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.