Politics is hard, so The Baffler has employed expert comic mind David Rees to give us a visual rendering of the day’s signature political controversies. The only problem is that David can’t draw, so his cartoons are word pictures—which is to say, words.
Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, it’s difficult to maintain a steady focus on reality. Colors, smells, and tastes are smearing together and getting harder to identify. Objects are mutating before we’ve made sense of them. The border between waking and dreaming is now a fine mesh, allowing currents from one world to flow into the other; we struggle to maintain our footing amongst the eddies.
This is our new reality and our political cartoons must reflect it.
This week’s political cartoon is about recent events in the electoral process. You open your newspaper to see a drawing of an elephant hanging its head in shame. The elephant is labeled “GOP” You think you’re on solid ground. You sigh with relief. “Oh good,” you think, “it’s another cartoon about the depths to which the Republican Party has sunk in the era of Donald Trump; I can digest this cartoon with minimal effort and then turn my full attention to the Word Jumble on the opposite page.” You add lustily: “If I solve the Word Jumble, I’ll treat myself to another slice of toast.” (I cannot overemphasize your lust for toast.)
But then you blink, and the cartoon elephant is gone. Or—more accurately—it is undergoing a sort of transformation. All the distinguishing features of the elephant are shimmering, and the cartoon is giving off the unmistakable odor of hot oil. Unless you’re mistaken, the cartoon is also emitting the sounds of shaken maracas. Sure enough, what was once an elephant is now a deep-fried taco bowl, manifested into being by Trump’s love of Hispanics. The taco bowl whispers to you: “Ben Carson was appointed to head Donald Trump’s VP search committee. Perhaps you will be the chosen one?”
The taco bowl whispers to you: “Ben Carson was appointed to head Donald Trump’s VP search committee. Perhaps you will be the chosen one?”
You, as vice president?! This would be a surprising choice, not only because you have never been a fan of Trump, but also because you are now half-human, half-slime. (I forgot to mention that you have been slowly dissolving since you first looked at the cartoon. Anyway, the point is that America has never had a vice president who is half-slime, so it would be a big deal.) Ben Carson’s sleepy eyes appear in the air before you, blinking slowly, rhythmically. Is it a coded message for you alone among all the VP candidates? Yes! His eyes are blinking: “Before I . . . anoint you . . . I want . . . to touch . . . your brain . . . with my . . . hands . . .” As a screeching sound fills your ears, you begin scooping out your brain and offering it to Ben Carson’s floating eyes.
You’re thinking this is one of the most intense political cartoons you’ve ever seen, when (without warning) the cartoon shudders and engulfs the room in blue flame. Ben Carson’s eyes have exploded into a pair of fragrant magnolia blossoms, which are then crushed under a boot heel. And now you understand from deep within your being that Corey Lewandowski is now heading Trump’s VP search committee, and that the pundits who predicted this abusive human crewcut would lose influence were wrong once again.
That’s when you trip and fall into a bottomless hole of wrong. As you fall through the dark, you recognize the voices of political analysts and online sages who spent the past year misdiagnosing America’s political disease while prescribing medicines that were utterly rejected by the host organism. None of them will lose their license to practice, of course—there are certain immutable truths of media longevity, even in this Lovecraftian hellscape. The voices within the bottomless hole of wrong will continue to cry out, and be handsomely remunerated for it, even as their faces melt and their bodies turn into piles of debris where snakes lay eggs and hiss every stanza of “The Second Coming” in a fart-language no mortal can understand.
(Except for David Brooks, who is going to talk to some working-class people to see what all the fuss is about.)
You realize, as you fall further and further away from everything you’ve ever assumed about the nature of reality, that this shameful void is expanding and contracting like a massive lung, and you are one element of its poisonous breath, along with every other consciousness in the great barrel chest of this new universe.
The Word Jumble is harder than you thought it would be.