On the eve of Thanksgiving, Trump and Pence hang out on the Truman Balcony and reflect on all they’ve accomplished in their brief four years. In an effort to make America great again – that apparently effective phrase of turning the clock back to a mythical past – their administration has put a lot of energy into undoing what many of us consider to be important achievements.
To take environmental protection as just an example, the Trump administration has reversed 74 environmental regulations in under four years, according to the Brookings Institute. While there is room for intelligent debate about the costs and benefits of specific environmental regulations to business and to civilization, when you step back and see how much environmental protection has been undone since 2017, it is sobering.
Just looking at clean air, let’s say climate change is 100% a hoax. (It’s not.) If we were to continue to be aggressive about keeping our air clean and using regulations to hold industrial polluters accountable for clean air, we could save lives and dollars. Lots of lives and lots of dollars.
In 2016, many publications, including Time magazine, reported on a World Bank finding that air pollution kills between 3 and 5 million people a year. Moreover, cleaning up the air globally would save the world economy $225 billion a year.
So, if you have a partisan motivation to deny climate change, which may, in turn, motivate you to support environmental deregulation – don’t worry! You can go ahead and support regulating industry to help clean our air and save the health, well-being and lives of millions of people, AND you can save trillions of dollars over the years! What is unconservative about that?
But, back to Trump, this information is of no use to him. To Trump, being business-friendly means removing money-making barriers from the world’s biggest polluters and externalizing the cost of doing business to the rest of us.
In this way, Trump is very much like a mob boss. Sure, what he does is morally wrong and hurts a lot of innocent people, but he makes money and takes care of his family. Isn’t that what we romanticize in The Godfather, The Sopranos, etc?
Do we take care of our own no matter the harm it causes others, or can we do better?
Call Names and Rewrite History – It’s What Winners Do
Trump seems like a person who acts on raw instinct more than premeditated thought, so maybe today’s comic isn’t that plausible. Like a plant that turns away from shadow and toward the sun, Trump uses language intuitively to distance himself from the perception of failure and to associate himself with anything worth taking credit for.
“All politicians do this,” one might rightly say. But, as we often overlook in the name of tribal, political affiliation, it’s a matter of degree. Trump turns it to eleven. As in 2016, when people didn’t know who to vote for because Hillary and Trump were both seen as undesirable candidates. Really? Given the choice, what would you rather eat, an overripe, smashed, brown banana, or a turd? Neither is a great option, but one is clearly worse than the other.
And presidents certainly take credit and shirk blame for things as they can. They inherit recessions and wars caused by their predecessors, for example. But Trump is unprecedented in his brazen historical revision.
P.S. An apology to all the plants out there who take offense to my analogy comparing them to Trump. I love plants.
COVID Joe, a Nickname Masterpiece, a Prediction of Historical Revision
I wonder how long it would take Trump to start blaming COVID fallout on Biden, if Biden were to take office in 2021.
I also wonder if these jokes are funny only to one person. In this case, I laugh at Pence reading the Bible every chance he gets and Trump holding the phone close to his face and using the remind function on a smartphone to make sure he doesn’t neglect something important.
I also wonder, “What’s going on in this comic strip? Like, big picture?” I feel like these strips add up to a sense that, in a lame-duck presidency, there isn’t much to do but wait around for your predecessor to redecorate the Oval Office and give you the friendly boot. I’m sure presidents find plenty to do with the three or so months between election and inauguration, but it’s more fun this way.
Waiting around, killing time, starting companies that sell face masks, inventing killer nicknames and hashtags.
Don’t you love images of older folks crowding around a cell phone?
I think the size of our readership here at Trump After Trump is not quite at that tipping point where we can get people everywhere to start calling Trump “COVID Don,” but maybe if I make two comic strips in a row on the subject, that will help…
So, what do we have here? Older gentlemen squished together looking at a phone, some silly close-ups of Trump’s exaggerated facial expressions (I didn’t have to invent much – he does so much of the work for the artist) and more humor at the expense of what we presume to be Pence’s sensitivity to adult content.
At some point I really need to push this story past January 20, 2021, so we can really see what Trump might be like after the Trump administration…
Trump minimizes and bullies people by giving them diminishing nicknames. “Lyin’ Ted.” “Crooked Hillary.” “Low Energy Jeb.” No need to get into the details about his mastery of manipulative oration.
One way to win is to always be the one who stoops lowest. I don’t think anyone would say that going low is honorable, ethical or good for the republic; but, as Trump is demonstrably amoral, what does he care about honor, ethics or the common good? Power is his currency, and power is conveniently amoral, too.
So, I wonder if he’s ever surprised that people don’t stoop to his own bully tactics to try to beat him. My guess is he doesn’t care, because he knows he will always go lower. Honestly, if anyone else were president right now he’d be calling them “COVID [name]” all day, every day.
I have gotten a little feedback that my comics present Trump as a lovable buffoon. So that leaves me asking myself questions, and here are two of them:
Are we so used to seeing negative portrayals of Trump that are so extremely monstrous that my attempt to show him as a horrible human being are too subtle?
Are my attempts to portray Trump with nuance and subtlety not working?
My instinct is to remember that people – no matter how awful the things they say and do – are human beings and not monsters. My upbringing in the Episcopal church helped nurture my compassionate worldview and, ironically, influenced my eventual embrace of secularism and humanism over the conservative Christianity I was raised with.
But, that’s just where I’m coming from – it doesn’t mean my comics are any good. What I need to do is make sure my portrayals of Trump are neither glib about his negative impact on the world nor cowardly about telling it like it is.
As a cartoonist, I want my comics to show that even with subtlety and nuance, Trump is still a bad human being who is bringing out the worst in a lot of people and seriously harming what decent moral standing the United States still has in the world.
Back to Blaming Hillary
Since I was a young conservative person in Oklahoma, I have been aware of the thriving, multimillion-dollar industry built around loathing Hillary Clinton. When I was younger, it seemed kind of mean. Certainly un-Christian. But as I got older and watched the industry achieve its ultimate goal of keeping Hillary out of power in 2016, this anti-Hillary movement became for me a symbol of many troublesome things about slices of American culture – sexism, male fragility, rage at the diminishing role of traditional Christianity in American life, demonizing those who disagree with you, scapegoating…
So, my hope is that Trump loses in November 2020, but, sadly, I expect that he will likely pick up where he left off with bullying everyone he can, including ol’ Hillary. (Not that she is a blameless victim herself, but, come on, can’t we do better than enabling the empire of Hating Hillary?)
It’s strange what circumstance will do to your outlook. If you’d asked me five years ago, the idea of an evangelical Christian as vice president would not exactly have shocked me, but I wouldn’t have taken much comfort from it either. Now that we’ve been living in a world with a president who handles American institutions and values so haphazardly, I have come to see Pence as a voice of decency and even reason.
So, in the brief evolution of my comic strip, it was natural for Pence to become Dean Martin to Trump’s Jerry Lewis. I think it’s funny to give Pence a chance to try on Trump’s cartoonishly angry face and mob boss public persona.
Also, we finally have a strip with a full-black background in a panel! The constraints of the four-panel comic make little moments like this exciting for me. How much can a person do with four (usually) black and white drawings? Each cartoonist is on her own little journey to find out.
I wouldn’t be surprised if face masks that feature Trump’s face already exist; I didn’t check, because for me it’s beside the point whether they exist or not. And I don’t want the comic to be influenced too much by stuff that’s already out there. I think Bill Watterson said that he resisted looking up reference photos when drawing dinosaurs because he was after something bigger than accuracy. I’m paraphrasing big time, and I’m not looking up that quote either, for the same reason!
I like joking about Trump’s narcissism, but it’s just as fun to explore evangelical attitudes as I lived them when I was a kid growing up in the Bible Belt during the Satanic Panic 80s. Mike Pence may or may not share these views, but the Pence in Trump After Trump embodies what I see as the American evangelical’s strange blend of piety and naïveté.
But all of this is just a setup to get to a joke about Trump’s most reliable source of political support, which is the white evangelical. I grew up as an Oklahoma Christian, so this fact about the support base of our amoral, divisive president is both disappointing and not surprising, which is a great source of comic strip punchlines!
One of my top five novels of all time it The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. This book is so good that my friend Sean and I both read it twice in a row. If you want to hear more about why it’s such a wonderful book, just read it; I bring it up today because there is a scene in the book that I just love, which inspired this comic.
A colonial-era Dutch ship captain has taken his gout down to the ship surgeon for some symptom relief. The captain’s foot is swollen and tender, and the surgeon prepares a draft for relief. When the captain suggests that Mr. Nash, the surgeon, should consider turning apothecary when they reach the shore, we read this:
“Men of commerce, sir”–Nash counts out laudanum drops into the pewter beaker–“for the most part, had their consciences cut out at birth. Better an honest drowning than slow death by hypocrisy, law, or debt.”
What a searing and pithy summation of the blinding-influence that profiteering can have on otherwise compassionate people! I consider Trump, at best, amoral, and whether the soul-corruption led to a life of chasing dollars and attention or the other way around, I find Nash’s attitude to be on the nose.
I said as much as I have to say right now about masking in the age of COVID-19 and the age of Trump in Trump After Trump no. 15.
On an entirely different note, the practice of daily cartooning is making it painfully clear to me that drawing your characters so that they look the same in each strip – in each panel, for that matter – takes a lot of practice. Way more practice than I have put in, apparently.
My hope for now is that you, my small, scrappy cohort of readers, will bear with me, and maybe even find some charm in the clearly hand-made and aspirational quality of my likenesses!
I’ve made “two weeks” worth of comics – I publish every three days but pretend that I’m creating a highly-syndicated daily – and have not acknowledged that we are all living in a historic and life-changing pandemic. I think the first I heard of the new coronavirus (which has had me working remotely for the past six months) was around Christmas 2019 when there was a news story about an epidemic in China. I did not pay much attention to it, and my guess is that I imagined masked Asian faces and moved on.
That image of masked people in Asia, from memories of the SARS and MERS epidemics, is something I think about these days because I realize that mask-wearing seemed to me like an Asian practice, not something that Americans do. Now that the pandemic continues to batter America, I am wearing my mask, along with most of the people in my community, and I am happy that there is a cheap, easy and effective way to slow the spread. But, I think back to my pre-COVID-19 feeling that wearing masks is something that Asian people do, and I recognize in myself the individualistic spirit that has so defined American history and culture since the Europeans arrived here. It goes something like, “Asian people do what their governments say, but Americans do what we want, damn it!”
I am thankful that the vast majority of Americans support and practice masking, and I also feel disappointed that American individualism contains a strain of egotism and disregard for others. The rhetoric of people who decry mask-wearing as an incursion on their personal freedom and another example of tyrannical government overreach is a bummer. Also, what I just said about American individualism and its egotistical and selfish facets reminds me of someone…
Trump’s public statements and actions about the pandemic say all that needs to be said about the shortcomings of American individualism. So, I give you a “week” of face mask gags!