $40 million penthouse in the West Village of NYC in 2017. So no worries there!
I’ve watched the much-talked about Gillette ad a couple times now, and I have to say, it’s hardly controversial. In fact, I’d argue any news outlet describing it as controversial is misrepresenting what’s actually in the ad. The campaign does a pretty good job of suggesting how men can be positive role models, tying the concept of “manhood” to stopping bullies and intervening to prevent sexual harassment from other men. As this Huffpo piece argues, it’s actually fairly conservative, in the sense that it puts forward a virtuous, heroic ideal of masculinity. Men as a whole aren’t insulted at all. Not that you’d get that impression listening to the right-wing rage machine, which has twisted the ad into “man-hating.” I mean, there’s a clip of Terry Crews (aka Camacho from Idiocracy — not exactly an emasculated wimp!) in there discussing the need for men to hold other men accountable for sexual assault. The fact that so many people are infuriated by these mild suggestions is just plain weird — and speaks volumes about the extremist vision of traditional patriarchy that underlies Trumpism.