The Sorensen Monologues

Trump in Puerto Rico

I have to say, drawing a cartoon about a dangerously incompetent president’s imbecilic comments about the destruction of Puerto Rico while watching one of the worst mass shootings in American history unfold, is not exactly fun.



Take a trip back to Normal America-land

I know America of yesteryear (and by yesteryear, I mean before Trump, Nazis, Russian hackers, and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea became part of our nauseating daily news diet) had plenty of problems, and to some extent the country has never been “normal.” There’s a clear continuum, of course, between the KKK and the modern alt-right. But generally speaking, we’ve entered whole new levels of weirdness, such that the awful times that inspired me to become a political cartoonist in the first place now seem almost comforting to think about.

Fifteen years ago, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott remarked at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat opposed to “social intermingling of the races.” The comment cost Lott his leadership role.

 



If we talked about white poverty the way we talk about black poverty

To state the obvious, I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about white poverty or that poor whites haven’t had to endure their share of shaming from a punitive culture that uses wealth to determine the value of a human being (a source of condescension, it’s important to note, that originates from the right and its cult of market fundamentalism).

That said, there’s been a spate of sympathetic talk lately about the plight of working-class whites, expressing concern about the loss of economic opportunity in rural America and the rise of the opioid epidemic. A mythology has formed around the forgotten white man, and outrage has been manufactured — mostly by Fox and other conservative outlets — to blame the left for his struggles. This narrative has been so powerful that conventional wisdom spewers tend to forget that Trump’s voter base was relatively affluent and did not in fact represent the working class. (Valorization of white, blue collar men as the epitome of American authenticity is nothing new, of course. See: countless advertising campaigns from the past several decades.)

Again, I have no intention of diminishing the problems of anyone in the throes of poverty; yet I can’t help wonder where all this sympathy has been for black neighborhoods suffering from a lack of economic opportunity, or for the problems of addiction faced by communities of color. The condescending (and inaccurate) language used to describe black poverty is widespread among mainstream commentators on the right.

In response to this cartoon, a commenter on Daily Kos shared a link to this thought experiment by Anil Dash, imagining “if Asian Americans saw white Americans the way white Americans see black Americans.” I hadn’t seen it, but it’s making a similar point.



Immigration Fixation

There were other economic factors I could have mentioned in this cartoon, such as tax policy that promotes extreme inequality, or companies offshoring, or the entire perverse system of Wall Street incentives that benefits the investor class at the expense of workers. And there’s also the much-ignored fact that economic-minded voters tended to go for Clinton. Alas, I couldn’t fit all of these complexities into one comic. But I wanted address the problem that many anti-immigrant types tend to unfairly blame immigrants for economic woes while overlooking (or even enabling) policies that hurt ordinary Americans.

While I tend to avoid self-checkout lines myself, I understand that it’s impossible to go through life avoiding technologies that displace workers. Mobile check depositing, for example, is a blessing for freelancers. I try to look at the big picture and do what I reasonably can.



Assessing the Damage

This cartoon was initially inspired by the insane Fox headline last week, “CNN USES DANGEROUS STORM THREATENING AMERICA TO ADVANCE LEFTIST AGENDA.” Apparently CNN had the audacity to mention climate change.

The building codes I refer to are from an executive order by Obama establishing new construction standards for federal projects in areas prone to flooding. As this Slate article explains, the new rules took into account climate change projections. On August 15, just ten days before Harvey struck, Trump struck down the new building standards. Now, as the costs of reconstruction mount, those rules are apparently being reconsidered.

The improved building standards for flood-prone areas were one of many things the Obama administration did that fall under what is (ironically enough) known as the “submerged state” — vitally important stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It’s one reason I have zero patience for people who say both parties are the same and it makes no difference who you vote for.



New Frontiers in Right-Wing Propaganda

When I first started drawing political cartoons around the turn of the millennium, it seemed like informed people were more overtly appalled by FOX News and the abdication of journalistic standards it represented. Sure, progressives still snark about FOX on Twitter, but in some ways, it has become normalized, just one “side” in a world where every fact, no matter how empirically-derived, must be viewed through the lens of “both sides.”

Enter Sinclair Broadcasting’s proposed takeover of a huge segment of the local TV news market. Trump campaign spokesgoon Boris Epshteyn has hopped straight from the White House to the role of “Chief Political Analyst” for Sinclair news affiliates. And he’s penning op-ed columns too. Here’s one on the website for the local ABC station in Washington, DC in support of Trump’s policy of militarizing the police.

I highly recommend John Oliver’s segment on Sinclair for a more in-depth look at this catastrophe in the making.



Finally seeing the (torch) light

For background commentary, I’d suggest revisiting this cartoon and blog post.

I do think free speech is imperiled these days — by bullies, online harassers, those who practice intimidation to silence others (and call it speech), by authoritarian governments such as Turkey’s, Russia’s, and increasingly our own. See also this article about press freedoms threatened around the globe.



Backseat driver in Charlottesville

I went to UVA and lived in Charlottesville for sixteen years, so the weekend’s tragic events hit particularly close to home for me. At least two of my friends from college came close to being killed. The New Yorker interviewed one of them.

These atrocities were squarely the fault of white supremacists who came to Charlottesville looking to intimidate the community and pick a fight. While Trump has been rightly condemned over his “many sides” comments, it’s also important to remember his violent rhetoric against protesters at his rallies. You can find a rundown of some of the chilling remarks he made during his campaign here.

Today we learned that Fox News and The Daily Caller deleted posts celebrating video footage of liberal protesters getting plowed through by cars, a reminder that Fox is not a “news” network any more than Infowars provides “info.”



Playing the Country Card

Last week, as was widely reported, White House adviser Stephen Miller rather oddly accused CNN reporter Jim Acosta of “cosmopolitan bias.” As this Politico article notes, using the term “cosmopolitan” as an insult has historical precedent in nationalist (and largely anti-Semitic) movements. I wasn’t able to get into that level of detail with this cartoon, but this way of dividing the nation has chilling implications.

I take extra annoyance at such rhetoric, since I grew up in a rural area that is now Trump country. The road in front of my house was routinely dotted with horse manure from Amish buggies. Meanwhile, Stephen Miller grew up the son of a real estate developer in Santa Monica, bought a $450,000 condo in DC at age 23, and now lives in a million-dollar flat in the Gucci district. What we should be flinging right back at the GOP is the phrase “aristocratic bias.” Because that’s what they’re really about.

 

 



New plan suggestions for the Dems

As someone who has been drawing cartoons about the Democrats’ tendencies towards wimpiness and capitulation for around 17 years now, I actually think they’ve improved somewhat since the days of the DLC and the Iraq War. So I find some current criticisms to be overblown. Schumer’s “A Better Deal” rollout, however, was about as inspiring as pile of pudding. Perhaps less so, as I happen to like cold, creamy desserts. People want passion and conviction from their leaders, not bloodless boilerplate blather, even if some of the ideas aren’t bad.



Table the Label

Lately I’ve been feeling like progressives have become so entrenched in their own conceptual frameworks that we’re splitting hairs and engaging in name-calling instead of constructively addressing the big picture.  This is not to say we can’t disagree; but the abuse of the confusing term “neoliberal” is not helping, considering very few liberals actually subscribe to market fundamentalism. And it’s complicated: Austerity, for example, is a neoliberal economic approach that was (thankfully) not embraced by the Obama administration. It should go without saying that the term “neoliberal” has nothing to do with political “liberalism” – but sadly it does seem to need saying.

On a similar note, I use the term “socialist” in this cartoon because I see it thrown around a lot, but Scandinavian countries don’t actually have socialist economies; “social democracy” is a more accurate way to describe those governments.

This earlier blog post has more thoughts on how we’re prone to labeling ourselves in unhelpful ways.




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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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