Leon Festinger is presiding over this year's presidential election proceedings. Thanks, Leon!
David Rees,  July 6, 2016

If Sec. Trump Had a Private Email Server

And other adventures in electoral cognitive dissonance

Leon Festinger is presiding over this year's presidential election proceedings. Thanks, Leon!
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I spent my annual Independence Day cheeseburger hangover in a state of humid recuperation, catching up on political news and celebrating the latest achievements of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Here’s a description of a cartoon concerning one of those achievements.

Hillary Clinton, surrounded by a cheering crowd of her supporters, is being presented with a trophy from the “Sigh of Relief Hall of Fame” for her recent record-settingly gigantic sigh of relief. The cause of this sigh was, of course, FBI director James Comey’s announcement that she would not be charged with any crime for her use of a personal email account while conducting State Department business. (If you squint, you will see that this is explained on a plaque at the trophy’s base.) Even though she repeatedly misrepresented the nature, number, and national-security-clearance status of emails sent via the (dopily named) ClintonEmail.com server, there will be no legal repercussions. Is this due to a double standard, whereby political elites are not held to the same standards of discipline, lawfulness, and transparency we expect from humbler stock? The image of Glenn Greenwald jumping up and down while tearing his hair out would suggest so. The nature of miserable, obvious truths that barely merit articulation also suggests so.

Off to the side of Clinton holding her trophy, we see an “alternative history” in which Donald Trump has used a personal “TrumpEmail.com” account to send and receive sensitive government and diplomatic correspondences, has misled investigators as to the practice—and finally, has been let off scot-free after doing so. In this “alternative history” portion of the cartoon, we see Hillary Clinton supporters, instead of being relieved that the FBI didn’t bring charges against a kindly ol’ grandmother who couldn’t be expected to know the shortcomings of her vanity email account compared to a secure government server, losing their collective minds over Trump’s ignorant, dangerous, and narcissistic behavior.

This is hardly an innovative point to make, even in a political cartoon, but that doesn’t make it less true: the same actions, taken by different people, resonate differently—especially among those people’s supporters. (Our cartoon doubles down on this point by including caricatures of Leon Festinger, Peter Wason, and various academics who research cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and all the other shortcomings that bedevil our sad human brains.)

However, our cartoon doesn’t mean to oversimplify, even in the support of noble misanthropy. So the following point is made visually: Trump is objectively one thousand times stupider than Clinton, and many of Clinton’s behaviors—when transposed onto Trump via thought experiment—would be different at their core, because of who he is compared to her. How is this explained via cartoon imagery? Simple: We see (in a section of the panel labeled “Further Exploration of Certain Themes Hinted at Within This Cartoon”) a picture of Trump pointing to a map of the Middle East and identifying each country correctly while an infinite number of monkeys type on an infinite number of typewriters. (Did I mention this particular political cartoon is infinitely large? This is one reason the death of print media might actually be a blessing for cartoonists—it does away with certain physical constraints that have hemmed us in for too long.)

Back to Trump and that map of the Middle East: If the monkeys didn’t clue you in, the point is that if Trump ever points to a map and identifies countries correctly, it will be a happy accident akin to that infinite number of monkeys accidentally typing out the works of William Shakespeare. Whereas the same behavior (pointing, correctly identifying) from Clinton will be due to the fact that—morality and judgment aside—she happens to actually know what the hell she’s talking about most of the time, especially when it comes to actual facts about the world as it is.

By the same reasoning, Clinton tweeting a nasty image of the Star of David would be interpreted as deliberate anti-Semitic dog-whistle messaging. When Trump did the same thing, it wasn’t—at least not in the interpretation of this cartoonist—because he’s too fucking stupid to recognize the Star of David, or to be on alert for its misapplication. Like Clinton’s emails, the post-scandal scrambling of the Trump “organization” (ha!) is what seems truly pathetic and dark. “Sheriff’s badge”? Okay, Rosco P. Coltrane, whatever you say.

By now, readers of the cartoon will be getting frustrated: “What’s your point? Who am I supposed to hate? Clinton, for dodging bullets while dropping bombs—or Trump, for being the worst American politician of my lifetime?” The cartoon resorts to an old trope in answering these concerns. In the lower right hand corner, we see a tiny image of the cartoonist, à la Tom Toles. “I feel defeated,” the word balloon above his drooped head reads. “It’s so humid outside, and I’m covered in sweat and I’ve been reading political blogs all day, and I’m as disgusted with my own body as I am with both major candidates for president. Forgive me, dear Readers, and I promise not to be such a downer next time. Send any complaints to me via the good people over at ClintonEmail.com.”

David Rees is the author of Get Your War On and How to Sharpen Pencils. He co-hosts the Election Profit Makers podcast. 

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