I have to say, the news from the past few days has me feeling more alarmed than ever. Trump’s behavior at the G-7 was, as others have noted, nothing less than an effort to destroy the West. While this all seems very Putin-esque, I also keep thinking of Viktor Orban, the far-right nationalist Prime Minister of Hungary, who has declared the era of liberal democracy to be over. Given the multi-pronged attacks on voting rights in the US, including Monday’s appalling 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that Ohio can purge people from its voter rolls if they fail to vote frequently enough, I fear we may be farther down the authoritarian path than many Americans realize. And Trump is, unfortunately, just the tip of the fascist-berg. Not to bum you out or anything.
This week’s strip was inspired by the recent Samantha Bee controversy, in which the comedian referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless c-word” during a monologue about Trump’s treatment of undocumented immigrants. This came on the heels of Roseanne having her show canceled for making racist and anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter. Many on the right demanded similar consequences for Bee, who later apologized. But the two incidents were not the same. As I tweeted the other day:
Samantha Bee, a woman, calling a white supremacist wannabe-oligarch’s enabling daughter the c-word is punching up. A white person calling a black person an ape and spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories is punching down, historical abomination-style.
When it comes to slurs, it’s not about the word itself — it’s about the context. The meaning changes depending on who’s using the word, and who they’re talking about. Samantha Bee is probably the most feminist personality on TV right now. When she drops a c-bomb in the service of criticizing a woman who is complicit in oppression, it may be a crude insult — but it’s not sexist.
That said, I try to avoid using language in this way in my own work, since there’s too much room for misinterpretation. And there are reasonable debates to be had about the merits of certain types of reclaiming; I’ve even drawn cartoons in the past about the dangers of embracing your opponents’ insults (“tree hugger” being one example that hasn’t helped reframe the debate, in my opinion). HOWEVER! I’m not “making excuses” for Sam Bee simply because I’m a fan. Had she said something genuinely supportive of patriarchy, I’d criticize it. I think Rebecca Traister gets it right here:
It is true that in her critique of Ivanka Trump, Bee used an expletive that is explicitly misogynistic; it is wholly reasonable to object to the word cunt for feminist reasons. It is also reasonable and worthwhile to consider why a term for female anatomy has become such a potent pejorative; why does a word that means vagina also mean “very bad person”? That’s a valid question, but it’s crucial to consider it in this context. Bee was not reinforcing or replicating the crude harm that “cunt” has been used to inflict historically: the patriarchal diminishment and vilification of women. In fact, Bee was using it to criticize a woman precisely because that woman is acting on behalf of that patriarchy, one that systematically diminishes women, destroys families, and hurts children.
Given that we can’t even pass the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s probably a stretch to expect that many people get these subtleties. But one thing that is clear: we can safely dismiss the performative outrage from those who never gave a damn about misogyny until now.
In normal times, this cartoon might feel a bit like a cheap shot, but in today’s America, it’s unfortunately more like an accurate description. Incredible numbers of people have come to believe utter falsehoods, helped along by a roster of moneyed villains. Raising the accuracy and intelligence of our various media would certainly help, but we also need to solve the gullibility problem. Don’t ask me how we’re going to do this.
As one reader reminded me today, the Texas GOP actually opposed teaching critical thinking skills in its 2012 platform. You can’t make this stuff up!
There’s been a flood of upsetting news stories lately, but — perhaps partly because of this — I felt like doing something more fun for a change. I recently purchased a Trucker Hat “Lite” at a thrift store after sifting through a massive bin of ball caps (rejecting ones with camouflage or golf clubs), which got me thinking about the powerful symbolism of headwear. Of course everything is political, even hats, so we end up back at Trump.
Doing a little research for this cartoon, I found out that the standard ballcap is actually referred to as a “Dad hat” in industry parlance. I did not know this.
One of the biggest intellectual scams perpetrated by the right is the idea that supporting an inclusive, pluralistic vision of America somehow makes one an “elite.” As a public school-educated daughter of teachers who grew up in a rural area, I especially resent hearing this from blue-blood multimillionaire frat boy types like Tucker Carlson. I mean, check out the Orwellian absurdity of this screenshot (from Media Matters):
Unfortunately, many progressives have internalized the “elite” label which is foundational to conservatives’ victimization narrative. Think of the language they’ve popularized over the years. There’s David Brooks’ “Bobos in Paradise,” which mocked “bourgeois bohemians.” There’s the vapid insult “limousine liberal.” Both terms imply a kind of hypocrisy; yet I would argue that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with progressives having money so long as they put that money towards addressing inequality and vote accordingly. Meanwhile, no such term exists to describe these wealthy posers on the right who fight policies that might actually help ordinary workers at every step.
I’m a day late posting this here, as I was in Portland, OR over the weekend for my cartoonist pal Matt Bors’ wedding. This week’s comic addresses a longstanding trope of the right, that “liberals” wallow in a “victim mentality” that makes them weak and whiny, unlike conservatives, who obviously never complain about anything. Of course, we have seen right-wing assertions of of victimhood on full display recently, from the White House Correspondents Dinner controversy to the strangely sympathetic tone some have taken towards so-called “incels” in the wake of the Toronto massacre. Indeed, one might say contemporary American conservativism has become an unparalleled culture of grievance.
I find Kanye’s use of the term “dragon energy” endlessly fascinating. I think it gets at the heart of the Trump phenomenon more than a billion words spilled by all the nation’s pundits. Many have remarked on Trump’s misogyny and macho posturing, but the symbolism goes deeper than that. It’s masculinity as a mystical power, a spiritual essence that imbues the entire country, reclaiming it from the “feminizing” forces of “political correctness” and perceived weakness of the Obama administration. The entire alt-right movement has its roots in an anti-feminist backlash. Of course, there’s a lot more going on here with regard to race, and the idea of Trump — a man disinclined to walk very far without a golf cart — as a source of strength is ridiculous on its face.
In case you’re curious, the quote in the second panel comes from this NYT article.
At long last, I’m launching the Sorensen Subscription Service. Many readers have inquired about this over the years, with some going so far as to set up their own “service” through recurring donations (thanks!). While I’m still fortunate to have paying clients who make the strip possible each week, it seems clear that reader subscriptions will be a necessary part of my business model going forward. Especially if the GOP destroys the Affordable Care Act and my health insurance premiums approach the cost of porn star hush money.
Those who join the S.S.S. (which may eventually take on a more novel name — The Eagle’s Clutch, anyone?) will, at an absolute minimum, receive the cartoon via email each week as soon as it is ready for consumption. I have big plans to include bonus material, such as behind-the-scenes glimpses of the creative process and photos of what I’m up to. You’ll also stay in the loop regarding public appearances, side projects, and forthcoming books.
So sign up today! It’s cheap and easy and will give you a warm, gentle glow of satisfaction.
This paragraph from Linda Burnham in the Guardian last year spells out the problem nicely:
It’s never a good idea to enter willingly into a frame your opponent has constructed to entrap you. The term “identity politics” is part of a whole vocabulary including “thought police,” “politically correct,” and “liberal elites”, whose main intention is to undermine the legitimacy of liberal and left politics. Uncritically adopting the “identity politics” language of the right is the equivalent of dropping our guard and waltzing on to their terrain. Master’s tools, master’s house, anyone? We need to recognise a toxic frame when we see one and refuse to be a party to its proliferation.
Once upon a time, “identity politics” was a phrase heard occasionally in the halls of academia (at least, for those of us who were social science majors), typically in discussion of nationalist movements or other phenomena outside of day-to-day US political debate. Now, thanks largely to right-wing media, it has become a noxious catchphrase that lumps together all social justice movements — the fight for civil rights, equality for women, same-sex marriage, immigrant rights, to name just a few — into a belittling abstraction that makes these great historical movements sound frivolous. The phrase has become so normalized, many progressives use it uncritically. We need to wake up and recognize it for what it has become: a sanitized shorthand for “those people” — a dog whistle. You want to talk about these issues? Be specific. Spell out what you mean. Are you referring to Black Lives Matter? Don’t hide behind a sterile, human being-erasing euphemism.
It seems no amount of shady business partners, porn star payoffs, mafia-esque fixers, blatant nepotism, fraud lawsuits, looney tunes campaign advisers, secret contacts with Russians, or income tax secrecy will ever convince some of Trump’s devout followers that he’s a con man. Indeed, some of them would probably cheer Oregon being sold off to the House of Saud; I really just felt like drawing some Portland hipsters.
When it comes to fuel efficiency and climate change, automakers have been brazenly talking out of both sides of their mouths. To quote from the NY Times:
At auto shows and on dealership floors, automakers are quick to talk about the latest green technology — electric vehicles, hybrids, even hydrogen cars.
But in Washington, the industry is sending a different message. Last month, one of the largest lobbying groups argued in a regulatory filing that the basic science behind climate change is not to be trusted.
In the same filing, the lobbying group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, also cast doubt on the negative effects of tailpipe pollution on human health.
As the article goes on to explain, they’re actually using the same doubt-sowing tactics that were infamously used by the cigarette industry. A 2013 MIT study found 200,000 premature deaths in the US every year due to air pollution, with “emissions from road transportation” being the most significant contributor. If anything, I lowballed the estimate in the third panel of this cartoon.
EPA chief and beady-eyed corruption sponge Scott Pruitt rightly gets much of the blame for cutting Obama’s CAFE standards, but let’s not forget that the automakers began lobbying for this immediately after Trump took office. As much as they might not want to be publicly linked to Pruitt, they are more than complicit. (And yes, we’ll see what happens with California’s challenge to all of this.)