I had hoped that I would never have to draw Trump again, but those hopes were dashed as he made headlines recently for his use of the word “vermin” to describe political opponents at a rally in New Hampshire. I’m glad to see that the comment has been widely condemned for what it is. Yet I find myself wondering if this will follow the same pattern as so many other examples of extremism that shocked us initially, only to become normalized over time. After the January 6 insurrection, many corporate donors tried to distance themselves from the coup attempt. Now we have an election denier as Speaker of the House, and others making regular appearances on talking head shows. It seems there is no limit to the erosion of norms through sheer repetition and a focus on horse race coverage.
At this point, many articles have been written about the term’s origins in Black vernacular; I recall “woke” taking off on Twitter in 2016 after Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay Mckesson was arrested during a protest in Baton Rouge. Mckesson (depicted and quoted in the first panel) famously wore a t-shirt with the #StayWoke hashtag. Within just a few short years, right-wing media and politicians had hijacked the word, which simply meant “awareness of injustice,” and deployed it as a turbocharged (and more racialized) version of “political correctness,” itself a vague insult that sloppily demonized all efforts to address inequality. (Yes, there are always people who take things too far, proposing well-intentioned but silly ideas or engaging in abusive behavior — which the left certainly has no monopoly on — but we can criticize such things without using authoritarian terminology. Always be specific in your criticism!)
Over the past few weeks, protests organized by Jewish Voice for Peace have poignantly made the case against the slaughter of civilians in Gaza with slogans such as “Never again for anyone” and “My grief is not your weapon.” A rabbinical student wrote a heartfelt essay for 972Mag about her reasons for participating in a sit-in on Capitol Hill alongside other rabbinical students and rabbis. Yet those who speak out against collective punishment for Hamas’s brutal attacks are routinely demonized as antisemitic. Of course, we should call out antisemitism when we see it. I spend a lot of time swimming in the waters of progressive social media, and my own experience has been that most people are opposed to the siege of Gaza while also critical of the few instances of bigotry they’ve seen in activist spaces. By and large, it isn’t protesters who are extremists; that label belongs to those who dehumanize whole civilian populations. It’s a false binary to suggest that terrorism can’t be addressed without indiscriminate bombing, killing thousands of children in the process.
The things Mike Johnson has said are so over the top that I thought I might place him in the role of my flaming conservative character (hence the flames, in case anyone was wondering about that). Johnson may seem bland, but his beliefs are extremist. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate this man’s theocratic worldview, so I tried to use actual quotes where I could. Everything in quotation marks is something he said. You can find most of these statements, with links to original sources, here.
Johnson often professes that morality is derived exclusively from a particular interpretation of his preferred religious text, and that we must return to “18th-century values” or else our children will lose the ability to discern right from wrong, leading to the collapse of the republic. The great irony here, of course, is that Johnson is a Trumper who convinced a large number of his Republican colleagues to sign an amicus brief supporting Texas’s lawsuit to block four swing states from voting in the Electoral College.
Over the weekend I encountered a smattering of stories about the intimidation tactics being used by the growing extremist movement within GOP. This is nothing new, of course, as we’ve seen all manner of threats against politicians, election officials, schools, etc. in recent years. The latest stories have been about the bullying of House Republicans as they vote for a new Speaker, much of it coming from supporters of Jim Jordan (CNN posted the audio of one threatening call to a lawmaker’s wife). Mitt Romney recently revealed that another Republican senator voted against convicting Trump during his January 6 impeachment because he feared for his family’s safety. Trump himself been attacking judges and prosecutors handling his various cases, leading to predictable death threats. The blog Lawyers, Guns and Money has a quick rundown of various incidents.
This week’s comic depends a little on familiarity with Game of Thrones (I recently finished watching season one of House of the Dragon), so some people might not understand all the references. Hopefully it’s clear enough that I’m talking about seemingly unconditional U.S. military aid to Netanyahu and giving him carte blanche to lay siege on Gaza, which he’s most certainly doing. The attack by Hamas was truly horrifying, but conducing massive airstrikes that kill thousands of children (in addition to thousands of adult civilians) is a grossly immoral and unstrategic response.
The White House and State Department have been discouraging language supporting restraint: “In messages circulated on Friday, State Department staff wrote that high-level officials do not want press materials to include three specific phrases: ‘de-escalation/ceasefire,’ ‘end to violence/bloodshed’ and ‘restoring calm.'”
From a Guardian article about diplomatic inaction preceding the current conflict:
Bernie Sanders, for instance, in February had argued that Biden had to recognise this was a qualitatively different Israeli government to anything that preceded it.
He said: “If a government is acting in a racist way and they want billions of dollars from [US taxpayers], I think you say: ‘Sorry but it’s not acceptable. You want our money? Fine. This is what you got to do to get it.’”
I don’t think it’s possible to talk about what’s happening now without mentioning the ongoing tragedy of Gaza, which has been left to fester for far too long in deadly, dehumanizing conditions. What Hamas has done is sickening. Nonetheless, the US not been using its leverage to meaningfully address human rights abuses, or even acknowledge them publicly in an honest way. The very worst response would be for Netanyahu to flatten Gaza, which he’s already doing. This won’t accomplish anything except create more death and destruction and bloodlust. And so the cycle continues.
To put it simply, blaming Democrats (or the left) for the right’s behavior — or for Trump possibly getting re-elected — is relying on a false paradigm. Elections don’t hinge on rational responses to policy minutiae in a vacuum. Everything passes through media of some sort, and the right’s sources of information are dominated by a top-down, antidemocratic movement that seeks to enrich itself and entrench corporate power at any cost. After all that has been revealed about Fox over the last year, we know this to be true, yet some people like to pretend it never happened! As far as the left’s behavior is concerned, the worst and very non-representative examples of overzealousness from someone on social media or elsewhere will always be cherry-picked and blown out of proportion.
As a commenter mentioned below, there is a name for this assumption that Democrats are responsible for everything Republicans do: “Murc’s Law.” According to David Roberts, who is quoted in the post:
This is not some quirk, it is central to reactionary psychology. Every fascist (and fascist-adjacent) movement ever has told itself the same story: our opponents are destroying everything, they’re forcing us to this, we have no choice but violence.
The commentator David Brooks — who has made a career out of piously trolling liberals for their supposed decadence and lack of morals — posted a photo on Twitter with the caption “This meal just cost me $78 at Newark Airport. This is why Americans think the economy is terrible.” Pictured in the photo were a hamburger and French fries with what appeared to be a fairly large glass of whiskey. Social media users quickly identified the restaurant in question, and the owner chimed in to confirm that the food portion of Brooks’ meal cost around $18, with rest of the tab being liquor. The proprietor also noted that a double-shot of whiskey cost $22, suggesting that Mr. Brooks may have been getting plastered on multiple drinks.
Now, I happen to believe that the economy still feels tough for many people because the cost of living is still high relative their incomes, even if inflation is trending down. But what Brooks did here appears to be intellectually dishonest, a lapse of journalistic ethics in the service of a political cheap shot.
It’s considered uncool in professional media circles to speak about news events in terms of conspiracies, but the Big Lie surrounding the 2020 election, the January 6 insurrection, the widespread idea that the Trump indictments are grounded in some kind of lawless “weaponization” of the Justice Department, and the plotting of powerful right-wing groups to give authoritarian powers to the next Republican president and destroy climate policy constitute nothing less than a conspiracy to end democracy and destroy the planet for profit. So if people want to be suspicious about something, there’s plenty of material already.
Trump surrogates such as Steve Bannon have been talking about destroying the “administrative state” for years now, as though federal government employees are all in on some grand conspiracy. Now this ridiculous idea has been explicitly codified in a Heritage Foundation plan for the next Republican President, ominously called “Project 2025.” This document, brought to you by a highly influential, oft-cited think tank, is nothing short of a blueprint for authoritarian rule. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the AP headline: “Conservative groups draw up plan to dismantle the US government and replace it with Trump’s vision.”
Corporations sponsoring sporting events is obviously nothing new, yet the U.S. Open seems to take commercialism to the next level. In addition to the ubiquitous logos of upscale products and financial services splashed on every available surface, there are odd little promotions such as the instant replay (technically a “line call” to determine whether a ball was in-bounds) being rebranded the “Chase Close Call” as described in the comic. At the end of a match, the winner whacks balls into the crowd as part of the “Emirates Ball Flight.” There was also something involving Grey Goose Vodka that I can’t quite recall, aside from the fact that I found myself craving a greyhound cocktail afterwards.